Image: Kevin Sparrow

Charlotte Dujardin enjoyed three wins at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships riding a range of exciting young horses, which she described as “better than any medal”.

Amazing attitude

Charlotte kicked off her winning streak in the Equi-Trek Elementary Gold Championship. Riding Mount St John VIP she scored 76.61% to take the title by nearly 7%.

“She’s just like a little toy,” said the current Olympic, World and European Champion. “I can go up or down the gears and she takes everything in her stride.”

VIP was bought by Mount St John’s Emma Blundell as a foal and Charlotte has ridden her through the grades. The day was extra special as the six-year-old mare became a mum for the first time the night before via embryo transfer – and Charlotte already has her eye on the new-born colt!

Harshest critic

Charlotte went on to take first and second in the Charles Owen Advanced Medium Gold Championship. Her first ride was the striking grey mare Florentina, who won championships at Stoneleigh as a five and six-year-old. This was her first time at Hartpury and Charlotte rode a sympathetic test to take the lead on 74.25%.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself today so perhaps rode a bit ‘safe’ but I’m pleased with her,” said Charlotte. “I’m my own harshest critic so would say maybe I wish I’d have been braver.  I have to remind myself that she’s only seven and rides like an older horse. You ask her any question and she always answers ‘yes, yes, yes!’ She’s just so genuine.”

Second place went to the relatively unknown En Vouge, who has been lightly campaigned to allow him time to mature. The powerful young horse showed signs of tension but Charlotte once again coaxed the best performance out of the youngster to score 72.15%.

Quite emotional

“When I came out of the arena, I was quite emotional,” Charlotte admitted. “It’s been quite a challenging journey with him. When we broke him at three, he bucked a saddle clean off and when it came to teaching him changes, he just threw himself on the floor.

“I’ve been really careful to not put him under pressure and build confidence and he just gets better and better.”

Charlotte’s final win came on the final day in the Albion Medium Gold. Her partner this time was Brioso II, who Carl bought as a just backed five-year-old, two years ago. The pair was awarded 73.79%.

“She’s proving to be a proper rough diamond,” said Charlotte. “I’d certainly say that she has the talent for GP. I’m so pleased with how she coped with the atmosphere here as really she’s so inexperienced. The more I did, the better she got.”

Hottest class

One of the hottest classes at the Winter Championships was the Nupafeed Advanced Medium Freestyle Gold, which was won by Nikki Crisp and Durable on 75.83%.

“He’s amazing, I’m pretty chuffed with him,” Nikki said. “I think they broke the mould when they made this one, he’s exactly the same at home as he is at shows. Really he’s just a completely cool customer; I don’t think I’ve ever had a horse like this one.”

Nikki’s groom Claire Young was also recognised as the Nupafeed Advanced Medium Freestyle Gold is the only class to award a prize to the winning groom.

“She’s massively important to my team,” said Nikki. “She turns out immaculately and has a huge attention to detail. My horses really like her and she takes a huge amount of pressure off me. Yesterday she even read a book with him in the stable because he needed time to chill out.”

Brave or stupid!

It was also a great Championship for gold medallist Sophie Wells who claimed the gala night double. The rider, who competes in both para and able-bodied dressage, won the NAF Magic Prix St Georges Freestyle Gold riding Hogg’s C Fatal Attraction, her reserve ride at Rio. They were third to go and Sophie pulled out all the stops with a technically demanding test, to score 75.75%.

“We’ve worked on the floorplan for a while, but there’s a bit too much in it for a Grade V para test so it’s great to use it tonight,” said Sophie after the competition. “He’s only just recently been strong enough too.”

The following night she took the title in the Superflex Inter I Freestyle Gold Championship with Valerius, which was their first competition since last year’s Paralympics. Sophie’s Freestyle, which was performed to orchestral music put together by Tom Hunt, earned her a winning score of 75.83%.

“As he’s not competed for six months I definitely felt out of my comfort zone – it was a case of being brave or stupid!” said Sophie. “We’re such a good partnership though after ten years together, we can produce the expression needed while keeping a lid on it.”

Find out how Sophie made it to the top of her career, against all odds, in Rudall Rides with Sophie Wells which is available now on H&C Play.