Charlotte Dujardin made an emphatic return to grand prix yesterday, riding the nine-year-old Mount St John Freestyle to an enormous 81.1% grand prix debut at Hartpury.
The Fidermark mare, owned by Emma Blundell of the Mount St John stud, is Charlotte’s team hope for this year’s World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon, USA.
The double Olympic champion also piloted Carl Hester, Ann Cory and Anne Evans’ 10-year-old Hawtins Delicato (Del) in his own debut at the level, posting 76.8% despite showing some greenness in his changes and pirouettes.
“I’m really chuffed — to come out for her first grand prix and score 81% is pretty special; I didn’t really expect that,” Charlotte told H&H. “She clocked up lots of high marks for movements with double coefficients, scoring 10 for her piaffe and nines for her pirouettes and zig-zag. The canter work felt really super — it felt like she’d done it before. She is just so brave, and she tried super hard — I actually felt a bit emotional during the last centre line.
“It was lovely to be riding at the level again — I said to Carl that it felt as though I was learning to do it again in a way, with two new horses who are green,” added Charlotte, whose last competitive outing at grand prix was on Barolo at the 2016 British Dressage national championships, shortly after the Rio Olympics, at which she successfully defended her Olympic title with Valegro. Since then she has racked up no fewer than 19 national titles across the levels with her string of exceptional up-and-coming horses, including becoming national inter I champion with Freestyle last year.
“Both of them showed a really nice way of going, and although there are little bits for us to fix that’s mostly to do with the horses getting stronger,” Carl told H&H. “Freestyle just got a bit tired on the last centre line, and you’d expect that of a horse her age, but she has such a great attitude — she’s the go-get-it type. We’ve never had to worry about her being different in the ring; in every situation she’s been in she has performed with the same aplomb as she does at home.
“Del just needs his hand holding a little bit longer — when he gets his confidence it will be very exciting.”
Although Carl chose to let Charlotte compete Del this weekend, he will be aiming the gelding at WEG himself. Carl also revealed that he coincidentally scored exactly the same as Del on his grand prix debut with his Rio Olympic and European Championship ride Nip Tuck.
Freestyle is due to make her international grand prix debut at Roosendaal CDI4* in May, and will also be aimed at Windsor and Bolesworth later this year.
Don’t miss the Horse & Hound dressage special issue, containing an exclusive interview with Carl and Charlotte, out Thursday 22 March.