*Opinion* Charlotte Cundall: Winter Championships and dreams come true – ‘I wouldn’t change anything for the world’

  • Charlotte Cundall is a grade V para dressage rider. She is among the nominated entries list from which the British squad will be selected for the Tokyo Paralympics later this month with her top ride, LJT Simply Red. She grew up with horses and has evented up to CCI4*, point-to-pointed and rode a winner under Rules. Charlotte sustained two serious spinal injuries in separate falls, leading to four years away from the saddle. In 2014, she made her return and is now competing in para and able-bodied dressage.

    H&H catches up with her at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships...

    It’s always lovely to come down to the NAF Five Star Winter Championships and to fly the para flag. There’s quite a few paras competing this week – Amanda Shirtcliffe, Laura Scott, Erin Orford and Joanne Dagley-Cleworth are among those on the startlist. It’s really good for the sport that there’s lots of paras competing here in the able bodied championships.

    I’ve had a really good week – I’m pleased with the boys, LJT Simply Red (“Red”) and FJ Veyron, owned by the Veyron Partnership, and it’s fantastic to be here. With next week’s CPEDI in mind, I used it not as a training show, but as preparation to get in the arena ahead of a big week next week. Luckily for me, my classes were early in the week, so we can head home and they can have some field time ready for next week. It’s been perfect for my preparation as well. I know it definitely works best for me to get in the arena. It sharpens me up and then I feel prepped.

    It’s so lovely to be back out and have some form of normality. The talk in the lorry park is how nice it is to see trade stands again! There’s loads of horses here and people are pleased to back out. I think it’s an interesting show because a lot of the horses qualified a long time ago for the levels they are competing at here. So actually, they have probably gone up two levels in their training. I think there’s been some really smart performances, as a lot of horses are competing at a level below where they are now training. There have been some seriously smart performances. I had a spy of the Prestige Italia novice gold on Tuesday morning and there were some lovely horses in that.

    I think lockdown made us all reassess a few things and look at things in a different way. I’m very fortunate that the horses are at home, so I was in a very lucky position that I could just carry on, of course while being very careful.

    Certainly with Red, maybe having that extra year helped him and we did do things slightly differently. We added quite a bit of in-hand work, went right back to basics, because we just didn’t have the pressure of having to compete every week. That meant we could strip back, address a few things and then find out the root of the problem, rather than patching it up.

    ‘I wouldn’t change anything for the world’

    I’m not going to lie, I did shed a tear when I heard I had made the British nominated entries list for the Tokyo Paralympics with Red. It’s a dream come true. It really is. It was my little dream to get on the list, but you know, dreams don’t always come true and it’s nice when they do. We’ve worked really hard and it’s been quite a journey from 11 years ago when I galloped around what was the three-star, now four-star, eventing here at Hartpury

    If somebody had said then what would be happening now, I would have never believed it. I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I’ve got two lovely horses, some fantastic owners and supporters, so to actually be able to get recognised and make it onto a list with those calibre of riders, I’m very humbled and very honoured to be amongst them.

    Red is owned by the Lady Joseph Trust and I’m hugely grateful to them for allowing me to ride him. I’ve had him three years and absolutely adore him. We’ve been on such a journey together. To make it onto the list with him when we’ve been through everything and learning to be a partnership is amazing. He’s now becoming quite consistent and he’s gaining expression. He’s a cheeky chappy – so adorable and so affectionate. He’s like a little pet Labrador, he is such a softy. Early on, mistakes would creep in – just the odd little thing, nothing dramatic – there was just always something that would just stop it being that great mark. I always knew he was so talented and I always knew there was a big mark in there. It’s just really come together over the past few shows.

    Read more reports from Hartpury…