Dujardin Excels
Horse & Hound|December 23, 2021
The ever-adorable Gio scores a personal best under Charlotte Dujardin, on an inspiring evening at the show’s new home
PIPPA ROOME
FEI WORLD CUP QUALIFIER

1ST CHARLOTTE DUJARDIN (GBR) on Gio

2ND LOTTIE FRY (GBR) on Dark Legend

3RD FREDERIC WANDRES (GER) on Duke Of Britain

SOME think of dressage as the staid relation in the horse-world. But that was far from the truth last Friday night as riders battled it out in the freestyle that forms the London leg of the World Cup, in a class supported by Horse & Hound.

We might have missed the beautiful curved ceiling of Olympia’s Grand Hall this year, but the packed crowd did all they could to raise the roof of the ExCeL, the well-received new venue for this Christmas show.

Britain’s heroine, Charlotte Dujardin, was the spectators’ darling, winning here for the fifth time. She took the competition reins once again on Gio – her Olympic and European medallist, who has been sold to the Pidgley family for junior rider Annabella to pilot – and finished more than 7% clear of the field in both the grand Prix and the freestyle.

“There’s nothing more exciting than going into an arena with a huge crowd behind you,” said Charlotte after her freestyle. “I’d forgotten what it’s like to hear that buzz and it’s the best feeling – I’ve missed it so much.”

The new show set-up places the large warm-up – a huge advantage of this venue over Olympia, where the collecting ring is tiny – right beside the champagne bar, so horses had some taste of what was to come before they entered the arena. The 10-year-old Gio, known as Pumpkin, who looks almost pink clipped out, took it all in his stride.

“It’s just trying to keep him confident and make sure he knows it’s OK. We’ve had a year of no spectators and all of a sudden we’ve got thousands of people, plus this was his first [big] indoor show,” said Charlotte.

“Gio has never experienced anything like that so I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. He definitely proved what sort of horse he is because he took it on like a real showman.”

The pair started with a mistake-free grand Prix for 82.553%. Their consistently high marks were iced with three 10s, for trot half-pass (a Gio highlight), a pirouette (Charlotte’s own specialty) and the final piaffe.

Many riders were having their first taste of the new short grand Prix which is being used on the World Cup circuit this year, and it met with general approval.

“That test suits him very well because it is quite twisty and turny, everything comes up quickly and we’re used to doing more of everything,” said Charlotte. “For him, those lines worked really well because he is small.”

Anything Gio lacks in size, he makes up for in energy. Their freestyle, set to dramatic music by Tom Hunt, had power, punch and expression. The degree of difficulty in Charlotte’s floorplan is sky high, but she executes the lines with such ease that only the most knowledgeable watchers realize the skill involved in pulling it off.

Charlotte said there was a blip in her flying changes – “probably more me than him” – and marks for the one-times ranged from 6.5 to nine. But the judges hit the 10 buttons 10 times and the pair finished with 89.04%, a personal best for Gio.

What’s next for the son of Apache? He is still stabled on Carl Hester’s yard, where Charlotte is based, and Annabella trains on him with Charlotte. Will Charlotte compete with him again?

“I’m not really sure how it’s going to work,” she said. “We haven’t made a plan as yet. It’s all happened quite fast.

“It’s magical to watch Annabella riding him – it makes me quite emotional because he is still a very young grand prix horse and she’s learning all the grand Prix stuff. She’s a really good up-and-coming rider and next year is going to be very exciting.”

Whether we next see Gio in competition with Charlotte or with Annabella, he proved yet again here that in dressage, the future is definitely orange.

“HE PUT HIS BRAVE PANTS ON”

BEHIND the winner, there was some shuffling of the podium between the grand Prix and the freestyle. Charlotte’s teammate from the Olympics and Europeans, Lottie Fry, improved her position from fourth in the grand prix – in which she and Dark Legend, by Zucchero, had some “misunderstandings” in the piaffes – to second in the freestyle.

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