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Dressage pair Dujardin and Hester prove perfect Olympic blend

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Newent (United Kingdom) (AFP)

Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester may be complete opposites as characters but that, Dujardin says, is what has helped turn them into Olympic dressage gold medallists.

Dujardin, who has three Olympic gold medals, admits she is "ambitious and single-minded" and Hester tells her to "calm down and not be so hard on herself".

Hester, who is a youthful-looking 51 -- fully 18 years older than Dujardin -- told AFP he is the laid-back one and requires a "kick up the bum" from his close friend.

The friendship formed over the past 12 years since Dujardin turned up to work for Hester at his picturesque 30-acre stables, where a peacock struts freely and guinea fowl roam along with several dogs.

Dujardin, who started riding as a two-year-old and later bought a horse with an inheritance from her grandmother, says Hester is the reason she took up dressage.

In 2007, she took some lessons with Hester and after 10 days at his yard, having spotted her talent, he offered her a job as a groom at his yard in Gloucestershire, in the west of England.

"The joke really is that I have gone from being the boss to working for Charlotte," said Hester, who has six horses compared with Dujardin's 12.

The riders were part of the British team that won team dressage gold at the 2012 Olympics in London and then silver in Rio four years later. They hope to compete in Tokyo next year.

Both are preparing for the challenge of facing world-class opposition at this week's Royal Windsor Horse Show.

Neither conforms to the stereotype that you have to be wealthy to succeed in equestrian sports.

Dujardin at least had a horse connection. Her mother competed in show jumping -- "she gave it up to look after me and my sister" -- but Hester says his builder father and mother never loved horses.

However, growing up on the tiny carless Channel Island of Sark gave him little choice but to form an association with horses. He would ride carriage horses, used to transport tourists round the island, back to the farms at the end of the day.

Hester says the sport he describes as "equine gymnastics" can be open to all-comers.

"I have definitely set an example for people from non-horsey families who do not have backing or sponsors," said Hester, whose family was on hand to witness his moment of glory at the 2012 London Olympics.

"Of course every story like mine is good like that. The belief is you have to come from a wealthy background but I have done it through my riding."

"Of course I have had luck," he said. "The Bechtolsheimers (who breed and train dressage horses) saw something in me, picked me up and I was nothing at the time."

- 'Girl on the dancing horse' -

Hester laughs recalling how he felt like the grumpy old veteran in 2012 when the Bechtolsheimers' daughter Laura (now Tomlinson) was the third member of the team.

"I think she must have been four when I was hired by them, and here I was in my 40s, her teammate. It was like a fairytale," said Hester, who at Barcelona in 1992 aged 25 was the youngest-ever British rider to compete at an Olympics.

Dujardin, whose hopes of further glory are pinned on Mount St John Freestyle as the legendary Valegro is in retirement after glory in London and Rio, found her success inspired people with no connection to the sport.

"I have had emails asking about how to get started," she said. "I have even had people say I am their hero and cry when they meet me. So absolutely it did a lot for the sport.

"After London 2012 they always asked 'Are you the girl on the dancing horse?' And men approaching me in pubs ask me 'Do you make the horse do that or does the horse do it?'.

"Men who aren't even horsey watched it and got inspired by it."

pi/jw/gj

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