Image courtesy of Charlotte Jorst and Sunsoar Photography
I’m waiting for Charlotte to connect for our call. And I realize I have so many questions. Probably too many.
How did this woman go from making the decision to start competing in dressage in her forties to riding at the very highest levels against the top names in the sport?
What drives her to reach her goals?
How does she possibly juggle being a successful entrepreneur, mother, and rider?
I have more written down but these are the questions I most want to ask. As I make a mental note to keep myself on track, Charlotte rings.
She’s right on time but Zoom isn’t cooperating. No picture. No sound.
My first thought is this call will be more trouble than it’s worth for her. Charlotte is doing me a favor by taking time out of her busy schedule to chat (the week before Christmas no less.) As the minutes tick by, I fear this interview will be another casualty of tech gone wrong.
But characteristic of Charlotte’s grace and perseverance, she figures out the problem with her phone’s audio settings and reconnects on Zoom so I can record the call.
Then, she apologizes for the background noise. She’s at the mall, fitting in some last-minute shopping. This doesn’t stop her from finding a quiet corner to speak with me or make me feel like I’m the most important person she’s spoken to all day.
As soon as she appears on the screen, she has a bright, warm smile and kind words. I begin to understand why her bio says she has a “consistently positive attitude and infectious happiness while in the saddle.”
And, I quickly see why there’s nothing this woman can’t do if she puts her mind to it. From becoming a US team rider to creating the much-loved clothing brand, Kastel Denmark, she is a force to be reckoned with in and out of the saddle.
Here’s our conversation so you can find out for yourself.
TFR: You’re very inspiring to me. I started riding in earnest later in life as well. I appreciate the fact that you’re living your dream.
Charlotte: I love my horses. It’s just so much fun.
TFR: I read that you rode as a child and then started again as an adult. What brought you back to the sport in your thirties and convinced you to dive into competitive dressage?
Charlotte: When I started back I was in my thirties. It was my 35th birthday and my kids were bigger. That’s what kind of allowed me to go back. Because there is a time for everything and when the kids are small, it’s all-encompassing and all-inclusive. So when I turned 35, one was six and the other was nine. So they could start riding. So I kind of forced things a little bit and said, “Okay, now we are all going to start riding together because I love it.”
We started riding Hunter/Jumper together. I did it for a good 10 years with them. And then once I felt they were off on their own and old enough, I started dressage.
TFR: You’re only one of the few amateurs that are competing at such a high level. How did you bridge that gap from being a regular amateur to competing against top names in the world?
Charlotte: It is very daunting for sure. But you know, you do it. I had a little horse I started doing CDIs on when I shouldn’t have because I got really low scores. But showing that horse taught me the ropes. I was in so much trouble because I’m not really a rule follower. I don’t really do well with a lot of rules. And CDI has so many rules.
I did all the wrong things. I left the show grounds. I did this, I did that, but it really taught me what it took. So when I was able to buy that really talented horse, then I had already been in the CDIs and had already bridged that gap.
So in that sense, I’ve always just done things – even if I wasn’t necessarily completely ready.
Because you’re never really ready. I mean, people always say, “Oh, I want to perfect my First Level test before I go to the Second Level.” When was the last time somebody got a hundred percent in the First Level test? No, never.
I always say it’s better to be imperfect at a higher level than at a lower level.
I do remember when I went to Rotterdam the first time. I rode in the Nations Cup and there in the ring was literally Edward Gal and everybody I had ever read about. And I was just freaking out. It was so scary.
Since then, I’ve been in Central Park warming up with Charlotte Dujardin and I’ve worked opposite Isabell Werth. Now, competing with them is just incredibly fun.
TFR: I went through some of your Facebook posts, which I love. In one of them, you talk about the challenges of having a successful relationship with your trainer. You say that we need to stop thinking the relationship will be easy and to be realistic about our ability to take criticism. How can we be better students and help our trainers help us to reach our goals?
Charlotte: I think the ability to learn is something that is really important. You have to love to learn and you have to really want to learn. And then you also have to be okay with the truth. Sometimes it’s hard. When I first started with Marie Meyers, I would send her videos and she would be very tough on me. I’d think I was doing great and realize it’s not so good.
For a lot of people, that can be very difficult. That’s why I think there are so many clinics.
People think if I just do this one thing, then everything is going to change. They’re looking for the magic bullet. But there is no magic bullet.
Then there’s the whole relationship between you and the trainer. That’s challenging. I don’t think it’s about becoming a great student so much as how you see your role in the whole thing. You need to be ready to move on when the relationship doesn’t work anymore.
And then there are so many people that say they want to do something but when the going gets tough, they really don’t want to do it. I get that all the time.
They say, “Oh, I want to be like you.”
When I say, “So what’s holding you back?” There’s always some kind of excuse. There’s always something that’s holding them up.
Riding and competing is a hard road. It’s a lot of physical work. You have to be willing to do the work.
TFR: One thing I noticed you mention regularly is the fact that you take your horse, Nintendo, for trail rides. You’re not afraid to change things up. Can you tell me a little more about how important that is for your connection with your horses and also for performing better?
Charlotte: I really think it’s about doing something fun. I propose doing whatever the horse is good at. That’s the number one principle of my training. Because if you work on things you’re bad at all the time then you’re bringing the whole level down. You shouldn’t worry so much about what your horse can’t do well.
But I find people tend to focus on the negative, “Oh, if I could just get my half pass this ride,” or “If I can just do this right.” Instead, focus on whatever you do well, and then the horse will start enjoying the work. They will be way more motivated when you sprinkle in a half pass in the middle of the ride.
Sometimes you’re just not going to get it. And sometimes, a seven is good enough. Just try to make the good things better. That is the cornerstone of my training with the horses.
I don’t do many exercises with them. I ride them straight around and then I’ll do one movement here or there. Then we always do something they enjoy. For Nintendo, if he doesn’t get a half an hour trail ride every day, he’s miserable. After going out on the trail, we ride in the ring. I’ll canter around and then maybe do a little half pass with him. When we’re done he goes back in his stall and he’s happy.
TFR: So you weave in some of the more difficult things without them noticing?
Charlotte: I really don’t do a lot of difficult things. I really don’t. I work on the connection and the transitions back and forth.
I very rarely do difficult things with them. I might do a haunches-in on the circle to get them set up for the pirouette. Then one day I’ll ask for that Prix St. Georges pirouette.
If you have done the haunches-in, you put your hands out a little bit and let them turn. They do it and think, “Oh, this is great.” You stop, praise them, and then do something they’re very good at. Finish on that note.
Also start slow. I think it’s very important. A lot of people start off getting the horse to do this and that – showing off. Give them a moment to get out of that stall and trot around a little bit.
TFR: And get comfortable?
Charlotte: Yes. It’s just like us getting out of bed. What would you do if somebody said, “Okay. Now we’re going to do the hardest yoga movement you ever did right out of bed.” I don’t think so. You’re never going to want to show up.
I have one horse that loves to run. He just loves to run. So four days a week, he just runs around for 15 minutes with me on him. I’m exhausted after this but he loves it.
TFR: How do you juggle your very serious aspirations to compete at such a high level with everything else going on in your life?
Charlotte: I love working. And I don’t regard my clothing business as work or the horses as work. I love to be busy. I don’t mind it one bit. So, it’s all a lot of fun. I’ve always been a really hardworking person. So I don’t really look at it like that. Plus, my Kastel clothing has become a passion of mine. I’ve had skin cancer so supplying something that helps riders stay safe and look good is so cool.
When you love what you do, it’s not work.
Charlotte Jorst is one of only a handful of Adult Amateurs competing at the highest levels of international dressage. She’s following her dream of competing for the U.S. Team at the Olympic Games with her talented horses Kastel’s Nintendo, Grand Galaxy Win, and Boticelli. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram. You can also read her official bio and learn more about her clothing line, Kastel Denmark, on her website – charlottejorst.com
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