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Charlotte Dujardin overcomes nerves to make Olympic history

RIO DE JANEIRO -- As the tears flowed, Charlotte Dujardin's thoughts were on her horse Valegro rather than her record-equalling feat of becoming a three-time Olympic gold medal-winner for Britain.

Valegro, part-owned by Dujardin's coach and teammate Carl Hester, is nearing the end of his remarkable career and while his retirement date is not yet set in stone, this is his final Olympics.

And as her gold medal standing was confirmed, Dujardin's mind was on him and their 10-year partnership, not her remarkable score of 93.92 percent in the grand prix freestyle individual final.

"I feel I couldn't have done anymore," Dujardin said. "It literally felt as if he had done his very best. I am just emotional."

Dujardin is now level with Laura Trott's record of three Olympic golds after a performance which narrowly missed her own 2014 world record score of 94.300 percent.

She also draws level with Richard Meade's previous record of three equestrian golds as she produced a test with wonderful poise, agility and all to the beat of the samba drum.

Though the local crowd favoured Spain's Severo Jesus Jurado Lopez's routine, clapping along to the final tones of Bon Jovi as he rode one-handed, it was Dujardin's test that was pitch-perfect under the beating sun.

At London 2012 Dujardin's gold medal-winning routine was to the booming sound of Land of Hope and Glory and aspects from The Great Escape yet here there was a Brazilian theme to her routine.

She mixed in melodies from the film Rio -- something American Simone Biles also utitlised in her gold medal-winning floor routine in the gymnastics -- as Valegro went from half-pass, to pirouettes, to the remarkable piaffe while working in wonderful harmony with his brilliant rider.

"It was an amazing feeling in there," Dujardin said. "I had a really lovely time. I was grinning because this could be the last time and I thought I'd go in there and give it everything for a horse. I think he knew I was thinking that. He just looked after me, helped me, did his best."

It was a mesmeric occasion at the dressage and the setting seemed fitting giving dressage's military and Olympian roots. Back in 350BC Xenophon, a pupil of Socrates, was exiled from Athens to Olympia after being caught masquerading as a mercenary under a Spartan general.

There, in the birth place of the modern Olympic Games, he penned the seminal work On Horsemanship, a guide for training and caring for horses in the military. Inadvertently, he became a forefather of dressage.

Here in the heart of the Latin America's biggest military zone 'Vila Militar', the 18 riders honoured Xenaphon's prophetic guidance -- "Anything forced or misunderstood, can never be beautiful" -- as the horses worked wonderfully in tandem with their riders.

There is something hypnotic about the sport. As they enter the arena, there is the briefest of run ups, the hint of what's to come and then drama-building silence. And then with perfect precision and timing the floor plan starts.

The crowd favoured Juardo Lopez's routine and his score of 83.553 percent, which they deemed low, was greeted with boos unfitting for the general feeling of the test. He failed to get a spot on the podium and below Dujardin, Germany's Isabell Werth, the 18th and final rider, snuck in to take silver with 89.071 percent leaving her teammate Kristina Broring-Sehere in third.

In the only Olympic sport where men and women compete alongside each other, it was the women who dominated.

For Dujardin, who won silver in the grand prix team event last week alongside Hester, the floor plan was a gamble. She had only ridden it once, at Hartpury, and she introduced aspects of the routine on the day of the competition.

There was a feeling of unease. "For the first time ever, she said to me 'I'm nervous' and she's never said that to me in 10 years," Hester said. "I could see that on her face and I said to her: 'Today's about you and nobody else, so please don't ruin your Olympics experience by being nervous now!'"

As Dujardin headed into the arena, the nerves vanished. "As soon as I got in there and trotted around the outside, Valegro gave me the most amazing feeling," she said. "It put a smile on my face and I knew I was fine. It made everything go away and that's what that horse can do.

"He can give you confidence like I can't tell. He's the biggest support, he's a rock. If you feel insecure, he gives you that hug and you feel alright. To go out there and do what I did, faultless, how many horses can do that? It's so rare he's made a mistake. I feel so lucky and privileged to have done what I have with him."

For Dujardin, thoughts now turn to the future. Valegro, born in 2002, is nearing the end of his competitive time but Dujardin will not settle for just three golds. She is keen to add further honours to her lengthy list of accolades of three Olympic, five European and two World Equestrian Games golds.

"I owe it to him to finish at the top," Dujardin said. "I've done it, I've lived it and I'm going to make sure it happens again. He is a once-in-a-lifetime horse.

"It's another huge challenge to recreate and do it all again. There will never be another Valegro and I don't want anyone ever to compare another horse I ride to him. But it's a huge achievement to be able to repeat and get to another Olympic Games."