As far back as she can remember 26-year-old Charlotte Fry has been in love with horses. From her first Shetland pony at the age of three to the most magnificent dressage horses with whom she has brought home medals from the European and World Championships as well as the Olympics. Here Charlotte tells the story of her journey to the top, her favourite moments with the horses and the very special bond with her trainer and mentor former Olympic medallist Anne van Olst.
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Just to set the scene can you take us back to the very first time you sat on a pony?
I remember I had a little Shetland pony. Actually, I think I had two white ones. They were very old, and I was kind of learning to ride on them. I don’t remember that much, because I was really young – three or four years old. But I got my first proper pony when I was seven. He was an eventing pony, who had retired to just do some dressage. So that was where I got started with the dressage. He was really nice to ride, and I did little competitions on him. I also tried a little jumping with him, but he was so fast, so there was no doubt that I would stick with dressage. Jumping was not for me.
After him I got a really nice pony called Haverkamps Jorik, who was a little bit too big to do the pony classes, he was a few cm over height. But he was really good to learn from and I did a lot of competitions on him. I had him from when I was 9 till – well to be honest he stayed with us till he got put down just a few years ago. After him I got my first FEI pony, he was a little stallion called Andexer and he taught me a lot. I even went to the pony Europeans with him in 2010 – which really didn’t go very well. I think I came about last. So, he really taught me to enjoy the ride and pick yourself up after a loss.
Born: 1996 in the English county of Kent.
Family: Daughter of the late Laura Fry, who competed in the 1992 Olympics and won the European team silver medal before going on to run a successful dressage training yard.
Lives: In the Netherlands since 2014.
- Started riding at the age of three.
- From the age of 14 she had lessons from Olympic rider Carl Hester each month.
- At 17 moved to the Netherlands to train with former Olympic rider Anne van Olst.
When did you transit into horses?
I started riding horses when I was really young, because my mom had a yard full of horses. And she was riding around 10 horses a day so I would just get to sit on her horses and sometimes just ride them around. It was a great experience to have so young. It helped me when I moved up to juniors because I had already been riding horses for quite a long time. For example, I had been riding one of my mother’s retired Grand Prix horses since I was about 11. So, I had him as well and competing with him. So pretty much every day after school I would ride 2-3 horses or ponies.
You came to work and train with Anne Van Olst when you were 17. What is she like, and how do you work together?
Well, I think we clicked pretty much from the beginning. And got on really well straight away. She was training me in the beginning on my own horse and then she helped me a lot with Clearwater (Anne’s Olympic horse) which was really fun. Obviously, she knew Clearwater inside out.
She is just so quick with what the horse needs and she can just see it. If you need it rounder or more up. She just knows and I think it’s amazing that she can see that. She is so focused on every little detail and so that actually when you go in the ring to compete you have covered everything in your training so there is nothing to worry about. Because you know how to handle everything. You know that you have prepared all the way down to the last little detail.
Anne literally watches me all day every day. Even if she’s not there – I know she is watching. We usually spend all morning together riding. She rides her horses and I mine – and so she is always keeping an eye on me. Then in the afternoon she will usually train me on two or three horses. Like if I have competitions coming up, she will help with those horses, or if there is anything else I am struggling with then we will work on it. So, we do spend a lot of time together and I think it’s invaluable to have someone watching you like that all the time – it makes such a difference.
Without Anne I would certainly not have had such a career. She pays attention to everything. Again, we also just get on really well. It’s fun. When I first moved here it was really like coming into their family. Both Anne and Gertjan were so nice to me and welcomed me so much. It was like I was part of the family, and it still feels that way.
You yourself are already a role model to many younger riders, how does that feel?
To be honest I don’t really think about. I always get kind of shocked when people come up to me – and they are like: Oh, can I have picture with you? And I’ll be like: Oh, with me? Are you sure? I still think it´s really strange. I just do what I would normally do, and I don’t change myself to be something that I’m not. I just think it’s pretty crazy that people look up to me.
What would your advice be to a young rider, who aspires to do what you do?
My advice would be to always base yourself somewhere with a professional. Even if that means that you can “only” be a
groom or a working student – just try to get in in that way. And then work hard. That’s the advice I would give. Cause you need to get out there and learn how it works at the big stables and watch others. I think it’s difficult because a lot of young people, of course they want to ride but they don’t always want to put in the hard work to get there. But there is a lot of hard work to be done and maybe it’s not the nice work they want to be doing to get there.
You are there now, so to speak. Living the way many others can only dream off. How do you stay grounded?
I ride so many horses so there is always one to bring me back to reality. But 2021 was such a great year and yes, it’s very hard work. I do really long hours. It’s absolutely amazing and I love every second of it to be honest, but at the end of the day you are pretty tired and ready to just eat, sleep and get up and do it all again.
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Can you recall the moment when you knew: ‘This is what I want to do with my life?’
It was probably when I moved to the Netherlands. I really didn’t have any idea that I would be good enough to be a rider. But at least I was kind of making a living for myself working with horses and that was kind of good enough for me at the time. If I could just work my way up. And then the more time you spend training the more you realize that there is no end to the amount of knowledge that you can gain. It just keeps coming. It’s just great to keep training the horses and you get new ideas and I think as long as we are enjoying it and the horses are enjoying it, then that is the goal.
What does an average day look like for you?
I usually start just before 6 am. I’ll go and feed the horses, and it’s quiet because I am usually the only one there at that time so that’s really nice. I love spending time in the morning quietly with the horses. And then Dark Legend has to be the first one to come out because then he feels extra special. So, he comes out and, in the summer, he’ll go in the field and now he’ll either just go for a hand walk or do a calm turn in the walker. Just to be that first one. Then he is happy for the day.
I pretty much start riding at 7 am and I will ride the whole day. I am very lucky to have two great grooms and a really nice girl from New Zealand who warms the horses up for me. She also rides a few of the younger ones for me once or twice a week. So, they help me get through the day – and it’s really just riding solid until we finish. Which is usually around 6 pm. In average I probably ride about 14 horses a day. Sundays maybe a bit less.
You have gained a lot of experience with stallions. How would you describe the challenges and advantages in working with them?
I am actually very lucky because the stallions here have really good characters and that’s something that Anne and Gertjan are very sharp on. That if they are going to stay stallions, they have to have good characters so actually all of our stallions are really good to work with. One of my favorite things about riding stallions is that when you go into the showring they just want to show off. They love themselves and they want everyone else to love them as well. You go into a packed arena, and they just rise to the occasion. I think that’s really fun. But to be honest apart from that I don’t feel any difference when I am riding the geldings or stallions. The most important thing is that we have a mutual respect. And they still love to kiss and cuddle. They pretend they don’t, but they really do.
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What is your general approach to the training of your horses?
Well, we treat every horse individually – how it needs to be treated. It’s not like one training form suits all. I work with Anne, and she helps me figure out what each individual horse needs in its training. It can be completely different from one horse to another. How they react to the training and what they struggle with. I think the main thing is to be openminded and just listen to the horse. We all kind of want to achieve the same thing in the end, but it may be that one horse needs to take a different road to get there.
Speaking of roads, you have done a lot of travelling the past year. Olympics, European and World Championships. How do you and your horses manage it?
We have a really good team. I think that was the main key to being able to do everything we did last summer. We kind of had it all planned out to make it possible. So, between the Olympics and the World Championships with Kjento I had about three weeks. I also had the Pavo Cup Young Horse competition with three horses two days after arriving home from Tokyo. Kjento had been doing some lunging and enjoying time in the paddock while I was in Tokyo.
So I rode him for three weeks and then we went to World Championships. Then there were five days between the World Championship and the European Championship, so Everdale just had five days off and then five days riding and then straight to the European Championship. It was interesting but it all just worked out.
Then for the European Championship I also brought my two horses with me for the FEI Dressage Nations Cup in Aachen, and they were stabled in Hagen so I could keep training them while I was competing at the European Championship. So, it was all a lot of planning and teamwork. And then I went straight on to Aachen with those two horses and Everdale went home.
It’s really important that everyone knows what is going on. I loved the whole summer; it was so much fun. Maybe we will never have such a busy summer ever again, but I really did love it. I am still on a high after all that.
Besides these magnificent moments, are there any other precious moments with the horses that you cherish?
Definitely the mornings. But honestly, I just really enjoy every single moment. Every horse that I am riding, I kind of sit back and enjoy it. I am never in a rush even though there are many horses I have to ride. I just enjoy what I am doing at that particular moment. Of course, that moment in the arena at the competition when everything just comes together. That is the best feeling in the world. Because it’s like the whole team and all the work that everybody has put into this, all the training it all comes out at the right moment.
With everything you have already achieved what are your hopes and plans for the future?
I don’t have plans to get my own place. I love it here where I am. I could never leave these horses here. I don’t believe I could ever have it better. This is the dream. The current long-term goal is Paris 2024. I would love to do another Olympics. That would be nice, but like I said as long as I am enjoying the horses and they are happy that’s kind of my goal. Then I’ll be happy.