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I have never danced with my horse, James. Nor have I bopped with his best friend, an orange Irish bombshell called Carrot. But I’m dreaming about trying it this week after Charlotte Dujardin’s two bronze medals for Britain.
Every four years, at the Olympics, we get to see the magic of dressage. There’s a moment when the horse and its partner float in a kind of connected dream, thinking and moving together, equine ballet to bad music.
I want to know how it feels to do the passage, the piaffe and the pirouette, to trot to a tango beat, to be in harmony with a half-pass, but I know I will never come close. Just to watch Dujardin on the Discovery app on a tiny screen on my iPhone is to see a rider who can make extraordinary things happen with the slightest of movements — a tiny shift in the way she sits, or a minuscule twitch in her hands.
I saw her ride at the 2012 Olympics, with the skyline of Canary Wharf above her great horse Valegro (once fed carrots on a silver tray after he won). This time she has become Britain’s most successful female Olympian, riding a young horse, Gio, with so little experience that, as she said, “the medal might be bronze but he’s a winner in my eyes”.
If you don’t know about dressage — and, away from the Olympics, most people don’t, a sport with a scoring system which makes the laws of cricket look simple — you might wonder if the horses enjoy it. Some even ask if it is cruel. I promise they love it: you couldn’t force an animal to move as softly and sweetly as Dujardin does. It takes practice but in her case a kind of genius, too, forming a partnership so strong it can last a flight to Japan and the heat of a Tokyo stadium. Born in Enfield, Dujardin is simply a natural, not a posh horsey type.
She’s already thinking about extending her medal run in Paris, in 2024. Next up in Tokyo are Britain’s eventers, who combine dressage with showjumping and the thrill of a cross country course. Meanwhile, excuse me. I’m off to prance with my pony.
What has been your Tokyo Olympics’ highlight so far? Let us know in the comments below.