Mill Spring, N.C.—April 5
From her stirrups to her saddle, and to her horse’s boots and fly bonnet, it’s hard to miss Charlotte Collier’s pink ensemble as she gallops by on cross-country.
But it’s not just her personal style that’s garnering attention; the 23-year-old is also turning heads with competitive finishes at the CCI4* level with Clifford M.
This weekend they’re tackling the CCI4*-S at The Fork as they prepare for a big year, which is likely to include their first CCI5* in the fall.
Collier’s known her infectious smile and positive attitude, and she’s having the time of her life on “Nils,” a 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Cristo 5—Naomi IV, Carpaccio), as she gains experience at the top level of the sport.
This morning they missed a line of canter work in their dressage test, and after leaving the ring, the judge asked Collier to come back and complete the part she missed. They’re currently sitting on 37.3 with the error. She still left the ring with a smile and gave Nils a huge pat.
“I’m a very happy, positive person,” said Collier. “Even if something goes wrong, like today when I messed up my test, I forgot it because he was being so perfect, and I was so happy. I was proud of him and excited, then I messed up. But it’s fine.
“I do the sport because I love it,” she continued. “I don’t do it for fame or money or sponsors. I don’t do it for anyone but me and my horse, and we both love it. Everybody loves the sport, or we wouldn’t do it, but that drives me. I don’t have anyone making choices for me, and I always do the best by my horse. How can you not have fun? If you’re not out there smiling, having a blast, you’re probably doing the wrong sport.”
Collier grew up in Naples, Florida, and her mother, Parker Collier, enjoyed foxhunting and instilled a love of horses in her daughter. Charlotte got the eventing bug when she was around 7 after playing the Equestriad 2001 computer game.
Charlotte started training with Sharon White about 10 years ago when she was going novice. Her mother bought Nils and Cooley On Show, for White to ride. When circumstances changed, and she needed to sell them, White bought Cooley On Show, who’s now gone to the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5* with her, and Charlotte begged her mother to let her buy Nils and keep the ride.
Nils had competed to the CCI3*-S level with Peter Thomsen in Germany, then White brought him to the CCI4*-S level before Collier started competing him in 2016.
“She’s been there every step of the way for me,” said Charlotte of White. “She’s been a role model and mother figure to me—through all the high school breakups. She’s been more than a coach, and I love that about her. I call her Mama White. It cracks her up every time. The barn family is like her family.”
Charlotte had been attending the Savannah College of Art and Design (Georgia) majoring in equestrian studies through her junior year when she decided to leave school and focus on riding full-time as Nils was moving up the levels.
“I had a really good horse, and I didn’t want to hold him back,” she said of her decision to leave school. “Like, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it. I can always go back to school. This is my calling. At some point I would love to do what Sharon’s doing—find younger riders like how I was, 10, 11, 12, then produce them through the levels and help them build a career and help them be somebody. I want to have a breeding program on the side where I’m breeding horses, starting them and producing them.”
Last year, Collier and Nils completed the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI4*-L (Maryland) in 15th place with no cross-country jumping or show jumping penalties.
“I jumped the last jump [on cross-country], and I cried for the next 10 minutes,” she said. “Everyone thought something had gone wrong, but I was just so happy and so proud of him. It’s not Kentucky or Badminton, but for me, I’ve never done something like that, and it was my first time going at that level. Fair Hill’s not a joke. That is a serious course, and he could not have been more perfect.”
Nils is a wonderful schoolmaster for Charlotte, and she’s excited to compete at the Bramham Under-25 CCI4*-L (England) this spring and hopefully the Pau CCI5*-L (France) in October. She’s been named to the USEF Under-25 training list, and she’s been benefiting from lessons with coach Leslie Law.
“He’s good on the flat; he’s a good show jumper, and he’s amazing on cross-country,” she said. “I can just chuck the reins at him and be like, ‘You got it,’ and he’s like, ‘I got it, hang on!’ Launch button activated. He’s so cool. He’s not an easy horse, but he’s very honest, and he has the biggest heart. If you treat him well, and you show him love, he’ll show you the same back. He’s amazing.”
Charlotte admits she can get nervous riding against the top professionals in the country, but she tries to stay in her zone with Nils.
“I do get nervous, but at the end of the day, I trust Nils more than anything, and I know that there’s no reason to be nervous on a horse like him because of his huge heart,” she said. “He’s going to take care of me, and I know if something goes wrong, he’s got it. Even if I don’t got it, he’s got it. I can grab mane and hang on, and he’ll do his job. He loves it. He looks for the flags.
“I’m really good at being in the moment, but it is scary when you’re trotting by Boyd Martin or trotting by all these gold medalists,” she continued. “Sometimes I have to remind myself, no I’m not them, but I deserve to be here, and I’ve worked my ass off to get here, and it is nerve-wracking. I always have to focus and stay in the moment. It’s Nils. He’ll take care of me. I constantly have to remind myself just how good my horse is, and it eases all that nervousness.”
As for the pink, which she sports in all three phases, that started when she was a child. She used to wear blue, but her mother told her she couldn’t change her colors to pink until she won something. After that, she was all in.
With a pink-accented Stubben dressage saddle as her newest item, Charlotte wears it loud and proud on both Clifford M, her up and coming CCI3* horse Fidelius 35 and her young horse Celtic King.
She gets a lot of mixed opinions on it—some love it; others think she’s making a mockery of the sport.
“I have the running joke, real men wear pink,” she said. “[My horses] are very strong in their personalities, and so am I. It’s not harming anybody, why not? It sets me apart, and I think in years to come, it will be something that sets me apart from others. Like, ‘Look, it’s the crazy pink girl!’ and I’m like, ‘Hey, it’s me!’ ”
As for this weekend with Nils, she’s going to go by her motto, which is to just have fun—and smile.
“It’s what I do every time I ride,” she said. “I’m just going to go out and have a blast and kick on.”
We’re on site at The Fork at the Tryon International Equestrian Center all weekend to bring you news, photos and stories. Check out the April 22 print edition of the Chronicle for much more.