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The Next Generation - Harry Charles

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
Harry Charles made his breakthrough in 2018. “A lot of it is thanks to a Young Riders Academy and my groom Dan, my dad and everyone at home," he says. All photos © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

There are sayings that in life you should never look back, but when it comes to Harry Charles there might be an exception for 2018. Shooting up to top level, the son of Peter Charles – a three-time Olympian and team gold medallist from London 2012 – made his mark when taking double gold at the European Championships for Young Riders and making his five-star debut in no other place than Aachen, all at the age of 19. Half a year later however, he would experience every rider’s nightmare when losing his two gold medals following a contamination case. Together with Harry, we look back at his rollercoaster year.

“I never thought it would turn into something so big,” Harry tells about the contamination case, six months and a lot of lawyers later. “I don’t think people know how much it all affected me and my family, we were put under a lot of pressure. However, after dealing with that I think I became a lot stronger. And in my mind, I am still the winner. I know I won fair,” Harry says.

“I was not expecting 2018 to turn out like that. Starting with the positive, my goal was to maybe – maybe – if I would be lucky, do one five-star show. By the end of the year I had jumped in six five-star shows. Everything happened so fast, I never thought half of this would be possible,” he continues. “A lot of it is thanks to a Young Riders Academy and my groom Dan, my dad and everyone at home.”

Stepping up from juniors to young riders and then up to senior level is a challenge on its own. Harry climbed this ladder in a matter of months, in a manner many can only dream of. “My first five-star show was Aachen, and it was the week after the Europeans. Those were some really busy days,” Harry tells as he looks back at the summer of 2018. “We thought about taking the chance to ride in Aachen, and my dad said it is something that might not come around so often. To make it even more special, I was the only Brit riding there. And we managed to qualify to the Grand Prix, which is hard enough. I was thrilled for my horse doing so well, he was only a 9-year-old at the time and it was our first five-star Grand Prix. Then I also got to ride in London at the Global Champions Tour and we were placed sixth in the Grand Prix. In our senior Nations Cup debut at the five-star show in Gijon we were the only double clear pair,” the 19-year-old tells.  

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Harry competing in Aachen last year, his five-star debut.

As if being new to the highest level of the sport wasn’t going to be hard enough, Harry did it with a massive cloud hanging over his head. Two days before competing in Gijon, he was informed by the FEI that his horse Vivaldi Du Dom had tested positive to the controlled medication Lidocaine at the European Championships. The Charles-family and their legal team traced the substance found in the positive test back to a human skin cream, used by a family friend for an advanced cancer related skin condition. The same friend was attending the European Championship, and had been patting and stroking Vivaldi while there. Nevertheless, Harry lost his two gold medals after the FEI relocated them in January this year.

After this experience, Harry and his family have become extremely strict about stable security and routines. Apart from staff, no one gets to touch their horses at shows – not even at prize giving ceremonies, when putting on blankets or ribbons. “I feel like it is the only option we have left, in a sport where our governing body does not protect us. We as athletes and persons responsible have to take matters into our own hands. British Showjumping has been amazing though, and has fought with me through the whole process,” Harry tells.  

“Contamination and doping should be treated totally differently,” Harry says. “In my case for example, for the FEI to go out with a press release announcing a positive test under the FEI’s Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations, when it was a case of contamination, was not only damaging for me, but for our sport in general. There are so many things we as riders cannot control, and that don’t enhance the performance in any way. We have a lot of showgrounds in public spaces – let’s say it is in a park where someone on drugs has peed a few days before, the groom takes the horse to grass in this spot and it results in a positive test. It’s all it takes. I think the FEI recommendations on contamination prevention are absolutely unrealistic. With horses, we already have a lot to worry about on a daily basis, even without all that.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping "Of course, I dream about riding at the Olympics," Harry tells.

Luckily for Harry, he has been able to rely on his family throughout the difficult process. Based at their Hampshire-home in the UK, one hour south of London at Heathcroft Farm, the Charles has some 70 horses – 35 of them in work. “It is very busy,” Harry tells. “But it is our own business, so it is all very nice and well run.”

“We have four riders and seven staff members, also my sisters Sienna and Scarlett are riding. Both of them still go to school, but I am sure they will also turn into professionals,” Harry says about his siblings. “I think it is really nice, that we are all riding. My sisters are very supportive, even though we are all very competitive.”

“My dad still enjoys riding, but he is working on other aspects of the business as well; buying horses and training us,” Harry says about his father Peter. “I also have a dressage rider helping me with the flat work.”

Unlike his sisters, Harry dropped out of school to focus full time on his riding career. “I finished school one year too early. It was a long decision with my mum and dad,” he explains about the choice. “But we felt like we had nothing to lose. 2018 was my first year as a professional rider.”

And if 2018 is anything to judge by, the decision proved to be more than right. Harry has never gone to as many shows as he did in the past year. Being constantly on the road, there is not really such a thing as ‘a normal day’ but on an average at home Harry would ride five to ten horses in one day. “Even if I only ride five a day, it takes the whole day. I like to take my time with the horses. And then there are all the other routines that have to be taken care of; one day the vet is there, on another the blacksmith. Not one day is the same as the other. My system at home is to work the horses in the mornings and if we jump, we jump in the afternoon.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
Harry with his father Peter: “My dad has always been the most influential person in my career and still is,” Harry says.

The horse that Harry recorded his best results with in the past year, is the now 10-year-old gelding ABC Quantum Cruise (Obos Quality x Cruising). “He is my best horse at the moment,” Harry says. “We bought him as a 6-year-old and my dad rode him first, before I took him over. To be honest, the beginning with him was really difficult. For some reason it was hard for me to get the hang of him. During the 2018-season he was really stepping up as a 9-year-old; we were double clear in our first five-star Nations Cup and placed sixth in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of London.”

“My main goals would be to continue trying to challenge for the Global Champions League title with Miami Celtics. I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to ride as part of this amazing team thanks to Frank and Monica McCourt. Which as a young lad, to be doing some of those shows on a weekly basis, is a dream come true,” Harry tells us about his future plans. “My goals in general involve finding an owner, it is difficult to do this without support. I would like to try and ride on the top of the sport, for as long as I can. To have a long-term supporter would make life a lot easier. And of course, I dream about riding at the Olympics. To have seen what my dad did, it is a nice push for me. He started with nothing, he only sat on a horse when he was 14-years-old,” Harry tells about his father Peter.

“My dad has always been the most influential person in my career and still is,” Harry adds. “He is my dad, my friend and my trainer. He stopped riding to help us, and that is something I will always be thankful for. I’ve got a head start thanks to him.” 



Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen

Photos © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping 

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

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