Charlotte Dujardin takes her fifth FEI Dressage World Cup qualifier in London with Gio

Friday, 17 December 2021

It was a British – and a Charlotte – one-two in the fan-favourite Freestyle dressage class at the London International Horse Show this evening. It would take a brave man to bet against Charlotte Dujardin at her self-proclaimed favourite show, and she once again proved why she’s in a league of her own competing in the capital. Meanwhile, Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Fry continued to capture hearts on this rare visit to her home country to compete in the FEI Dressage World Cup qualifier, rising to the top of the rest of the field to take second with Dark Legend.

Following a summer of senior team duties, Lottie Fry has cemented herself as the new darling of British dressage, and it’s been a real treat for fans to see the Dutch-based rider compete on British soil this week.  While 12-year-old Dark Legend might not have the flamboyance of Lottie’s Olympic and Europeans ride, the stallion Everdale, his correctness and expressive way of going was still enough to catch the judges’ eyes in their freestyle test tonight.

Set to a soundtrack of pop tunes, Lottie and the gelding she co-owns with Van Olst Horses pulled off a precise, technical floorplan that showed off all their skills. There was one minor wobble as they moved from half-pass into a pirouette, when Dark Legend thought they were continuing across the arena, but Lottie managed to catch him before it could disrupt the rest of the test and carried on without further issue.

Lottie completed her final salute with a huge smile on her face and it was rightly earned – a score of 81.945 was enough to send her and Dark Legend to the top of the leaderboard with just two riders to go.

“It was incredible in there,” said Lottie after her test. “Even before you start your test, they’re cheering for you – it’s an insane feeling. It’s so quiet when you’re riding your test, you can hear a pin drop, but as soon as you finish, everyone is just so happy for you. This year couldn’t have ended any better, it’s really insane – the perfect end to this amazing year.”

If Lottie is the newest star of the dressage scene, the final rider in tonight is its queen. This was just the third time that Charlotte Dujardin and Gio have ridden this floorplan, set to original music by composer Tom Hunt – the previous two occasions were the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the FEI Dressage European Championship in Hagen. The difference in ‘Pumpkin’, who was sold to Sarah Pidgley in October but has returned to Charlotte for this trip to London, from when he first came down the centre line in Japan back in July is remarkable. The gelding who danced around the International Arena this evening was stronger, oozed quality and exuded a new confidence that’s the byproduct of his adventures in the latter half of this year.

While their test wasn’t mistake-free, with a few missteps in the one-and two-time changes, it was still way ahead of the rest of the field. The judges awarded four 10s for the movements – three of them going to the left half-pass in collected – and a further three apiece for the choreography and interpretation of the music. A score of 89.040% was another personal best for Charlotte and her pocket rocket, putting them 7% ahead of Lottie and Dark Legend, who finished in second ahead of Germany’s Frederic Wandres and Duke of Britain FRH.   

“Riding with such a huge crowd behind you, I’ve actually forgotten what it’s like,” commented a delighted Charlotte. “To go in there and just feel that buzz is amazing. Gio has never done an indoor show and not done anything with those vibes. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. He’s been amazing this year – he’s done his first Olympics, his first Europeans and then to finish the year like this, he’s come on so quickly.

“To finish my year with two personal bests in that atmosphere is extraordinary. You can’t create that sort of atmosphere, except for riding in it. He definitely proved what sort of horse he really is as he took on like a real showman.”

British riders took the next four places on the leaderboard, three of them on British-bred horses, with the evergreen Richard Davison and Bubblingh (76.910%) just squeaking ahead of Lara Butler and Kristjan (76.395%) to take fourth. Hayley Watson-Greaves has a more successful time with Rubins Nite than in yesterday’s Grand Prix, when the characterful gelding got his tongue over the bit, to score 75.875%, while Gareth Hughes and KK Dominant were just 0.03% behind with their catchy new floorplan set to a Beatles medley.

Full results are available here.

The action at The London International Horse Show continues tomorrow with more showjumping and the second phase of the FEI Driving World Cup qualifier. The whole of the evening performance will be available to view on BBC iPlayer and Red Button, and the BBC Sport website and app.