Following strong performances from Carl Hester and Lottie Fry yesterday, all eyes turned to the sole Team GB combination to trot down the centre line today – two-time Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin and the 10-year-old gelding Gio.
A new Olympic partnership
This is a very different Games for Charlotte (35) compared to her last in Rio, when she was riding the experienced and multi-medalled Valegro. In contrast, Gio, who Charlotte co-owns with Renai Hart and Carl Hester, had just three international Grand Prix starts under his belt prior to travelling to Tokyo.
“It was a bit of the unknown, really – I didn’t know what to expect in there, under the floodlights, in an arena like that,” said Charlotte.
However, their polished performance belied the Apache x Tango gelding’s inexperience. In fact, by the time they left the main arena, not only had they achieved a personal best as a combination with 80.963%, but it was also Gio’s first international Grand Prix score over 80%.
“I couldn’t ask any more from him tonight, he went in and he tried his absolute heart out,” gushed Charlotte. “He’s just unbelievable. He gives me everything he’s got, even though he needs to get stronger and a bit more confident. I can’t ask anymore of him.
“I felt so emotional on the last centre line because when you have a ride like that, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. He’s absolutely lived up to expectations.
“To me, this was as good as winning tonight because I know he couldn’t have done any more for where he is right now in his training and with how few competitions he’s done. That’s like a gold medal, one of those really special moments that I’ll remember for forever and a day.”
An American love story
Charlotte’s relationship with the diminutive ‘Pumpkin’, who stands at just 16hh, began in America when he was five years old. She was there giving a demonstration and the gelding was drafted in as a last-minute replacement for one of the horses, who had to pull out due to injury. It was love at first sight.
“I spoke to his owner, who’d trained other horses to Grand Prix and knew what he was capable of doing. She’d bought him in Holland and flown him to America, and I bought him and flew him back again. When he came off the lorry, Carl asked what on earth I’d done buying a ‘pony’. I told him to wait and see, and here [Pumpkin] is today!
“I just love him, he’s such a little pocket rocket. He might be small, but he’s definitely mighty – he’s got a powerful engine in him. You could stand there and kiss his face all day, he just loves it. People keep stopping in the stables because he’s got the sort of face where everyone wants to look at him and pat him. He’s just adorable. He’s a lovely, lovely horse – such a cheeky little character, but so loving at the same time.”
A team effort
The entire Team GB equestrian delegation lined the warm-up area and stadium viewing areas to support Charlotte and Gio, which is indicative of the ‘one-team’ mentality that runs through the team – regardless of discipline or role.
“The support we’ve had here is phenomenal – our stable and set-up, our camp, is unbelievable thanks to the support crew we have behind us,” Charlotte commented, singling out groom Alan Davies as one especially deserving of thanks. “As riders, we’ve got everything you could ever want – if it isn’t there then they go and get it. I feel so proud and lucky to be British and to be able to do what I do with all that support around me.”
The next stage of the competition
Charlotte and Gio finished second in Group F, which qualifies them for the Freestyle individual final alongside team mates Carl Hester and Lottie Fry. When asked about what music she’s chosen for what will only be Gio’s second Freestyle, Charlotte is enigmatic – “You’ll just have to wait, won’t you!”
The British team also finished second behind Germany in the team qualifier – the Grand Prix Special on Tuesday will decide the medals.
Full results from the Grand Prix are available here.
Information of how to watch all equestrian sessions at Tokyo 2020 is available here.