Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro are one of the most decorated and beloved pairs in dressage history. She and "Blueberry," the now 18-year-old KWPN (Negro x Maifleur), have a fanbase that spreads the globe, those who are enamored not only with their record-breaking performances, but also their indomitable bond.
Charlotte says this partnership that has inspired riders around the world almost didn't happen. In an exclusive interview with Charles Owen, she says Valegro was “ruled out as a young horse” and put up for sale by his owner Carl Hester.
“He was a really bad head shaker and Carl tried to sell him a number of times, but no-one wanted him,” said Charlotte. “I was so, so lucky to come along and find him and click. It was one of those relationships that was meant to be.”
Carl bought Valegro as a 2-year-old, for the bargain price of £3,500 at the KWPN stallion show and grading event in The Netherlands. Little did he know, this chunky little horse would go on to become a triple Olympic gold medallist.
"Everyone always says, ‘Oh this is the next Valegro’. Never. I don't care how amazing it is, there will never be another Valegro in my eyes. He will always be the one and only."
Charlotte was partnered with Valegro in 2007 when she came to work for Carl as a groom and the pair formed an immediate bond. It was this incredible relationship that helped them reach the very top of their sport, winning numerous titles and break world records.
“We had that partnership where we always held each other’s hand,” she explains. “When he was scared I was there to hold his hand, and when I was scared he was there to hold my hand. And that’s what it’s all about. He was my perfect match.”
Charlotte is currently enjoying success with Mount St John Freestyle, on whom she won individual bronze at the 2018 World Equestrian Games, and also a new ride, Gio. However, she says none can live up to Valegro, who has a “heart of gold”.
“Everyone always says, ‘Oh this is the next Valegro’. Never. I don't care how amazing it is, there will never be another Valegro in my eyes. He will always be the one and only,” she said.
It was the trust between them, that helped the pair win their third gold Olympic medal, at Rio in 2016, after Charlotte’s nerves nearly got the better of her. She had decided to retire Valegro after the Games and the realisation that this was their last ever Freestyle together hit home, just as she was about to enter the arena.
“I remember saying to Carl I can’t feel my legs,” she says. “My legs felt like jelly and my heart was racing – it was going through the roof. I just remember being so nervous and I’ve never, ever been like that before.”
Luckily both her dressage mentor and faithful four-legged friend where there to give her a helping hand.
“It still makes me feel a bit emotional when I talk about it,” she says. “Carl just patted me on my leg and said, ‘Go and do what you always do. Just go in there and enjoy it’.
“When I went down the ramp to go into the arena and trotted around the outside, it was as if Blueberry held my hand and said: ‘We’ve got this’.
“Honestly, he just gave me the most insane feeling and I knew I was ok. Literally the nerves just went. That’s what I mean about a partnership with a horse. He gave me so much; I could never ask any more of him.”
In the Charles Owen interview, the 35-year-old dressage superstar, also talks about the tough times during her career, including the pressures of achieving so much in her sport, in such a short space of time, and struggling with social media at the height of her success.
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Feature photo by Daydream Equine Photography. Inset photos by Daydream Equine Photography and Noelle Floyd.