Charlotte Dujardin continues her medal streak as all three Team GB riders impress in dressage final

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Bringing three young horses and an Olympic debutant to Tokyo was always going to be a voyage into the unknow for Team GB, but throughout the week they have impressed devoted dressage fans and new followers alike. This trend continued into tonight’s Grand Prix Freestyle, which acted as the final for individual medals – all three British riders having qualified thanks to strong performances in the Grand Prix over the weekend.

With all eyes on Charlotte Dujardin to see if she could continue her run of podium places at the Olympic Games on her unproven Gio, in only his second ever Freestyle against three German riders in dominant form, it was an evening of dressage sport at its best.

Carl Hester and En Vogue

It’s quite something to say that your first international Grand Prix Freestyle competition took place at the Olympic Games, but that’s exactly what happened for 12-year-old En Vogue tonight. Carl’s focus throughout his selection campaign with the Jazz-sired gelding was always the team competition, meaning their outings have been centred around the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special tests.

However, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise watching Carl coax the highly-strung En Vogue, who he co-owns with Sandra Biddlecombe, Lady Anne Evans and Charlotte Dujardin, through their new floorplan set to original music by Tom Hunt. The test wasn’t completely flawless – a missed one-time change and a wobbly final halt brought their score down a little – but it was a highly credible first attempt that was awarded with 81.818% to end their Olympic debut on a huge positive.

“You know what, I’ve never done a music on him and we all know that he’s very sound sensitive, so he did a really good job,” said Carl afterwards. “When the music comes on in there, it’s incredibly loud and his heart shot through his head. So, the fact that he got better as we went along was good. I’m not trying to win, however bad that sounds. I’m trying to do it so that in a couple of years I have a top horse – that’s what I’m waiting for.

“The floorplan has a 9.5 difficulty rating on it, so there’s quite a bit of difficulty in there for a horse who’s nervous and tense, but I’ve got one chance to ride a Freestyle this year and this is it – unless I go to the Europeans! I thought that I might as well do the biggest job I can, have a go at it but not put too much power in. I’m thrilled with him and from what he’s come from – reversing out of the ring, that sort of thing, in the early days – he’s come a long, long way. I’m so happy.”

Lottie Fry and Everdale

Lottie Fry has had a dream week at her first Olympic Games, riding the 12-year-old breeding stallion Everdale, which culminated in a score of 80.614% for their Freestyle routine.

There was one heart-in-mouth moment when Everdale took fright at the speaker and showed he could have a jumping career, but otherwise their test was the combination of fluid harmony and ice cool determination that we’ve come to expect from them this week.  

“I never wanted it to finish, I wanted it to keep going forever,” she said afterwards. “It’s just a really proud moment. I feel so honoured to be able to come here and represent my country, being able to do what we love. Carl told me that I’ve done the difficult bit in getting here, now I just need to go into the arena and do what I do best. That’s what we love doing – the performing – so that’s the easy bit.”

Much has been made of tiny Lottie’s seemingly unlikely partnership with the 17.2hh Everdale (Lord Leatherdale x Negro), but getting the best out of fiery stallions are actually her bread and butter as the rider for Van Olst Horses in the Netherlands.

“I think that the main thing is that the breeding is so good,” explains Lottie. “They’re all bred for their character and they all want to please, but they want to show off at the same time, so putting that together is the perfect combination. They have so much respect for me when I ride them and I have so much respect for them, and it just works really well.”

So, as we come to the end of four fantastic days of dressage in Tokyo, what does Lottie make of her first taste of Olympic competition?

“It’s probably going to take me a long time to come down from this and realise what’s happened, but I think the main thing I’m going to take away is how much I loved being in that arena and how much Everdale loved it – I can’t wait to get back in the arena at the next Games, hopefully. It’s definitely a good thing that it’s only three years away – the sooner, the better!”

Charlotte dujardin and Gio

The eyes of the world were on double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin, who was the penultimate rider to enter the main arena. However, this was a far cry from when she defended her title in Rio 2016, when she was partnered with the unparalleled Valegro. An individual medal was always going to be a big ask for pocket rocket Gio (Tango x Apache), one of the least experienced horses in the field – although apparently nobody had told him that!

Charlotte was clearly delighted when she left the arena with Gio, who she co-owns with Renai Hart and Carl Hester, and right she should be. Their routine was faultless to a new music score by Tom Hunt that she only received three days ago. The judges scored their test an 88.543%, a full 4.5% higher than their debut Freestyle outing at Hagen. While this put them into bronze medal position, the battle wasn’t over yet – there was still one more formidable combination to come in the form of Dorothee Schneider and Showtime FRH, who were part of the German gold medal-winning team the day before.

“I just wanted to get in there and start and finish in the same place, I had no idea what I was doing and nor did Pumpkin,” said Charlotte afterwards. “He’s a horse with very, very little experience – that’s only the second Freestyle that he’s ever done. I knew I wasn’t going down without a fight, but I just wanted to go out there, enjoy it and have fun.

“Outside, I didn’t know what to think – I was convinced I was going to go wrong because this floor plan was finished just before we left, the music was finished while we’ve been out here, so I’ve been trying to sort that while competing. Pumpkin’s done one Freestyle in his life, which was at Hagen, so he’s got no real experience doing them at all. Then, I set a really hard floorplan for me to learn and get him used to, which I couldn’t really do because I’m here. Tonight was the first time that I rode it all together with the music and the floorplan.

“I’ve always said to myself when I get to the Games that I don’t want to have any regrets, and I knew going in there that I wasn’t going to go down without a good fight. I finished on the biggest buzz, it was the biggest adrenaline rush ever because he gave me so much. He didn’t make a mistake, he had no idea what he was doing – I was throwing him from one thing to another and he just kept going and trying. What he’s done for the last three days is phenomenal – for a horse of 10 years old who hasn’t done one year at Grand Prix, I just couldn’t ask for more.”

“Waiting was a killer,” said Charlotte. “All the combinations that I followed were experienced horses who’ve been doing it for years and years – the Germans are the ones to beat. Dorothee and Showtime are an incredible combination and I didn’t really think I’d beat them, but I’d gone in there and given it my best shot and, thank the gods, I did get the medal. I’m so, so proud and to break those Germans up feels even better.

It’s as good as winning a gold medal to me. He makes you so proud. I feel so emotional because he tries so hard. Honestly, he has no idea what he’s doing, but he goes in there and does it. It’s just phenomenal.

Bring on Paris! He’s 10 years old and look what he’s done. He’s going to be a superstar.”

Another record broken

This latest win sees Charlotte surpass the record she had, for all of 24 hours, held jointly with rower Dame Katherine Grainger and tennis player Kathleen McKane Godfree, and become the most decorated British female Olympian in her own right with six medals – double gold from London 2012, team gold and individual silver from Rio 2016, and double bronze from Tokyo 2020.

“It’s just so surreal,” said Charlotte. “People say it and I just can’t quite believe it. Being level with Katherine Grainger was good enough and now I’ve actually beaten that it’s just, like, ‘Oh my God!’. I can’t believe I’ve actually done that. I feel so happy and so proud of myself to have achieved what I’ve achieved – to have come to each Olympics and medal in both competitions, team and individually. I did it with Valegro, obviously, but to come here with a new dance partner who’s very young, very inexperienced, and come away with two medals – I just couldn’t be prouder.”

Full results from the Grand Prix Freestyle are available here.