Mount St John Freestyle – the comeback queen looking for her crowning moment

  • Mount St John Freestyle (Fidermark x Donnerhall II) is Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour’s new top ride and one of the world’s leading dressage horses. 

    In 2018, she partnered Charlotte Dujardin to two world medals as a nine-year-old. Charlotte described her as “Mrs Valegro and the combination went on to rack up international wins.

    However, Freestyle’s career has also been beset by misfortune.

    At one point, it seemed Freestyle’s chance for a crowning moment might have passed. But then in October 2023, Cathrine and her long-time supporters, the Zinglersen family, bought a half-share in the then 14-year-old mare from her owner Emma Blundell. 

    “From the first time I sat on her, we just clicked,” Cathrine told Horse & Hound. “Her temper and her will to work is just outstanding – it’s so rare to find someone like her.”

    Emma added: “We know that she’s destined for greater things. Our absolute dream was always to see her at an Olympics and back at the top of the sport.”

    Mount St John Freestyle’s early years

    Freestyle was bred by Stephan Kurz in Germany. Emma bought her as a foal at the 2009 Hanoverian Elite Foal Auction.

    But it wasn’t her spectacular paces that caught Emma’s eye. “I just wanted a nice character – something easy,” Emma told Horse & Hound in 2018. “I did really like Freestyle, although there was another foal we bid for that got too expensive.

    “Freestyle was just nice – correct and without a major weakness, as opposed to being the flashiest foal.”

    Uncomplicated and relaxed, Freestyle grew up living out on the Yorkshire hills of Emma’s Mount St John Stud. Emma described her as “curious but fearless” when she began competing with her.

    “I grew up showing and was new to dressage so neither of us knew what we were doing. Freestyle’s first show was Keysoe Premier League, doing the four-year-old class. I had no idea what to expect but she won.”

    Charlotte Dujardin riding Mount St John Freestyle in the CDI3* grand prix at the Bolesworth International Horse Show in 2018.

    Together, Emma and Freestyle went on to finish sixth in the four-year-old class at the national championships. When she turned five, Emma offered the ride to a friend from her showing days – Charlotte Dujardin.

    “I realised she was actually very nice and I didn’t have the experience to give her the dressage training she needed,” Emma added. “So I asked Charlotte to have her for a month to see what she thought – and she didn’t come back!”

    The new combination rose swiftly through the levels, with Freestyle’s exceptional temperament convincing Charlotte she was a future star.

    “I loved her attitude and temperament,” she said. “She’s such an honest horse and tries so hard.”

    Freestyle went on to win a national title at a different level every year until her international breakthrough as a nine-year-old in 2018.

    “I felt myself tearing up”: Freestyle and Charlotte Dujardin

    Charlotte and Freestyle made their grand prix debut at Hartpury College, scoring 81.1%.

    Their international show debut followed three weeks later at Nieuw en St. Joosland CDI3* where they won the special (75.15% and the freestyle (81.45%).

    More international wins followed at Windsor, Bolesworth and Hartpury. In the build-up to the 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon, the combination had won all of their 14 grand prix outings in emphatic fashion.

    Their selection was never in question – although Freestyle remained an unknown at the championship level – and it marked Charlotte’s return to the team following a one-year absence.

    Freestyle was last to go for Great Britain in the grand prix. Her 77.76% helped secure a bronze medal for the team. It was a truly significant result as it was the team’s first post-Valegro medal.

    Another bronze medal followed in the special, where Freestyle produced a faultless test to score a personal best of 81.49%.

    Emma Blundell with Mount St John Freestyle and her foal MSJ Glamourstyle

    Emma Blundell with Mount St John Freestyle and her foal MSJ Glamourstyle.

    “On the last centre line, I felt my eyes tearing up, and I was just thinking ‘Don’t stop, keep riding’,” Charlotte told H&H following her test.

    Her medals raised hopes that Charlotte and Freestyle could take on Isabell Werth – who was dominant in the period on Bella Rose and Weihegold – in the near future.

    However, misfortune hadn’t read the script. The WEG kür was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence. Then the combination was heartbreakingly eliminated from the 2019 European Championships under the blood rule.

    Despite a stellar World Cup qualification campaign – which included a personal best score of 89.5% in Amsterdam – a showdown with Isabell at the final in Las Vegas was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Charlotte’s Gio was then selected ahead of Freestyle for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, due to fitness concerns.

    A new chapter: Freestyle and Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour

    In 2022, Freestyle returned to Emma’s Mount St John base for breeding work – which included having a foal (MSJ Glamourstyle) by world champion Glamourdale, born via embryo transfer.

    Freestyle made her return to the ring after a two-year hiatus in June 2023, with Emma making her grand prix debut at Northallerton EC scoring 74.13%

    “It’s a real treat for me, having owned Freestyle since a foal, watching and supporting her huge success with Charlotte for many years, to now having the chance to ride such a horse myself,” Emma told H&H. “It’s so nice to go full circle and go grand prix with her now – it’s fairytale stuff.”

    At the end of that summer, Freestyle moved to Cathrine Dufour’s base in Denmark.

    Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour and Mount St John Freestyle hacking at her home in Denmark.

    “It all happened very quickly,” Cathrine explains. “I’ve known Emma for quite some time, we’ve always been supporting each other on Instagram.

    “I heard she was thinking of doing something with Freestyle, so I arranged to go see her and I knew within minutes that I loved her.”

    The combination showed no signs of rustiness as they made their debut a winning one at Kronenberg CDI3*, with 81.20% in the grand prix and 81.40% in the grand prix special.

    “It’s funny because, from the second we arrived at the showground, it seemed like she remembered exactly what to do,” said Cathrine. 

    “From being in the stable, having her door open with me sitting in a chair in front of her box and just chilling around, cuddling, to being almost over ready in the warm-up, she just knows and I’m over the moon with how she felt.

    “I had tears rolling down my face because it was like a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.

    “I said to Freestyle afterwards, ‘Please, if you have more of these once-in-a-lifetime grands prix up your sleeve, just save them for later.’ I think that she loved showing off her talent once again.”

    Cathrine added that although she feels “a lot of pressure” taking on the ride she’s also “humbled” to be taking on the responsibility.

    “I’m never going to be able to ride her as Charlotte did, but that was never the purpose. I don’t want to compare what we’re doing now to how she did it. That’s not fair on the horse.

    “I have to do it my own way to let the connection Freestyle and I have shine through.”

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