Harry Charles, and that winning feeling….
Written by Louise Parkes
He is young, talented, ambitious and has a superb string of horses. Could 22-year-old Harry Charles become only the third-ever British rider to claim the coveted Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ title when the 42nd Final gets underway in Leipzig (GER) next week?
In the space of a few short years, he has rocketed to the top of the sport, but he is realistic and level-headed, perhaps not surprisingly since his father, Peter Charles, is his guiding light.
Peter was riding for Ireland when he won individual European gold at St Gallen (SUI) in 1995 and European team gold at Arnhem (NED) in 2001. He reverted to British citizenship to win historic team gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games and has passed on his passion to all of his three children who are now making their way in the world of showjumping. He is also passing on his wisdom about the ups, and downs, they will experience on their journeys.
The hardest bit
“I got a proper taste of the top level of the sport in 2018, but my Dad said ‘getting there isn’t the hardest bit – the hardest bit is to stay there’ – and he’s right!”, Harry says.
He enjoyed a good run in 2019, but with the onset of the pandemic he, like so many others, was out of top-class competition for more than 18 months. However, once he picked up the reins in earnest again in 2021 his career went into orbit. “I did my first 5-Star show again in May and it went from there really. During Covid my focus had been on really working on my riding and getting a great team of owners and horses around me, and I came out swinging last year and got some great results. At the end of the year, I was on the first page of the world top 30 – it was quite crazy and it all happened so quickly!”, says the athlete who continues to hold that number 30 slot and who also leads the FEI U25 rankings.
His meteoric rise in the sport was aided by a new association with America’s Ann Thompson who he first met “around the end of 2020”. It would be a very significant turning point. “She was my first real owner and I was very fortunate, she gave me Romeo to ride”, Harry says. The now-13-year-old horse had previously been very successful with Ireland’s Darragh Kenny in the saddle.
“When he arrived at the stable he was already established at top level and the aim was to get to the Tokyo Olympics. Ann has been an amazing supporter of mine and owns one of my other amazing horses, Aralyn Blue, who is this year’s candidate for the World Championships.
“I have a lot to thank her for, kick-starting my career, once Romeo came into the stable I got access to the big shows, and the rest of the team has been built around him”, Harry explains.
And he did indeed make it to the Tokyo Games last summer. “It was incredible, the best experience of my life! The whole journey there was special, and being on that team with Ben when he won the gold medal and to see what it took to win it was really cool!”, he says.
He is filled with admiration for team-mate Ben Maher who emerged to take the individual Olympic title with Explosion W. “Of course he’s got what I think is the best horse in the world, but he’s worked incredibly hard and he’s one of the very best riders in the world. He put all his life into that gold medal. For the past few years he knew he had the horse to win it and in Tokyo the pressure on him was huge. To go there, to plan so that your horse will perform on that day, and to succeed – all credit to Ben and his team, it was incredible!”, he says.
From Harry’s own perspective, another of the great highlights of last year was his performance with Romeo that clinched the Challenge Cup for Great Britain at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final 2021 in Barcelona (ESP) in October.
“Nothing compares with competing for your country on a team”, he says as the memories come flooding back.
“That was such a great night, we jumped the only double-clear in the class and the horse jumped amazing, Ann (Thompson) flew over specially to see him, it was her birthday so it was an absolutely perfect weekend!”, he recalls.
His father was a proud man that evening as he placed the winner’s sash around his son’s shoulders. You could sense the strength of the relationship between the two in that moment. “He’s been my trainer my whole life – no one is going to want better for me than my Dad!”, Harry says.
Peter is completely devoted to supporting his family now instead of competing himself and Harry’s sisters Scarlett, aged 21, and Siena who is 19 are both also progressing up the levels.
Their father has been a huge influence on them all. “He stopped his career early to support us and says he enjoys the sport more now than he did when he was riding! He’s passionate about it but he doesn’t put us under any pressure. We can very much choose our own paths, and he has encouraged us to do that, but by the time I was 16 I realised that this was what I wanted to do,” Harry says.
“I got the taste of success in ponies and juniors, and that winning feeling – well you just can’t beat it!”
says the young man whose first big success was taking the Pony Showjumper of the Year title at the Horse of the Year Show riding Scoubidou back in 2014. He remembers it all like it was yesterday…
“The pony I beat was Tixylix who was probably the most famous pony ever in England, she was in the lead and I went in on Scoubidou, and actually I hadn’t won anything with him before that and I did a crazily fast round and it was amazing – a video of our round went viral afterwards!”, he says with delight.
He’ll be hoping that another video will go viral at the end of next week in Leipzig and he’s relishing the excitement ahead of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2022 Final which kicks off on Wednesday April 6. However, if he is to follow in the hoofprints of the two previous British title-holders then he has very big boots to fill….
The legendary Yorkshireman, John Whitaker, won the first of his two back-to-back titles with the magnificent Milton in Dortmund (GER) in 1990 at the age of 34 and, difficult as it is to comprehend, he will line out again for Great Britain next week alongside his 20-year-old nephew Jack Whitaker and Harry.
The only other British winner of this most prestigious of trophies is now-retired Rio 2016 Olympic champion Nick Skelton who steered Dollar Girl to victory in Gothenburg (SWE) in 1995 at the age of 38.
Steps of giants
But Harry isn’t intimidated by the prospect of tracing the steps of giants on his World Cup Final debut. He’s talking the day after returning from Saut Hermes in Paris (FRA) where he posted a good win with his mare Stardust and he says he’s taking the next two weeks off to prepare for Leipzig where Stardust, winner of the Western European League qualifier in London (GBR) in December, and Romeo will both compete. He means business.
“The reason I’m taking the two horses is because they are both super-consistent. Stardust has an extremely high clear-round rate at 1.60m and Romeo has so much experience behind him”.
So who will be his biggest rivals when it all comes down to it? Swiss superstar Martin Fuchs who won team gold and individual silver at last year’s European Championships and who finished second at the last Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final in 2019, and his compatriot and defending World Cup champion, Steve Guerdat, are the first two that spring to mind.
“Martin has probably some of the best horses in the world in his stable at the moment. He’s on very good form and very motivated for it this year. And Steve has a bit of a magical relationship with the World Cup Final. He’s always one who will be there or thereabouts I would say”, Harry points out before adding, “but I’m not going there just to make up the numbers!”
He’s looking for more of that winning feeling he enjoys so much, so watch this space…..
More details about the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2022 here
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