Emotional Dujardin enjoys one last ride on her horse in a million

Dujardin could only manage one sentence to the media before the tears rolled down her cheeks at the Rio Equestrian Centre.

In defending her individual dressage title in Rio on board Valegro, Dujardin became just the second British woman to win three Olympic titles alongside Laura Trott, while also joining Richard Meade at the summit of British equestrian achievements by matching the eventer’s feat across the 1968 and 1972 Games in Mexico and Munich.

But as much as records hold significance in sport, the discipline of equestrian and in particular dressage, revolves around so much more than statistics and medal tallies.

It’s about the intense connection between both rider and horse and the ability for both to work in sync together.

Dujardin and Valegro are head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to such matters.

But with the 14-year-old mount approaching retirement, Monday’s golden triumph represented more than just another win, with the emotion of competing at an Olympic Games with Valegro for the very last time plain to see.

“I knew he couldn’t have done any more. He felt like he’s done his very best. It’s a bit emotional,” she said.

“He’s going to be retired. I haven’t said when exactly but it’s on the card to retire.

“I was thinking this could be the last time, I’ve got to go out there and enjoy it and give everything.

“He is so magical. I can’t even tell you what it’s like to ride him. He has a heart of gold. He is the horse of a lifetime.

“To go out there and just ride and have the best feeling ever is amazing. He tried so hard.”

Dujardin and Valegro have proved to be an all-conquering force in recent years, with the British rider the first to hold the complete set of individual elite dressage titles at one time – the individual Olympic freestyle, World freestyle and Grand Prix Special, World Cup individual dressage and European freestyle and Grand Prix Special titles.

Somewhat surprisingly then that the rider, who has also won team silver in Rio, admitted to some race pre-competition nerves.

However she pushed them to one side, with a routine of poise and elegance which scored 93.857% from the judges – enough for victory ahead of Germany’s Isabell Werth and Kristina Broring-Sprehe.

Aged just 31, it’s conceivable that Dujardin could yet go on to establish herself as Britain’s greatest female Olympian ever – especially when you consider that Rio equestrian teammate John Whitaker is 61.

But so much depends on the right horse with Dujardin admitting replacing Valegro was a tall order.

“I owe it to him to finish at the top. I’ve been there at Olympic Games and lived it but I’m going to make sure it happens again,” she added.

“It’s another huge challenge to try and recreate it again. There will never be another Valegro. I don’t want anyone to ever compare a horse that I ride to Valegro because there will never be another him.

“But it will be a huge achievement to try and get to another Olympic Games, whether you win or not, just getting here is a huge achievement.

I did feel the nerves a little bit out there for the first time ever because I did know that it could be one of the last times ever with Valegro.

“But he gave me a look before and then I knew everything was going to be fine.”

Finding a replacement horse will not be Dujardin’s only priority in the immediate future either with a much overdue wedding to plan.

From Pippa Field, Sportsbeat, in Rio

Sportsbeat 2016