Charlotte Dujardin and Gio open the London International Horse Show in fine style

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Dressage fans were given an early Christmas present when it was announced that Charlotte Dujardin would be reunited with the recently sold Gio – who she rode at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and FEI Dressage European Championship this summer – at the London leg of the FEI Dressage World CupTM. The duo certainly didn’t disappoint, topping the leaderboard in the Grand Prix class that opened the iconic London International Horse Show this morning.

It was announced in October that 10-year-old Gio – who was previously owned by Renai Hart, Carl Hester and Charlotte herself – had been sold to Sarah Pidgley for her daughter, Annabella, to campaign at Junior level. However, Charlotte – who coaches Annabella – has briefly taken back her little pocket rocket for an outing to London, one of her favourite shows each year.

Some horses might feel intimidated by the huge arena now on offer thanks to the show’s temporary move to the ExCel London exhibition centre, but Gio certainly isn’t one of them, despite it being his indoor show debut. The diminutive Apache x Tango gelding, who barely tops 16hh, fizzes with personality and enthusiasm for the job. His test with Charlotte this morning was pitch-perfect and showed all their hallmarks of accuracy and poise, and the judges rewarded them accordingly with handfuls of 9s and 9.5s and the only three 10s of the class. The final score of 82.553% was a personal best for Gio – and enough to catapult them into the lead by over 6%.

“I was absolutely over the moon,” Charlotte said after her test. “This is Gio’s first indoor show, he hasn’t had the general public in warm-ups and there’s a lot going on. Going in that arena, it’s huge – he’s not really done anything like that before. He’s only really done the Olympics and the Europeans this year and I’ve had to up his game very, very quickly. I said to Alan [Davies, groom] after I came out that I could really feel how he’s grown up. He went out there, he did the test and I didn’t feel like I had to hold his hand through t. he felt much more secure in everything, much stronger in it all and he really delivered the test – I was really, really happy.”

Speaking of the change in venue for the show, Charlotte said: “It’s not quite the same, I’m not going to lie. London Olympia was always the show where, because it was so compact, everything was so small and on top of you, and it’s what made it feel so special. This is, again, a super show, a super venue – they’ve done an incredible job and there’s so much more space. The arena’s still fantastic, you still go down the same tunnel chute into the arena, and they’ve kept it all very similar. I think it’s just something to get used to now – it’s a change but they’ve done a fantastic job.”

The next highest-scoring British rider was Charlotte’s Tokyo and Hagen team mate, Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Fry, who has travelled to London with Dark Legend from their Dutch base at Van Olst Horses. The 13-year-old gelding, who Lottie co-owns with Van Olst Horses, was her partner at the FEI Dressage European Championship in 2019, where they made their senior championship debut. That outing gave many people their first real glimpse of Britain’s newest dressage star, although they might not have guessed just how meteoric her rise would be over the next two years. 

Today, Lottie – who is known for her icy cool demeanor in the ring – and Dark Legend put in a polished performance with just a few little blips in the piaffe and passage sections to earn a score of 74.526%. This put them in fourth with just 0.63% between them and second-placed Frederic Wandres and Duke of Britain FRH from Germany – previous winners of the London leg of the Dressage World Cup in 2018. Separating Lottie and Frederic was Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald and former British team horse, Atterupgaards Orthilia, who scored 75.105%.

Britain’s Richard Davison and Bubblingh (71.526%), Gareth Hughes and KK Dominant (69.605%), and Lara Butler and Kristjan (69.368%) also jockeyed for positions in the top eight, with just under 6% separating second and eighth place.

Full results are available here.

All of today’s combination’s will be back tomorrow evening to compete in the FEI World CupTM Freestyle. Coverage will be shown on BBC iPlayer and Red Button, and the BBC Sport website and app. Overseas views can also tune in with a subscription to FEI TV powered by