Life lessons: Simon Charlesworth — ‘If a horse isn’t ready I won’t put it in the ring’ *H&H Plus*

  • The show producer on his minty addiction, getting fired up before a show and an eccentric championship performance that stuck with him forever.

    Simon is a leading producer who has won at all major shows, including Horse of the Year Show (HOYS). He landed the supreme there in 2012 with hack Pearly King and also led the 2015 Cuddy in-hand supreme winner Romanno Royale.

    Patience is key. I think a lot of good horses are rushed, and doing too much too soon can spoil them. Nowadays there is a massive lack of animals being bred, so we need to make the good ones last.

    I don’t like to over show my horses; I pick and choose shows and produce my horses with a certain day in mind. If a horse isn’t ready I won’t put it in the ring.

    We really took our time with Pearly King (Elvis). We initially took him to smaller shows for education, and even after his novice season he wasn’t quite ready to deal with the atmosphere at the bigger shows. It can take five years to make a horse but only five minutes to ruin one. It takes a long time to put everything back together again, so be patient and it will pay off.

    I would love to have another crack with Elvis; I don’t think he’d have much competition these days. I was only 25 when I first rode him and I would jump at the chance to have him as a six-year-old again.

    Believe in yourself

    On competition day I end up eating all the horses’ Polos I have stashed in my pocket. Even though I’m not a big tit-bit feeder, I always have them on me in case I need them. Vin Toulson told me that if you can shove a mint in the horse’s mouth then he isn’t thinking about what’s going on outside the ring.

    Before a class at a big show I mentally fire myself up. I always perform better if I do this. I try to envisage the result I want and, while this doesn’t always follow through, a positive mindset has a lot to do with being successful. Always believe in yourself.

    I have so many equestrian icons I admire, I could never just name one; doing both the in-hand and ridden jobs means I have different influences. My mum and dad are top of the list. My dad is brilliant with in-handers and my mum was a very talented pilot.

    I admire both John Keen and Guy Landau, though there are many who I have taken different things from.

    I will never forget watching Guy when I was 15 years old. He was riding Crime Of Passion in a championship after being placed second. He basically took the mickey and performed the most rebellious show I’ve ever seen, but it was totally awesome.

    He galloped the legs off his hack, pinched a glass of champagne from the overlooking bar before dismounting and remounting. He got a lot of flack for it but it stuck with me forever; it was showmanship at its best Some of these supremes can become tedious as everyone plays it safe; it’s often the same thing over and over again.

    Standing solid

    When I was younger I wish I’d known how hard it was going to be to find good horses; and it’s only getting harder to find those true, proper types.

    Recessions, Covid, the cost of keep and life in general are all factors as to why people aren’t breeding, but it scares me and it’s a real shame. Hacks have been the worst hit section; there is a shortage of hack stallions around and while I’m not against using pony sires, there also aren’t the same quality of big mares that there used to be.

    I have never changed my own riding style but I have definitely made improvements to my groundwork routine.

    Monty Roberts once told me that I could do all these beautiful things with my horses, yet after Elvis had become a victim of his own success, I hadn’t really taught him to stand still. Doing the basics well is so important to prepare for the big occasions, otherwise when you need your horse to stand solid in the ring, it will inevitably let you down.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 3 December 2020

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