It’s easy to believe that Charlotte Dujardin has it all — the horses, the trainer, the fiancé, the medals: the perfect life. But in her new autobiography, The Girl on the Dancing Horse, she reveals the struggle with mental health she went through following her double gold with Valegro at the London Olympics in 2012.
“After the Olympics, my life had stopped being my own. At first I was so happy and so bubbly with joy that I didn’t mind, but after a while I felt I’d talked about what I’d done so much, to so many people, it had almost taken the shine off it,” she says.
She goes on to describe the effect the post-Olympic whirlwind had on her relationship with her fiancé, Dean Golding — “Dean told me he needed to be alone to clear his head” — and how, in the run-up to Christmas 2012, he moved out of the home they shared.
At the same time, Charlotte was facing the “heart-wrenching” prospect of Valegro (Blueberry) being sold — she admits that, “I’d cried after every test I’d ridden at the Olympics, thinking, ‘this is my last grand prix’, and, ‘This is my last freestyle’.
“The thought that I might lose [Blueberry] made me feel like my heart was being ripped out and wrenched in every direction.”
‘I was thinking about harming myself’
While the rest of the horse world shared in her pain surrounding Blueberry’s uncertain future, Charlotte’s desperation reached the point where, “If I could have given my medals back and have things return to the way there were, I would have done.”
“I’ve never experienced pain like I did in those few months,” she writes.
“Depression wasn’t something I’d ever really understood before. But I’d got to the point where I was thinking about harming myself because I had no idea what to do next. It felt like I’d had everything and then it had all been taken away: I’d lost my relationship, I was going to lose my horse — my whole life had been turned upside down.”
She goes on to explain how she didn’t want to eat after Dean moved out, and lost nearly two stone in weight.
“The only thing getting me up in the morning was riding.”
Find out what daily life is like on the yard of dressage supremos Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) and with mental health increasingly prominent on the national agenda, we find
The turning point
Thankfully, for Charlotte, Carl Hester and everyone who had followed their journey, Blueberry wasn’t sold, instead staying at Carl’s Gloucestershire yard after Anne Barrott came forward to form a syndicate with Carl and Roly Luard, after reading about the situation in Horse & Hound.
And, after three months apart, Charlotte and Dean decided to give their relationship another try. “A relationship works two ways, and it’s sad that it took a crisis to make me appreciate that,” she reflects.
“Looking back, I think that break was actually important in bringing us closer together.”
With both Blueberry and Dean home, Charlotte was finally able to start looking ahead to the future, and yet more gold medals.
Don’t miss today’s dressage special of Horse & Hound magazine, including our exclusive at home interview with Carl and Charlotte