Incredible as it may seem, Charlotte is a relative newcomer to the sport, yet she is probably as well-known a dressage figure as icons Isabell Werth or Anky van Grunsven. It took Anky, the “Queen of Kur,” from 1994 to 2008 and two great horses to achieve concurrent titles in international championships. It took Charlotte one fantastic partner and just four years to attain the same feat.
Charlotte’s rise can only be described as astronomic. Five years before the London Olympics, where she was team and individual gold medalist with Carl Hester and Roly Luard’s Dutch gelding Valegro, Charlotte hadn’t even ridden an advanced dressage horse. Less than two years before London, she competed with Valegro in her first grand prix. Today, she and Valegro currently hold the world record scores for the grand prix (87.129%), the grand prix special (88.022%) and the freestyle (93.975%).
As it turned out, leaving school at 16 to concentrate on her riding career was a profound move for the double Olympic champion, European champion, World champion, world number one and Great Britain’s first-ever World Cup title holder. As a youngster, Charlotte had enjoyed huge success riding show ponies (at the age of 12, she took her mount to the Show Pony of the Year title) but there was a shelf life with that discipline. As a teenager she was encouraged to apply her abilities in a sport which offered global opportunities and rewards.
Charlotte first crossed Carl Hester’s radar on a ‘talent and potential’ spotting day for Britain’s World Class Performance Program. Carl was impressed with both the girl (“inquiring, determined and enthusiastic”) and her horse, the home-schooled Fernandez. The following year, Charlotte went to Carl’s Gloucestershire stables for a lesson. Eventually, he gave her a job and as fate would have it, the reins on a five-year-old Valegro.
At the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Caen, Charlotte and the now 12-year-old ‘Blueberry’ won gold medals for the grand prix special and freestyle, and the team silver. “After London, I didn’t think things could get any better,” she said. “I have achieved more in the last three years than I ever expected. Valegro has done more for me than I could have dreamed.”
So what’s next for the golden pair? Retirement for Valegro has not been ruled out. “There’s nothing more I could possibly ask of him, and yet at the moment he still loves his job,” Charlotte commented. “So who knows what will happen?”
How did you get started with horses?
My family was very into showing and I started on lead line with my mum and sister.
Can you identify a turning point in your career when decided you could earn a living doing this, and reach the top?
I don’t think there was a moment as such, more an ambition. I was quite successful when I was young on the show pony circuit, which gave me more and more drive to train horses and make it my career.
Life must be pretty hectic with teaching, training, and competing, but added to that you now have to contend with your celebrity status. What it’s like to be you?
My days are extremely hectic with training the horses, teaching, and doing interviews, appearances, and so on. But it’s to be expected off the back of the wins and I just feel lucky for those special moments. I love meeting fans and hearing about how my story inspired them to take up dressage. I manage the day-to-day with the help of a great team, both at Carl’s yard and my own personal team, who organize the rest of it for me. We couldn’t do what we do without all the efforts of those on the ground and behind the scenes.
To reach the top of any sport you must be ultra-competitive by nature, but is there another ingredient that gives you the edge?
It sounds like a cliché, but you have to just enjoy it. Enjoying it and staying relaxed keeps the horses relaxed and happy and ultimately leads to better performers in the arena. I wouldn’t be as calm when I compete if I wasn’t enjoying the first center line. I don’t think about the pressure, because if you do, it takes over.
How would you describe your personality?
Definitely bubbly! I do laugh a lot, but I’m also very disciplined and driven to do well.
If life hadn’t taken you where it has, would you have had another profession?
I honestly don’t know. It would have always been with horses, that I do know.
If Valegro was a human, what sort of person would he be?
He’s a gentleman; very kind and caring. Definitely Lord of the Manor, but all the staff would love working for him.
Is there any particular horse on the international scene you fancy having a go with?
Isabell Werth’s Bella Rose. I would really like to see what she feels like. She looks like she has a heart of gold and tries her socks off.
Where’s your favorite place in all the world?
I’ve been lucky enough to go to many places, but I have to say I loved my holiday in Barbados last year.
Where would you most like to go that you haven’t been?
I have been to the US several times, but have always wanted to go to Canada. I get a lot of support from that side of the world and they are always very friendly and open to new ideas.
How do you stay fit and healthy?
I go to the gym five times a week, so I am strong and supple enough when it comes to my riding, which in turn is good for the horse. I also make sure I am disciplined with what I eat, and I drink lots of water.
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
My team has lots of plans (laughing), but mainly I want to keep producing young horses up the levels and supporting young talent.