The medical student who rides Charlotte Dujardin’s horses and is aiming for the top – riders to watch in 2023

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  • Combining a budding dressage career with studying medicine at university takes a seriously committed individual, and Charlotte McDowell is certainly proving herself to be just that. Charlotte, known as Charlie, is a second-year medical student at the University of Birmingham, and juggles her challenging degree with not just riding and competing her own horse, but riding for none other than Charlotte Dujardin.

    At the 2022 National Dressage Championships, Charlotte Dujardin rode her eight-year-old mare Alive And Kicking to win the prix st georges title, before the eye-catching black mare returned to the ring to win the young rider title under Charlie.

    Charlie has been riding and competing the All At Once daughter up to PSG level since 2020, in part thanks to the pandemic.

    “Covid meant my A levels got cancelled, and so in the summer of 2020 I was working as a dental receptionist in my mum’s dental practice, “ says Charlie, who grew up in Gloucestershire doing showing and working hunters, before catching the dressage bug and training with Peter Storr, whom she describes as “a big part of the rider I am now”.

    Alan Davies keeps his Shetland ponies at our house, basically in our back garden, and he knew I had free time that summer so he asked me if I’d do some cover work, including hacking out, for him at Carl Hester’s while he was on holiday. I was so excited – I had been to the yard before, but now I could experience it properly,” says Charlie.

    “Carl was so generous. He gave me some lessons on Uthopia, which was insane. Alan came back from his holiday, but I just kept going to the yard.”

    A few weeks later, Charlotte Dujardin asked Charlie if she’d like to have a ride on Audrey, the mare Charlie said she had fallen in love with at first sight.

    “Audrey was already my favourite to hack, but when I rode her properly for the first time, Charlotte said, ‘It’s the perfect picture’,” remembers Charlie. “I would have been happy just to ride her the once, but Charlotte suggested I do some shows with her and it all went from there. I felt some pressure but I just wanted to do the best I could, and it’s been a really positive experience.”

    Charlie continued with her riding even after beginning her degree in 2021, although she admits that her first year was stressful as she got to grips with how she could fit everything in.

    “Lots of people told me doing medicine was a bad idea but I ignored them. I always wanted to be both a doctor and a top dressage rider,” she says, adding that she hopes to go into the fields of either psychiatry or genetics in future.

    Charlotte McDowell: ‘Learning from Carl and Charlotte has really helped’

    Since starting her second year at Birmingham, Charlie has focused on her own horse, the 12-year-old mare M Obarma, who was bought from Denmark in 2018 to follow in the footsteps of her international youth ride Alivia.

    “Obi is so sensitive and powerful so it’s been a journey with her, but in the last year she has really transformed,” says Charlie. “Learning from Carl and Charlotte has really helped with her, too; their training philosophy, incorporating lots of hacking and just two days schooling a week, has really worked with Obi. She has stepped up to PSG this year and my dream is to get her to grand prix.

    “Combining everything takes a lot of organisation. I go home two days a week to ride, so with weekends I manage to ride three or four times a week. When I’m in Birmingham I go to the gym as much as I can, which is helping my fitness. I manage to see friends, but I’d never give up riding to go on a night out. At the moment it’s manageable, although it will get harder over the next few years. Luckily I have a great tutor and a lot of support at uni.”

    With Charlotte Dujardin expecting a baby in January, Carl has taken over riding Audrey since Charlie has been back at uni.

    “But Charlotte has asked me to help out over Christmas though, and I train with Carl and Charlotte on Obi too. I have to do a reality check every now and again; I feel like the luckiest person ever.”

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