Chop, chop! 20 minutes with Charlotte Dujardin in the hairdressers

  • It’s not often that the Olympic champion sits down for an hour straight. But having her hair done is one such moment for Charlotte Dujardin, so H&H took the chance to talk to her about the ultra-sensitive Valegro, her hatred of Aachen and an emotional London Olympics

    On the young Valegro

    “I saw Lucy Cartwright riding him and going gung-ho down the long side because he was so immensely powerful. I asked her how it felt and she just smiled and said how brilliant he was, and how much fun.

    “Valegro was always strong as a young horse because he had so much power and couldn’t control it. It was only when he developed collection that he could maintain self-carriage.

    “At a demo one day, Stephen Clarke said his canter was too big to collect. One the way home, Carl and I decided, ‘Right, we’re going to go home and we WILL teach him to collect!”

    On training the super-sensitive horse…

    “Teaching Blueberry any exercises was incredible; you’d teach him one day and the next day he’s just got it. He has three amazing paces but, more than that, he has the spectacular brain and trainability to match.

    “Coming up through the levels, he was very, very hot and when we were teaching the changes it was hard to get my leg on. The changes themselves weren’t difficult, but acceptance of my leg was hard. He’s so ultra sensitive, so the smallest aid is all that’s required — and he was so excited about the changes.

    “I remember riding the changes when we won the six-year-olds at Hickstead and they were so ridiculously huge.

    “Valegro is so hot, and that works to his advantage; he’s got that energy and desire to go himself, which makes my job much easier.”

    On one ugly moment…

    “I’ve never come off Blueberry and I don’t think anyone else has either. He’s never done anything bad, but he did once get bashed into by another horse in a prize-giving in Florida. It really frightened him and he reared, and there’s a horrible picture of it. But he’s never bucked and isn’t spooky.

    “I really hate that picture from Florida — it’s so not him. The real Valegro is hacked out by Tricia Gardener and she must be in her late 70s.”

    On Valegro’s independent personality…

    “He’s quite an independent horse and not affectionate. He won’t give you cuddles unless you’ve got food. But if you’ve got any sort of food, then he loves you. He’s very greedy, just like me. That’s why we get on so well!

    “He really is the perfect horse. You can travel him anywhere and anyhow and he doesn’t stress or fret or worry. He’s exactly the same at show as he is at home.

    “But he really does have the biggest heart and you know when you ride him that he’s giving you his all. I am so self-critical, but most of the time he has tried his very best.

    “Because he’s so consistent, banging out test after test, when he makes the odd mistake people ask what’s wrong, but you have to remember he’s just like any other horse and can make mistakes.”

    On emotion at the London 2012 Olympics…

    “In so many interviews before London people asked me if I’d cry. I always said, ‘Oh god no! Why would I cry? I’ll celebrate!’

    “I knew we had a team medal chance but I honestly can say I never thought of an individual medal. I would have been pleased with one of any colour, I really would.

    “I got whisked away so fast to the media I didn’t have time to think about it. There was so much press to do and no time to see my friends and family. That’s why it took a couple of weeks for it to sink in.”

    On learning to speak to the media…

    “Back then, I hadn’t done much media and none without Carl. I was so nervous and I relied on him, but after my test I got whisked away by myself. I was so scared I’d forget what I was saying or what people had asked.

    “Now I realise there’s nothing to be afraid of. Carl and I had an interview with Clare Balding a few weeks ago and they couldn’t shut me up!

    “I’ve taken thousands of selfies with people — it’s great fun and really amazing to have all those people behind me supporting me and knowing they feel I’m an inspiration. People come up to me and talk as if they know me. When I was in the US, people were crying — it was insane. I felt like a pop star.

    “I forget what I’ve done and achieved — I’m just me.”

    On post boxes…

    “I have two gold post boxes, one in Enfield and one in Newent. It’s five minutes up the road, and yes, I have posted a letter in it!”

    On hatred of the German venue Aachen…

    “Aachen was horrendous, I hated every minute of it both times I competed there.

    “It’s an awful atmosphere and I don’t feel myself there. Valegro feels a bit like that too. I never want to be made to feel like that again.”

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    On expectations for Rio…

    “If I get on the team — and hopefully I will — I want to go and enjoy it and have fun. It will probably be my last big competition with Valegro and it would be amazing to finish at the top.

    “But win or lose I’ve done it once already, so there’s nothing to prove.

    “I just want to go to Rio on a high and what a privilege it would be to represent my country and perhaps get a medal. It would layer on to the already huge success I’ve had with Blueberry — and nobody can take that away from us.”

    Don’t miss our ‘My Olympic Horse’ feature with Charlotte Dujardin in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (23 June 2016), launching our Olympic takeover series ahead of the Games

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