Tag Archive: Valegro

  1. Charlotte Dujardin: an equestrian icon

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    Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro did it again. A superb performance in the freestyle in Rio earned them their second consecutive individual title, their second medal at this year’s Olympics, and their third gold altogether. To celebrate this combination’s extraordinary achievement, we look back at their history of success.

    The early days

    Dujardin was born in Enfield, in 1985 and grew up in Hertfordshire. She started riding when she was just two years old and began doing dressage at 13. Success came early for her: by the time she turned 16, Dujardin had won at Hickstead three times. In 2007, she joined Carl Hester’s yard as a groom and the move quickly propelled her to equestrian superstardom — despite a bad fall in 2009 that fractured her skull. Put in charge of a young Valegro, she found her perfect partner: the combination (pictured below at Hickstead in the summer of 2011) first competed together in a grand prix in January 2011, scoring 74%. Soon, they went on to smash all records.

    Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro at Hickstead in 2011

    The London Olympics

    The pair began by setting a new grand prix special world record when they scored 88.022% at the Hagen CDI4* in April 2012. Selected for the London Olympics, they won the individual gold with a staggering 90.089% (below, left), as well as claiming team gold alongside Carl Hester and Laura Tomlinson. Dujardin was appointed OBE for services to equestrianism (below, right) in the New Year Honours of 2013.

    The record-breaking pair

    Superlatives quickly became inadequate to describe Dujardin and Valegro’s performance. They took both the grand prix special and the freestyle titles at the FEI European Dressage Championships in Herning, Denmark, in August 2013 with 85.699% and 91.250% respectively (below, left). Named Reem Acra Best Athlete at the FEI Awards in November 2013 (pictured below, right), Dujardin then proceeded to set new standards at the London International Horse Show in Olympia, where she and Valegro posted an exceptional 93.975% in the freestyle in December 2013.

    Charlotte Dujardin at the FEi awards

    World champions

    Not resting on their laurels, the two won the Dressage World Cup final in Lyon in April 2014 with a then-record-breaking 87.129% in the grand prix (and 92.179% in the freestyle, below, left) and both individual gold medals at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Caen, Normandy, in August 2014, with 86.120% in the grand prix special and 92.161% in the freestyle (below, right).

    When a world record is not enough

    Dujardin, who was named Sunday Times & Sky Sports Sportswoman of the Year in November 2014, then went on to break her previous world records by scoring 87.46% in the grand prix and 94.300% in the freestyle at Olympia in December 2014 (pictured below).

    Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro at olympia
    Watch Charlotte Dujardin break her own freestyle record at Olympia in December 2014

    European champions—again

    In 2015, she has won both World Cup title in April (below, left), and the Europeans in August (below, right), despite some serious competition from Germany’s Kristina Broring-Sprehe and Desperados.

    Charlotte Dujardin wins the Reem Accra World Cup in Las Vegas  

    Charlotte goes National

    In September 2015, Dujardin added one more title to her roster of accomplishments when she became National Champion. The thirty-one-year-old took both the grand prix and freestyle titles, this time aboard Barolo, at the National Dressage Championships at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, in late September (pictured below).

    charlotte dujardin is Britain's national dressage champion

    Olympic champions for the second time

    With the National titles also under her belt, Dujardin looked poised set to defend her Olympic title in Rio—and she did. First she and Valegro gave their all to ensure Britain won team silver, then the combination put in a foot-perfect performance in the freestyle, where a superb score of 93.857% saw off competition from Germany’s Isabell Werth and Kristina Bröring-Sprehe to win the individual gold. With Valegro now possibly heading towards retirement, this second Olympic gold is the perfect way for Dujardin to celebrate the partnership with her horse of a lifetime.

    Top image: Charlotte Dujardin wins her second consecutive individual gold at the Rio Olympics, by Arnd Bronkhorst / FEI

  2. A new rival for Valegro?

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    Their dominance of the dressage world has proved to be unprecedented – but has a major championship rival to Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro finally come forward?

    Dujardin will arrive home from the FEI European Championships in Aachen with another two individual gold medals added to her enviable collection. The 30-year-old can now be called a double-double European champion, in addition to world champion, Olympic gold medallist and triple world-record holder.

    No-one has seriously threatened Dujardin’s reign since those unforgettable scenes at Greenwich Park three years ago, but events in Aachen over the past few days provided more than their fair share of interest.

    Dressage history books will forever show that Germany’s Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados FRH finished second in the 2015 European freestyle final — but that does not tell anywhere near the full story of an occasion when Dujardin’s remarkable gold medal sequence almost came to an end.

    Ultimately, they were separated by just 0.25% as Dujardin and Valegro prevailed on a score of 89.054 per cent. Bröring-Sprehe did not so much send a warning signal 12 months before the Rio Olympics — she practically wrote a letter of intent and hand-delivered it.

    Speaking on television, British Olympian and world-renowned dressage coach Richard Davison said he felt it was good for the sport that the freestyle title race had been so closely-fought, and many will agree with him after seeing Dujardin challenged like never before when stakes were at their highest.

    It was the opening chapter in what could prove to be a dressage best-seller, and there were many in Aachen’s main stadium who felt that home favourite Bröring-Sprehe had done enough for gold. While it was not to be this time around, one wonders whether it might be a different story in Brazil next August?

    Dujardin’s brilliance was showcased during Saturday’s grand prix special, which she won by an emphatic margin, but performances in the team grand prix test and freestyle contained uncharacteristic mistakes, although it says everything about the combination’s brilliance that they still topped all three sections in Aachen.

    What Bröring-Sprehe did on an overcast Sunday afternoon in Aachen was to plant the tiniest seed of doubt that Dujardin will continue to reign into next year, at Rio and then beyond the 2016 Olympics, and there are not many followers of equestrian sport who genuinely believed that was possible.

    “They (Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados) have gone within a minute percentage of actually being able to beat Valegro,” Dujardin’s mentor, trainer and Valegro co-owner Carl Hester said. “Desperados is not an old horse either, so it looks like Valegro suddenly has a new rival.

    Olympia in December — a happy hunting ground for Dujardin and — is likely to be the next port of call on their Rio journey, and no-one should be in the least bit surprised if world records are once again threatened or surpassed.

    Now, though, it might just be a two-horse race.

    Image: Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados look set to rival Charlotte Dujardin and Desperados, by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of FEI

  3. Charlotte Dujardin nabs the Aachen freestyle gold by a whisker

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    Charlotte Dujardin added another major championship gold medal to her stunning collection on Sunday — but only after being pushed all the way in a gripping European dressage freestyle final.

    Germany’s Kristina Broring-Sprehe went within less than 0.3% of inflicting a first major championship defeat on Dujardin since 2011, but the British star — as she has done so many times in the past — came up trumps on Valegro amid intense pressure to edge home on 89.054%.

    Broring-Sprehe’s freestyle personal best on Desperados FRH of 88.804%, though, gave Dujardin plenty of food for thought just 12 months out from the Rio Olympics.

    “I knew what was going to come,” said Dujardin, who was drawn last to go immediately after Sprehe’s electric performance created an incredible buzz in Aachen’s main stadium. “Being in Aachen with Kristina being with her home crowd, I was expecting it, just like I had in London three years ago. Following Kristina, you could feel how much the crowd were behind her.

    “When I walked in, there was a huge atmosphere and they were applauding her score. There was a lot to deal with at the very beginning, but overall, I am thrilled.

    “I was really happy with the start of the test, then there was a mistake in my one-time changes. I knew it was going to be a tough call here, but I am not going to moan. I am going away with two gold medals and a silver, and I am really happy with that.”

    Spanish rider Beatriz Ferrer-Salat took the bronze medal on Delgado, scoring 82.714%, with Carl Hester and Nip Tuck finishing eighth. Fiona Bigwood, an integral part of Britain’s team silver medal success on Thursday, withdrew Atterupgaards Orthilia before the freestyle because of a reaction in its back following the grand prix special 24 hours earlier.

    Reflecting on a dramatic conclusion to the European dressage schedule, Dujardin’s mentor Hester said: “He (Valegro) was a little bit tired today and a little bit empty, and I felt it would be difficult to get the ones.

    “They (Broring-Sprehe and Desperados) have gone within a minute percentage today of actually being able to beat Valegro. Desperados is not an old horse either, so it looks like Valegro suddenly has a new rival.

    “Valegro set the standard a while ago of high percentage scores, and people are creeping closer. It is five years now that he has been winning gold medals, and this has been a great week again.”

    The British quartet of Dujardin, Hester, Bigwood and Michael Eilberg will head home from Germany after finishing just 1.4% away from team gold, with Dujardin now a double-double European champion, in addition to holding Olympic and World gold, plus the sport’s three world records.

    Attention in Aachen now turns to the FEI European Showjumping Championships, which begin on Wednesday, with the British team of Ben Maher, Michael Whitaker, Joe Clee and Jessica Mendoza, not only defending the title won in Denmark two years ago, but also striving for one of three Olympic qualification places on offer alongside rivals like Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain.

    Image: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of the FEI

  4. Charlotte Dujardin wins the grand prix special at Aachen

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    Charlotte Dujardin put her Aachen demons behind her to retain the European grand prix special title on Saturday after an emphatic gold-medal performance.

    The world number one suffered a rare defeat in Aachen last year, and her display on Valegro in Thursday’s team competition was slightly below-par — but they made amends spectacularly.

    Their score of 87.577% was just short of the grand-prix-special world record they set in Hagen more than three years ago, but it set much too hot a pace for the rest to handle.

    Germany’s Kristina Broring-Sprehe, riding Desperados FRH, took the silver medal on 83.067%, while Holland’s Hans Peter Minderhoud claimed bronze aboard Glock’s Johnson. His team-mate Edward Gal was eliminated with Glock’s Undercover and Swedish star Patrik Kittel retired, meaning both riders are out of Sunday’s freestyle final, when Dujardin will be joined by her British colleagues Carl Hester and Fiona Bigwood.

    Hester, riding the richly-promising Nip Tuck, finished fifth, while Bigwood filled ninth spot on Atterupgaards Orthilia, but Michael Eilberg and Marakov bowed out in 19th spot.

    There will, though, be no European showdown between Valegro and former world record-breaking stallion Totilas after the ride of Germany’s Matthias Rath was withdrawn prior to the grand prix special.

    Dujardin said: “On Thursday, I think I was maybe a little too laid-back and just rode for a clear round. But today, because of my mistakes, I thought ‘right, I’m sick of this,’ and I wanted to go in and better my performance as I know Valegro can do much better than that.

    “Last year, coming here wasn’t that great. It’s not a place I get the nicest vibes from, should I say. Today he felt on great form, and I knew I just had to go in and ride him. I had a good ride from start to finish.

    “It’s tough with a German crowd. They really get behind their riders — a bit like we had in London. Coming here and doing it is amazing. The crowd are fantastic and know what they’re watching, and it’s such a great feeling to come out and know that they appreciate what they are seeing and applauding what I’ve done.

    “It’s tough, but I have to remember that this is my passion and what I love, and that’s how I keep the nerves from kicking in. I know I have to go in there, nail it and do my best, but today I really did enjoy it.”

    While 30-year-old Dujardin added another title to her enviable collection, Hester’s score of 77.003% on Nip Tuck served further notice that this is a combination with serious designs on next year’s Rio Olympics, and Hester was suitably thrilled.

    “That’s my gold medal in the bag for me,” he said, reflecting on Nip Tuck’s fine showing. “If someone could make me a little one out of plastic, I would feel like I had the real thing!

    “He was brilliant. For such a big horse, I have to be able to make quite a lot of adjustments to keep him balanced. He absolutely did everything I asked. I love riding him. He has the perfect balance that you want in a dressage horse, and he wants to go, he really wants to work, he is a little bit nervous and he’s on my side. I have such a great relationship with him, and it just keeps growing.

    “I am smiling from ear to ear — it’s like having a pack of fruit pastilles all in one go! For me, it was amazing. I mean, he’s never going to beat Valegro, but he’s ended up fifth in a European Championships, which is just great. I am so proud to bring it out of him, and he offers it. It’s a great moment for me today.”

    Hester, meanwhile, also paid tribute to Dujardin, whose imperious major championship record features Olympic, World and European crowns, plus all three dressage world records — grand prix, grand prix special and freestyle — currently being in her possession.

    “I am really happy for Charlotte,” he added. “I want people to love the horse (Valegro) as we love him at home. Today, he was back at his best. The weather suited him more, as it was a bit cooler. He loves the atmosphere, and today he was back to full power.

    “Charlotte is happy, and I am relieved that she has put her Aachen demons to bed.”

    Watch an interview with Charlotte Dujardin:

    Main image: Charlotte Dujardin by FEI / Arnd Bronkhorst / Pool Pic