Olympic Dressage: Charlotte DuJardin and Valegro

Great Britain's up-and-coming dressage star Charlotte DuJardin rode Valegro into the world record books at the Horses and Dreams Show in Hagen, Germany, in late April.
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Great Britain's up-and-coming dressage star Charlotte DuJardin rode Valegro into the world record books at the Horses and Dreams Show in Hagen, Germany, in late April.

Charlotte DuJardin and Carl Hester: You will forget the cursed label "dressage queen" as soon as? you meet this bright light in Great Britain's dressage future--and present.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Olympics: A new world record has been set in dressage. And it wasn't set by that black horse from the Netherlands who was bought by a German owner. You remember him. Totilas set the world record books on fire in 2009 and 2010 under the Dutch rider Edward Gal. No, the new record was set by someone you've probably never seen compete. Someone whose name you may never have heard, or know how to spell. And she was riding a horse equally as unknown on the world stage as she. Charlotte DuJardin of Great Britain scored?88.022% in the Grand Prix Special at the prestigious Horses and Dreams show in Hagen, Germany, in late April. She set a new world record for the event and sharpened the edge between British and German horses and riders at the show. Hagen had been promoted as a head-to-head battle between Germany and Great Britain--right down to the logo for the show. And the competition followed the script. Was this a preview for London? No Dutch riders were in sight, and the USA's Steffen Peters was half a world away, but few would argue that some of the dressage medals at London this summer won't be leaving that country. Charlotte DuJardin's story has a fairy tale quality. Hollywood couldn't spin a better borrowed-britches-to-signature-line story. The young rider has been working for British dressage Olympian Carl Hester since 2007, when she went to him for a lesson--and never left. Charlotte had success as a child show rider and decided not to pursue any sort of vocational or academic training--she knew she wanted to ride and by the time she was 16 she was out in the world, working for a trainer. Charlotte admits that she was star-struck at the idea of riding with Carl: ?I had always really admired Carl but I was too frightened to ask, so I got my mum to ask him if he would give me a lesson,? she said in an interview. Charlotte and Carl clicked in the stableyard and they clicked on the backs of horses. They developed a method for turning horses into potential stars for the world dressage stage--and often watched with slumped shoulders as those made horses left Carl's training center to be ridden by buyers who could afford them. Charlotte's own horse, Fernandez, is just such an example. Fernandez was Charlotte's homegrown Grand Prix horse; he was successful on the European circuit with Carl Hester in the saddle until Charlotte sold him to Norwegian rider?Cathrine Rasmussen in the fall of 2011. "I've just done the hardest thing and that is saying good-bye to my best friend in the whole world, Fernandez," says a quote from DuJardin on the website Eurodressage.com. "I owe everything to him. He is the most amazing horse I could have ever owned, perfect in every way, and whenever things get tough he always puts a smile on my face. I will never forget all the wonderful things we have achieved together from novice to grand prix." Charlotte is no stranger to the USA. She and Valegro competed in Florida this winter in the World Dressage Masters.

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Charlotte DuJardin became an instant dressage sensation when she rode Valegro for Great Britain's gold-medal team in the European Championships in 2011. (Peter Nixon photo courtesy of FEI)

Charlotte DuJardin became an instant dressage sensation when she rode Valegro for Great Britain's gold-medal team in the European Championships in 2011. (Peter Nixon photo courtesy of FEI)

What was the result in Florida this winter? In the Grand Prix Freestyle, Steffen Peters of the USA scored 83.700. Charlotte and Valegro scored 83.650.

Fast forward: A year and a half ago, Charlotte had never ridden in a dressage Grand Prix competition in her life. Last week, she set a world record at Hagen's FEI-sanctioned competition. There are many "never have dones" in Charlotte's life. She could write a resume of all the things she hadn't done until 2011, when she found herself not only riding her first Grand Prix, but doing it at the FEI European Championships. Great Britain had never won that contest. But now it has. Next up: Great Britain has never won an Olympic medal in dressage. But it is another item on Charlotte's list that could soon be checked: done! --------- About Fran: Fran Jurga is a freelance writer and editor from Gloucester, Massachusetts who has found success as a news commentator and blogger. Her blogs include The Jurga Report for EQUUS Magazine and War Horse News and the Steven Spielberg film. Fran is the founder of Hoofcare and Lameness Journal and writes a specialist Hoof Blog. You can follow Fran on Facebook and Twitter for more news about the horse world. In 2008, Fran wrote the WorldRides blog for the Hong Kong equestrian events of the Beijing Olympics.