Harry Charles: ‘Sometimes when I’m hacking at home, I say to my horse “Can you believe we jumped the Aachen grand prix?”’

  • British showjumper Harry Charles, 20, is one of the rising stars of the sport.

    He’s the son of the 2012 Olympic gold medallist Peter Charles and has two younger sisters, both of whom are following the family hoofprints into the upper levels of the sport.

    Harry first realised he wanted to pursue a career in showjumping after winning a big class on ponies at the age of 14.

    “I got such a good buzz off it and realised this is exactly what I want to pursue a career in,” says Harry, who went on to win several youth medals.

    His big break came in 2018 when, at the 11th hour, he was offered the chance to compete at CHIO Aachen to jump in the five-star classes, including the Rolex Grand Prix — one of the toughest competitions in the world.

    Last year, Harry competed as part of the GCL team Miami Celtics, which took him to some of the top shows in the world.

    So what makes this talented young rider tick?

    Q: What do you think are the most important attributes for being a professional showjumper?

    Harry: “The first one is patience, something which I must improve a bit. I think it’s important because of the injuries associated with the sport, especially the horses. You can get a really talented rider who might have to sit back for a few years because of a horse being injured or maybe not having enough experience yet. You must let the horse develop at its own pace.

    “The second one I think is that you have to be mentally strong, something I work very hard on. I’m quite lucky that I am naturally quite mentally strong, but I have had to develop a lot in this area. I remember I always used to get really annoyed when I started doing the big shows and my head would drop a bit if I hit a fence, but now having a bit more experience, you realise it’s not the end of the world. As long as you learn from your mistakes, that’s all that really matters.

    “Thirdly, it’s having a good work ethic. When I’m off the horses I now do a lot of gym work and specific training. My father once said ‘You can never stop improving’ and I think that’s such a great mindset to have in this sport because you are working with two athletes — you and the horse.”

    Q: Tell us about your top horse ABC Quantum Cruise?

    H: “I think we have a good group of horses but ABC Quantum Cruise (pictured with Harry, top) is the best horse I have at the moment. I still think he is maybe a year or two off hitting his peak, so I don’t think I have got the best out of him yet, but he is very good and very consistent. We work with him every day to try to improve him, so hopefully you will see the best of him soon.”

    Q: Which riders do you most look up to?

    H: “For me it has always been Scott Brash. As well as a great rider, he’s a really nice guy, so he is definitely my idol. We talk about everything actually and he is always willing to help me out and lend a hand. Especially when I started doing the big shows, he was always the first one who would come and sit with me at breakfast in the morning when I didn’t know anyone, which I really appreciated.”

    Q: Do you get nervous competing against them?

    H: “Not really — it makes me hungrier to win more. I am pretty confident, and I like to think I actually thrive on pressure as it makes me ride better.”

    Q: You are almost 40 years younger than some of top riders — what tools do you need to have such a long career?

    H: “You need patience; you don’t want to push it all too quickly. If you play it right, it can be a long sport. You have to take care of yourself. I always see riders in the gym — the sport has changed so much and the margins are so tight now, I think gym work has become more important than it ever used to be.”

    Q: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

    H: “Definitely competing in the Rolex Grand Prix in Aachen — that has been my dream since I was small so to be able to do it was incredible. I still have to pinch myself. Sometimes when I am hacking with ABC Quantum Cruise at home, I look down and say to him: ‘Can you believe that we jumped the Rolex Grand Prix at Aachen’!”

    Q: Now that you have competed in a Major, is the Rolex Grand Slam a goal?

    H: “I would love to win at least one of the Rolex Majors and of course the Rolex Grand Slam. By the time I’m 25 I would love to have won one and I think in five years it’s possible. I think it is great that the Rolex Grand Slam Majors are also promoting more under-25 competitions — any chance for a young rider to jump in a top-level event is massively important and influential. Being among the top riders with a big crowd is just amazing, not only to inspire and motivate young riders, but also for their exposure. When I was in Aachen, so many people contacted me, and I think I gained about 400 followers on my social media platforms each day I was there. Taking part in these events really does give you drive, and although you may only be able to jump two classes, it makes you even more motivated at the idea of jumping more later down the line.”

    Continued below…

    Q: What would you be if you weren’t a professional showjumper?

    H: “I would love to be a pilot. I have a very big interest in aviation and I am actually doing my private pilot’s license.”

    Q: What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?

    H: “When the horse knocks a pole down, nine times out of 10 it’s your fault — even if you think it’s not your mistake.”

    >> With thanks to Rolex Grand Slam.

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