Charlotte Dujardin peerless as Carl Hester reflects on what horses have given him and Olympic plans

  • Charlotte Dujardin was in fine form at the I.C.E Horseboxes All England Dressage Festival at Hickstead as she secured a hat trick of wins in the CDI3* classes.

    She kicked her streak off by scoring a one-two in the grand prix, with her Olympic hopeful Imhotep (Everdale x Vivaldi) first on 80.87% and the graceful Alive And Kicking second with 77.37% – a personal best at international level.

    Imhotep was back at his imperious best, with his canter pirouettes a highlight – receiving a 10 from the judge at H, Andrew Gardner.

    “I had such a good ride, it really felt like one of the best grand prix tests we’ve ever done,” Charlotte said. “He has an incredible engine and power and it’s still about managing it all.

    “My pirouettes, piaffe and zig-zags got some really good marks, but what was so nice was that I just rode the test and it just felt like everything happened and was a nice test to ride.

    “Before it felt quite difficult to put it all together but now it feels so much easier. He’s so much more confident, he’s stronger so it makes it easier now for me to be able to focus on the little pinpoint parts whereas before I’ve had to help him so much through it because he’s had all this power and not been able to manage it.”

    Charlotte Dujardin: “I felt quite emotional”

    The combination didn’t quite manage a clear round in the grand prix special, with a slight blip in the one-time tempi changes, but nevertheless scored 81.36% to win – picking up even more 10s for the canter pirouettes as well as the piaffe.

    “It was an expensive mistake, but apart from that I’m so happy,” said Charlotte. “He’s an incredible horse with so much heart and always wants to please. The hard thing is taking the risk and not making a mistake, and that’s what I’m playing around with at the moment. Hopefully, when it comes to the time I need it all, I’ll have ironed it all out.”

    Alive And Kicking won her debut freestyle on 82.35% riding to the Frozen music Charlotte used with Mount St John Freestyle.

    “I love that music and thought it would suit her well, but the floorplan is quite difficult,” said Charlotte. “I couldn’t have been prouder of her, I felt a little bit emotional at the end – where she is right now in her training she couldn’t have done any more. She tried so hard, she answered all the questions, and gave everything a go.”

    It feels wrong to keep describing 10-year-old mare Alive And Kicking as a rising star considering the impressive and mature performances she keeps producing, but she is still very inexperienced at this level – which makes her achievements all the more remarkable.

    “Her piaffe-passage is just amazing, she slips in and out like it’s nothing,” added Charlotte. “I think there’s a lot to come with her, she’s only 10, and I’m very, very excited for the future.”

    Carl Hester: “I’m so grateful to these horses for all that they have given me”

    Carl Hester was third in the CDI3* grand prix with the European team gold medallist Fame on 76.23% and second in the special on 78.66% – while En Vogue won the LeMieux Premier League grand prix class on 75.3% and Fiona Bigwood’s spectacular mare Quinn Q won both the national and international six-year-old classes.

    Following the competition Carl was in a reflective mood, writing: “I think what the horses reminded me of this weekend was just how special these moments continue to be and why so many of us are committed to this sport with these horses that are first and foremost part of our family.

    “When they do test after test and try and make just one small thing better, giving their best with the questions we ask of them and forgiving us if we don’t ask it perfectly on the day; it’s this feeling of trust and partnership that makes training horses and presenting them in arenas the greatest privilege.

    “There is a lot of conversation taking place in our community at the moment and still so much to be discussed for the future. This remains important but whatever happens in the next few months, I can truly say that I am so grateful to these horses for all that they have given me as a rider so far and the pride they give me on weekends like these. And this is all that I could ask for.”

    Carl told H&H he is as yet undecided on whether En Vogue or Fame would be his Paris pick if selected. 

    At the moment it’s too early in the season to say; Vogue was very successful in Tokyo, and has scored up to 78%. That would be his top mark in the special, and then Fame got that this weekend and he’s not in full throttle yet. They’re both very capable horses and hopefully one of them will get selected,” he said.

    “This show has been a good indication to both Charlotte and me that things are going in the right direction, the horses are feeling fantastic and I think we’re starting to iron out all the details that are needed to get these high scores.”

    Carl and Charlotte plan to compete next at Wellington International Festival of Dressage (4–11 June) as they continue their Olympic preparations.

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