Charlotte Dujardin’s bronze-medal winning dressage horse Gio helped her recover from a broken heart when her fiance walked out, the Olympian has revealed.
Dujardin, who shares the title of most-decorated female Olympic athlete with cyclist Laura Kenny, won her most recent medal a year to the day after her partner of 13 years Dean Golding left.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, the 36-year-old said that in the rocky final years of their relationship she had felt so low she considered self-harm.
When Golding finally left for good, it was her new horse Gio – known to everyone as “Pumpkin” – who got her through, Dujardin said.
She admitted their relationship had always had to compete with her career.
Golding famously pinned a sign reading “Can we get married now?” on his shirt after Dujardin’s Rio 2016 gold-medal winning dressage test.
Dujardin told the Mail that Golding had first left her in the run-up to the Rio Olympics – around the same time her team-mate Carl Hester was considering selling her famous dressage horse Valegro.
“It felt like I’d had everything and then it was all taken away. I’d lost my relationship. I was going to lose my horse — my whole life had been turned upside down,” she said.
“If I could have given my medals back and have things return to the way they were, I would have done.”
Valegro – who goes by the nickname of Blueberry – was the thing that kept her going and facing losing him as well caused her to lose two stone and consider harming herself, she said.
“I remember having to go to shows and everyone would be like, ‘are you OK?’ Whenever I was with Blueberry everything disappeared. I was in my bubble,” she said.
“But when I wasn’t with him I wasn’t in a good place.”
Hester eventually decided to keep Valegro and he retired from competition following a farewell performance at the London International Horse Show in 2016.
Dujardin and Golding also patched things up and became engaged again just before Rio, but spilt for good during lockdown when she should have been competing in Tokyo.
“I actually did my Grand Prix (the individual dressage) in Toyko a year to the day after we split up,” Dujardin said.
“A year ago, I was so distraught. It was one of the worst days I’d ever had emotionally, physically. I didn’t know what to do with my life,” she said.
“Yet that morning in Tokyo I just thought ‘look at me now, I’m right up here at an Olympics. I’ve just won a team bronze. How much happier can you be?’
“I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with (Golding).
“Heartbreak is probably one of the hardest things to deal with, isn’t it?”
Dujardin said she dealt with the break-up by a break in Cornwall where she spent her time galloping along the beach and taking the horses swimming – “anything to take my mind away from Dean”.
When she returned to work at Hester’s yard in Gloucester she turned all her attention to a little chestnut horse – Pumpkin – she had bought just after Rio, realising he was special.
Riding Pumpkin helped her block out the heartbreak because it was “just me and him”.
Dujardin still wants to settle down, saying : “I can see myself having kids and one day I can say to them, ‘Mummy was the most decorated’.”
She joked: “Laura will probably beat my six medals. But I can win more in Paris 2024 and keep going for years in dressage. So, hopefully, I’ll get my most decorated title back.”