World, Olympic and European champion — never before has a dressage rider held all three titles at the same time.
Charlotte Dujardin has taken the dressage world by storm during the past three years — and now she is breaking into the mainstream.
On Sunday (14 December) she will be up against nine other top athletes competing for the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) title.
She’s the first dressage rider ever to be nominated, and if she wins will join an elite league of just four riders to have been crowned SPOTY since the awards’ inception in 1954.
And it shows just how far dressage has come.
“We know that the Olympics brought a whole different audience to the sport, but this will once again give us the chance to jump into another league. Just the fact that she’s been nominated gives the public a chance to see what a beautiful sport it is,” Carl Hester told H&H.
“It’s a fantastic Christmas present not only for Charlotte, but for dressage as a whole — Valegro is not just a horse, he’s a celebrity now.
There are so many so many successful athletes and the fact she’s up there is proof that the sport is growing.”
Winning over the public
Charlotte’s chance of winning the title rides on a public vote — and H&H wants to make sure that she gets all the support she can.
Equestrian stars including Carl Hester, Laura Collett and Tim Stockdale have all taken to social media to proclaim their support.
But she needs the fans to get behind her and vote on the night (see bottom of this story for details).
The rider, who picked up two individual golds and team silver at this summer’s World Equestrian Games (WEG), has already picked up the Sunday Times/Sky Sports Sportswoman of the year and BT Sport action woman of the year — showing she’s breaking through to the mainstream.
“It was fantastic to see Charlotte getting the recognition she so richly deserves when winning the Sunday Times sportswoman of the year award, but just securing a place on the final shortlist for BBC SPOTY is arguably an even greater achievement,” said British Dressage’s Jason Brautigam.
“There are some big names from golf, Formula One, football and boxing on this year’s list, so it is great that dressage is able to take pride of place alongside other higher-profile sports.
“It’s not only a unique opportunity for dressage to enjoy its moment in the spotlight, but also a perfect chance to celebrate Charlotte’s amazing achievements.”
The Dujardin effect — Olympia sales double
Before 2012 the average member of the public probably knew very little about dressage. They still might not know the difference between passage or piaffe, however the “dancing horses” at the Olympics propelled the sport into the public eye.
Since then, gold medals at the Europeans and WEG has led to further promotion for the sport.
“We are urging the equestrian community to get behind her and show their support as they did for Zara Phillips and AP McCoy to put equestrianism on the sporting map,” said a spokesman for the British Equestrian Federation (BEF).
“Charlotte’s success has undoubtedly raised the profile of dressage; the sport is on a rising curve, not just at the top level but from the grassroots up. British Dressage membership is also on the up with an eight per cent increase since 2012.”
Olympia is also reporting the “Dujardin effect” having seen ticket sales soar this year — 11 out of 12 performances have already sold out.
“The introduction of dressage in 2003 broadened the appeal of the show, but since 2012, the ‘Dujardin effect’ and team gold medals at London 2012 and the European Championships is clearly having a huge impact on ticket sales,” said organiser Simon Brooks-Ward.
The Reem Accra FEI World Cup freestyle dressage for this year sold out at the end of October, and they are expecting the grand prix to be close to 70% capacity, compared to the 29% last year.
“People are clearly desperate to not only to watch the magical combination of Charlotte and Valegro perform over the two days at Olympia, but also to support the likes of Carl Hester, Spencer Wilton, making his Olympia debut with his exciting new ride Numberto, and Nikki Crisp.”
How to vote
> To vote online for free you’ll need a BBC iD. If you haven’t already done so, you can register via this link: www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/sports-personality
> Voting will open during the show, broadcast on BBC One, 5v live and on the BBC Sport website, on Sunday 14 December
> You can vote by phone: numbers will be released during the show
Ref: Horse & Hound; 11 December 2014