Charlotte Dujardin rode to double dressage gold at the London Olympics on Valegro
But the fear was the partnership would be separated with Valegro up for sale
The partnership is now safe and the pair have gone on to break world records
Dujardin now has the world title in her sights, the one major success missing from her CV
Sometimes the price of success is losing the thing you most cherish.
For Charlotte Dujardin, every triumph in the sporting arena seemingly took her another step closer to an uncertain future.
Billed as “The Girl with the Dancing Horse” after her heroics at the London 2012 Olympics, she feared that every time she competed would be the last waltz with her equine partner.
The mere thought of losing her “best friend” reduced Dujardin to tears.
Valegro, the horse on which she won double gold, on which she was crowned double European champion and on which she aims to repeat the feat at August’s world championships, was attracting big offers.
He was valued at $10 million but, after much speculation, Valegro’s “For Sale” sign has finally come down – meaning they now have the chance to continue a remarkable record-setting run together.
“His future is secure – he is never going to be sold, we have him forever,” the British rider says of the 12-year-old horse, which is co-owned by her mentor and fellow Olympic champion Carl Hester and Roly Luard.
“It’s an unbelievable relief. It was really, really hard knowing that every competition we did might be our last one. I never knew what was going on, I was too afraid to ask,” Dujardin tells CNN.
Hester, who won team dressage gold alongside Dujardin at London 2012, hopes to set up a small syndicate to cover the costs of keeping Valegro in competition.
“There will be others I can sell on but this one is special,” the 46-year-old told Horse and Country earlier this year.
“I didn’t want Charlotte to feel like he might be sold – it’s not great to ride under those conditions. Besides, Valegro has been with us since he was two so whoever we sell him to, are they going to look after him the way we do? Probably not.”
Dujardin describes Valegro – more affectionately known as Blueberry at his yard – as a Ferrari and, to all intents and purposes, she is a Fernando Alonso as she wrestles the ultimate horsepower out of him.
“He’s a real hot horse who likes to work, and he’s just the most willing and comfortable horse to ride,” she says of their “telepathic” partnership.
“He trusts me implicitly, we both have that trust for each other.
“As for me, I just do what I do. I just have a feeling inside me and I can’t wholly explain that feeling.”
Dujardin is the world No. 1 in dressage, which is split into two events (the set routine and the freestyle) and holds the world records in all three elements of her sport – the freestyle, Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special.
Her most recent record came at last month’s Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final in Lyon with a score of 87.129% comfortably beating her previous milestone of 85.942 set at the European Championships. She scored 92.179% in the freestyle section.
Surely there is a ceiling to the records?
“Well, you’d think that but he just gets better every time,” Dujardin says.
“I don’t know what the limit is although I do believe we can at least beat the freestyle record. There still feels like there’s more to come.”
Dujardin is somewhat disbelieving at the success that she has achieved. It is true that she hasn’t gone down the typical route. She did not have the privileged upbringing of many of her rivals.
Born in Enfield, north London, she only got her chance when her grandmother Joy died, leaving a five-figure inheritance to give Dujardin her the chance to buy her first horse of note.
“It’s odd when I look back, I have to pinch myself sometimes, I honestly can’t believe it,” she says.
“I’ve done more than I ever dreamed of. I’ve just worked hard to get to the top. I’ve had so many letters from people saying I’ve inspired them to take up riding and that’s an amazing feeling.
“Getting to the top is one thing but staying there is quite another. That’s the difficult bit.”
Dujardin will take a trip down memory lane on Friday when competing at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, one of the first events that she ever competed in as a child and a chance to display her and Valegro’s finery on home soil once more.
Her biggest home display will forever be the London 2012 Olympics. The British team had entered it looking for a first Olympic medal in the discipline in over a century, and she ended up picking up two golds) in the space of just a week.
But she admits: “Life after London was tough. The whole experience was incredible. I’d just aimed to be there so that was it, I’d achieved my goal. To get those gold medals was just an unbelievable bonus.
“But after that died down I almost felt a bit depressed – understandable after such a high. It was difficult coming from doing so little media to suddenly being in the media spotlight.
“People wanted me to do everything, and I found that really, really tough. It was a very difficult time.
“Part of that was down to the uncertainty of not knowing Valegro’s future but obviously that’s all changed.”
Throughout it all, the pair kept on winning and breaking records, but the complete happiness has fully returned in 2014.
In addition, the Olympics has brought her all manner of other unlikely facets to her life, ranging from a friendship with chart-topping singer Leona Lewis, who has come to see her train and compete, to passing on tips to former England footballer Michael Owen on dressage for his daughter, who also rides.
None of that has fazed Dujardin, who still bears the same trademark smile that delighted the crowds in London and has made her something of a smiling assassin in which she has decimated her rivals in competition.
Just the world title now is left on the to-do list. Should she win that, she says: “I will have achieved everything in my career at the age of 28. It’ll be time to retire!”
But there are no retirement plans. She and Valegro have plenty of competitions ahead of them. But she is relishing their new lease of life together.
“I know I’ll never have another Valegro and this is probably the peak of my career,” Dujardin says.
“But who cares? There are thousands of people that would like to have had this opportunity. I’ve been lucky to have it, I will always have it and I will enjoy it.”
It is a far cry from the rider that first turned up at the yard of Hester, himself an Olympic champion who described her as Edwina Scissorhands, because of her wooden riding skills akin to the character played by Johnny Depp in the 1990 movie Edward Scissorhands.
Hers and Hester’s relationship can still be a volatile one – Dujardin admitting “we occasionally scream and shout at each other” – but it is clearly stronger for the certainty over Valegro’s future.
Dujardin knows she can save the pair’s last dance for some time.