Friday, May. 24, 2024

Free Rein With: Harry Charles

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Harry Charles may only be 23 years old, but he’s already amassed an impressive resume for any show jumper. He made his Olympic Games debut in Tokyo two years ago, and last year he finished fourth in the Longines FEI Show Jumping World Cup Final (Germany) then helped Great Britain earn team bronze at the Agria FEI Jumping World Championship (Denmark). He’s the No. 1 U25 rider in the world and sits at No. 16 in the Longines FEI Jumping World Rankings—but that’s not good enough for him.

“I’d love this year to try to break into the world’s Top 10,” said Charles. “[At one point] I was 11th and one point off being in the Top 10. To ride in [the Rolex IJRC] Top 10 Final would be a huge goal this year.”

The London International Horse Show 2021 - ExCel London - 16-21 December 2021

At just 23, Harry Charles (pictured on Stardust) has become a dominant force in the show jumping world. FEI/Jon Stroud Photo

The son of Olympic team gold medalist and European champion Peter Charles, Harry grew up riding ponies with his sisters Scarlett and Sienna at his family’s Heathcroft Farm in Alton, Hampshire, where he still trains today. His father would take him out of school to watch some of the best shows in the world, like in 2010 whenhe got to watch McLain Ward and Sapphire win the Grand Prix of Rome. That’s the same show where he met Mario Deslauriers and his children Jack and Lucy, with whom he became lifelong friends. (He even has the same birthday as Lucy.)

He got serious about the sport as a teenager, and soon was traveling across the continent collecting medals in Junior and Young Rider European Championships.

“My parents were good. They never pushed us and never forced us into riding; they tried to give us so many options,” he said. “Dad wanted me to be a golfer. I recently got back into golf. [When I was younger] I played a lot at national championships and played a few international tournaments. A set of golf clubs [costs] maximum a thou- sand pounds, and my dad said, ‘I’ll buy you a set every month if you want.’ ”

Harry will be attending the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final in Omaha with two horses: Balou Du Reventon and Casquo Blue. He’s had the ride on Casquo Blue for about a year, and Brian Moggre’s former mount Balou Du Reventon—whom he describes as more like a person than a horse—for less than that.

“I’ve been wanting to come over and ride in the U.S. for a long time, so I’m very excited,” he said.

Was your first pony a devil or a saint?

A devil. She was called Cheeky. I was too young to go out on my own, so my mother [Tara] would lead her around. All three of us shared her.

If you could ride any horse past or present who would it be?

For a present horse I’d like to ride James Kann Cruz. For a past horse I’d pick Big Star.

What quality do you admire most in a horse?

Intelligence.

In a human?

Intelligence.

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If you were to change one thing about the show jumping world, what would it be?

I’ll get some hate for this, but [I wish] we didn’t have to wear ties. It’s a physical sport, and we’re dressed up like we’re going to dinner. The jacket’s cool; I like the jacket, but the tie makes no sense to me, and I’m always coming out of the ring suffocating. If we want to appeal to a younger generation, it doesn’t look that cool. We need something sportier looking.

What’s the best feeling in the world?

When you wake up and you think it’s 7 a.m., but it’s only 2 in the morning. That’s unbeatable. I’d do that when I was at school. I’d set my alarm for 2 in the morning. I’d wake up and think, “Oh no, I’ve got to get up,” and then go “Yes! I can go back to sleep.” I used to do that just to get that rush. It was stupid, but I used to do it.

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your life?

My dad.

What three items are always in your refrigerator?

Eggs, ketchup and rollitos. I don’t think you have them in America, but they’re chili and cheddar cheese wrapped in chorizo. They’re unbelievable.

What’s the most important lesson you learned the hard way?

I’ve learned to be a lot more patient now. It was the thing I had to work the hardest on. When I was younger I’d say, “Why wasn’t this working with this horse?” I was too impatient. Now I sit back and think about the job a lot more.

For example, I have an amazing 10-year-old who’s never jumped bigger than 1.50-meters. You look at the Olympics last time, and there were like four or five 9-year-olds jumping. Mine, only this year he’ll step up to 1.60-meter, maybe at the end of the year. I’ve been careful of what I’ve jumped him in, even though he’s a bit older. Typically he’d jump a bit bigger now, but I believe in the end it will all be worth it. Three or four years ago I would have wanted to go straight and jump all the big stuff, but I’ve learned patience.

What’s your favorite way to spend a day off? 

Go to London, my favorite city. It’s so close. All my best friends live there. To me, it’s the best city in the world.

If you weren’t a show jumper, what would you do? 

I’ve got a little flight simulator set up at home. I’ve built it over the last five or six years. So that was my hobby, and I’ve [flown planes] in real life quite a bit now as well.

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I’ve always been fascinated by planes since I was little. I don’t know what started it or how it started; I’ve just always been obsessed with planes and aviation and everything. It’s something I absolutely love. If show jumping didn’t exist, I would be flying planes for a living.

What advice do you have for younger riders? 

My dad always says that you need bad days to appreciate the good ones. It’s so true.

Where would you like to be in 20 years?

With a family and with Balou Du Reventon babies. He’s bred a lot; there’s a lot of exciting horses coming up by him, and he’ll keep breeding for a long time.

What are you currently reading or watching? 

I’m currently watching “Outer Banks,” and in England we have a show called “Happy Valley” that’s very, very good.

What’s the most used app on your phone?

Unfortunately Instagram, but I really want to change that. I also use Spotify a lot.

How do you decompress after a long day?

Music or PlayStation. I have a little room I made myself outside the house. I’ll go out and sit there and play music and chill.

Check out this tour of Charles’s yard in the UK from This Esme.


This article appears in the March 27-April 17, 2023, issue of The Chronicle of the HorseYou can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication, Untacked. If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.

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