From the time she sat on her first pony hunter, Charlotte Powers heard the same criticism from her coaches.
“ ‘Take the pace you’re going and double it,’ ” Powers remembered with a laugh. “That was always my No. 1 flaw as a junior rider. I was just too slow!”
Today she’s hearing slightly different comments from her trainer and sister, Justine Jarvis. After a 10-year break from competition, Powers, 32, is zipping around the adult amateur jumper ring, something she never would have considered as a junior.
But age has made her bolder, and Powers’ experiences in and out of the tack over the past decade have made jumpers just her speed.
Powers had a successful career as a junior rider. She toddled into the barn as a preschool tagalong when Jarvis started taking lessons at Red Acre Farm in Stow, Massachusetts. Jarvis supplied her with plenty of hand-me-downs. Some, however, came with growing pains.
“We had one horse, Happy, my sister was able to purchase as a teenager because he kept broncing people off,” Powers said. “He bronced her off too, but she saw how he could jump and decided he was worth it. She brought him through the greens and working hunters, then gave him to me when she went to college so I could take him in the children’s hunters.
“He was a great teacher because if you weren’t totally perfect, he was going to get rid of you somehow,” Powers continued with a laugh. “But if you were on and perfect, he was phenomenal.”
When they moved to Poolesville, Maryland, in 2001, Powers began training with Virginia “Ginny” Edwards, who had her branch out into equitation. In 2005 she received the Frances Newbill Junior Exhibitor Of The Year Award from the Virginia Horse Shows Association.
“That one really meant a lot to me, because you win based on recommendations from everyone from fellow riders and trainers to ring crew and jump crew,” Powers said.
Powers left for college still following in the footsteps of her sister, planning to earn an obligatory degree before launching her professional horse training career. She chose Clemson University in South Carolina for their strong equine science program, but one year into her studies she changed her mind.
“I got into my major courses, and I just was not enthralled with it,” Powers admitted.
She’d loved AP psychology in high school, so she switched her major and thought about riding for pleasure rather than professionally. But learning to ride “just for fun” was a challenge for Powers.
“I was an intense perfectionist,” Powers admitted. “I would come out of the ring after a really nice round; I might even win the class, and still I’d be so angry with myself because, oh, in that one corner I dropped my shoulder. I always had to be better, and I was really hard on myself about it.”
Powers spent six months working with a sports psychologist to mitigate her perfectionism, but ultimately, it was her time on Clemson’s Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association team that cured her hyper fastidiousness in the saddle.
“In the IHSA, it’s all about rolling with different situations and doing the best you can with what you get,” Powers said. “I got to ride so many different horses and had to just make it work with each of them.”
Powers’ mental shift didn’t dampen her results in the show ring. She competed in the Cacchione Cup every year but her freshman year and served as the team’s vice president as a junior and senior.
Meanwhile, she found her academic niche in organizational psychology or the study of people at work. She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from Michigan State University before accepting a position working with management teams at Johnson & Johnson.
“I really love the field because it’s taking a rigorous science and data-driven approach to a subject most people think of as kind of soft and fluffy,” Powers said. “Mostly I work around questions of leadership and interpersonal influence. So, how do you help someone become a more effective leader? How can they fairly and accurately assess performance instead of going with gut instinct, which we know is often inaccurate and driven by all kinds of things unrelated to actual performance?”
Powers continued riding recreationally during graduate school. She volunteered with her school’s IHSA team, and through the program met Kim Hafley, who put Powers up on some of the young horses she didn’t have time to keep going by herself.
In 2013, Powers moved to the Johnson & Johnson headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey, leaving her riding connections and graduate school boyfriend, Josh Wesley, behind. She found a way to catch ride a couple times a month, but she and Wesley would have to do long distance for the next five years, even after they married in 2016.
In March of 2017, Johnson & Johnson sent her on a 1 1/2-year long globe trot to their satellite offices around the world. Based in the United Kingdom, she visited countries in Africa, the Middle East and all around Europe, earning 10 new stamps in her passport.
But some of her favorite adventures happened just 10 miles down the road from her Windsor flat at the Berkshire Riding Centre.
“I met a wonderful group of women there, and together we tried carriage driving, polo, riding a mechanical horse, clinics and galloping through the Cotswolds,” Powers said. “It was really good for me because while they’re very conscientious about health and safety on the horses, when it comes to riding, it was much more relaxed. I kind of went over with the attitude of, ‘It’s always my fault, and anything that goes wrong is my fault,’ and honestly, it is. But they were much more of the mind that the horse should still do its job—you don’t need to be babying him all the time.”
Before returning to the United States in 2018, Powers called her sister and asked for help finding a horse. But to Jarvis’ surprise, she didn’t want a hunter.
She wanted something with speed.
“In the U.K. they really don’t have hunters at all; everybody goes fast,” Powers said. “So when I came home I wanted to try something more fun and go-ey, and something where I wouldn’t have to be at the barn at 5 a.m. to longe and ride and braid. I wanted to do jumpers.”
Jarvis arranged for her to lease Escot 6, a 13-year-old Hanoverian (Escudo I—Leca, Le Premeur) owned by eventer Colleen Rutledge, who’d taken him to the five-star level. Only 15.1 hands, the bay gelding has been called a “pony dragon” by more than one in-gate official for his tendency to puff up before his jumper round. At home, he goes by another nickname.
“Colleen named him ‘Monkey,’ not because he loves bananas, which he does, but because he kept getting out of places and fiddling with doors,” Powers said. “Also the way his coat grows kind of looks like monkey hair.”
Now working mostly from home in Ashburn, Virginia, Powers lives close enough to keep Monkey with her sister at Highgarden Farm in Frederick, Maryland. Although they’ve always ridden together, navigating their new trainer-student relationship has taken time.
“You’re usually very, ‘Yes, sir! Yes, ma’am!’ with your trainer, but when it’s a family member it’s easier to argue back,” Powers said. “We have a more effective relationship now, though, where she gives me guidance, but I can still say, ‘Wait, help me understand that because what I’m feeling is different.’
“It’s also great that we can talk for hours about my riding, and she won’t get annoyed with me,” Powers added with a laugh. “She’s a phenomenal horsewoman.”
Powers returns the favor by bringing her professional skills to the barn. She helped Jarvis organize a system for setting goals and evaluating results that she’s applied around the facility, helping students, workers and Jarvis herself to work with more purpose.
Powers has a goal list of her own. This season she’s been in the top three for a number of child/adult jumper classics, and her goal is to qualify for all the major finals this year—the Washington International Horse Show, (District of Columbia), the North American League Finals (Pennsylvania), and Marshall & Sterling Finals (New York) —as well as the USHJA Zone 3 team jumper championships (North Carolina).
Achieving those goals will require something of a balancing act, as she and her husband are still enjoying their first full year of cohabitation. So far, Powers is managing.
“I look at adult amateurs with kids, and I don’t know how they do it!” Powers said. “I’ve had to learn to be OK with having a really long day, but also to coordinate with Josh really carefully. He coaches and referees hockey in his off time, so we try to coordinate so we work late the same nights. It’s also really helpful having a sister who will ride Monkey when I’m up in New Jersey or traveling other places for work.”
One thing hasn’t changed. Even with her perfectionistic tendencies under control, Powers is as competitive as ever.
“I thought I would feel different in the ring—take it less seriously maybe,” Powers said. “But it turns out even though the atmosphere is more relaxed, I still really, really want to nail it. I have always wanted to win in a collaborative way, and I really do want everyone to do their best. I would just like for my best to be the best.”
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