CHARLOTTE Dujardin, the most successful British dressage rider of all time, is renowned for her level-headedness in the arena. It’s this ability to remain calm under pressure — coupled with her remarkable natural talent — that has allowed the 31-year-old to take three Olympic gold medals, plus multiple golds at world and European championships.
Taking her driving test, though? Now that was tough. “I hated every second of it,” Dujardin admits. “I was so nervous I was almost sick.”
She passed on the second attempt, and her mother, an accountant, used a bonus to buy her a purple Vauxhall Corsa.
“I kept it immaculately clean,” says Dujardin. “I know you have to work hard to buy the things you want. I cherished that car. It had a tiny engine but that didn’t stop me going everywhere in it.”
The Dujardin family made many sacrifices over the years to keep the future Olympic champion on the road and in the saddle at home in Bedfordshire. Dujardin’s mother spotted her youngest daughter’s precocious talent when, at just two years old, she used to ride her elder sister’s horses back to the stables. At the age of three, Dujardin won second place in her first Pony Club showjumping competition. “Dad would drive us to showing competitions in an old horse lorry,” she says. “It was a real adventure.”
“I don’t like it if people get in with muddy boots”
Already a successful young showjumper, Dujardin didn’t compete at dressage until she was 15, using an inheritance from her grandmother to buy her first dressage horse. Having left school at 16 to pursue her dream, she did most of her travelling by horse lorry. Then, after a few years with the Corsa, she upgraded to an Astra: “I needed something with a bit more power to overtake.”
It was the Astra that rolled up at Carl Hester’s stables near Newent, Gloucestershire, where Dujardin went to work as a groom in her early twenties (and where she still trains today). A fellow Olympic dressage competitor, Hester spotted her talent and asked her to develop Valegro, his Dutch warmblood gelding. The plan had been for him to ride the horse, but instead Dujardin found her perfect match.
“Carl had trained Valegro but he proved difficult to handle. Then I started riding him and there was a connection. It’s amazing being at one with a great horse.”
As she and Valegro began their winning partnership (the three Olympic golds, plus five in the European championships and two World Cup golds), Dujardin traded in the Astra for an Audi A3.
Last month their extraordinary connection came to an end: the 14-year-old bay retired after a final appearance at the London International Horse Show. “I’ve been riding Valegro for 10 years and he’s been so special in my life,” says Dujardin. “He’s made my dreams come true and more. But it’s now time to hang up his bridle and open a new chapter.”
She has held on to the A3, which she uses for carting her four dogs around; her posh car is a Q5 that came as part of a sponsorship deal with a Cheltenham Audi dealer after her London triumph. “I get it valeted once a week. I don’t like it if people get in with muddy boots. Part of my job might be quite mucky but I want my car to be spotless.”
Charlotte Dujardin: my life in cars
- 2001 Vauxhall Corsa
- 2005 Vauxhall Astra
- 2009 Audi A3 TDI
- 2012 Audi Q5 TDI S-line
- My dream car Maserati GranTurismo