March 2019 - Horse People: Charlotte Babbitt
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Friday, 01 March 2019 01:50
PDF Print E-mail

eventing

Independent young eventer gets more than by with a little help from her friends and family.

by Kim F. Miller

Winning two One-Star eventing competitions with a 6-year-old horse last year only scratches the surface of young rider Charlotte Babbitt’s story so far. The high school senior decided to live apart from her family at 15 in order to train with Andrea Pfeiffer’s Chocolate Horse Farm in Petaluma. Before that she lived with her family in the Tahoe area, where top notch eventing training was not available. With the blessing of her parents Elizabeth Thieriot and Victor Babbitt, she moved to Petaluma. She’s lived with members of Chocolate Horse Farm’s honorary family for the last three years, most recently with trainer Amber Levine.

Originally focused on dressage, Charlotte added eventing seven years ago and zeroed in on it exclusively and with laser focus five years ago. She attended her first years of high school through online and independent study programs to have more time for the sport. Charlotte remains committed to a life and career with horses, but going into her senior year of high school, she enrolled in “regular school.” Along with attending football games and dances, she also opted to live on her own, renting a room in the area and handling her own cooking, grocery shopping, etc.

Photo: Kim F. Miller

Eventing in general, and Chocolate Horse Farm in particular, are known for attracting and producing brave, independent young people. “I’ve been fortunate in that all my young riders shine and I feel lucky when another choses to grow at our barn,” says Andrea. Charlotte arrived “with very lofty goals,” the coach remembers. Like many students, she had to learn that “you can’t have one big goal: you have to have five, six, seven, eight goals before you get to the point you want to be at.”

Lessons In Listening

In her three years with Chocolate Horse, Charlotte is definitely getting there, and relatively fast, as she and her 7-year-old partner 2 A.M. target an Intermediate level debut. Learning to listen to her horse has been a key to that progress, Andrea explains. “In her early days, sometimes Charlotte’s bravery would get ahead of her. She had to tune into her horse. If you listen closely, they tell us all an awful lot.” In learning to “quit talking over the top of him,” Charlotte and her super talented and sensitive Warmblood have progressed remarkably.

Photo: Kim F. Miller

Charlotte and Andrea found 2 A.M. in Ocala, FL two years ago. Although young riders developing young horses is common for Chocolate Horsers, they were actually looking for a mount ready for the Preliminary or One-Star level. At just 4-and-a-half years old, “Abe” was not that. But among the estimated 25 horses she looked at, he “had it all,” Charlotte says. “He’s smart. He has the movement to win dressage, he’s fit and lean to run the distance on cross-country and he will jump clean if I give him even a half-decent ride.” All the right stuff and now it was Charlotte’s job to make him into the horse she hoped for.

 

They had a fierce finish to 2018, winning the CIC1* at The Woodside International Horse Trials in early October, then taking top honors in the CCI1* at Galway Downs in Temecula a month later. Earlier, Charlotte followed friends’ advice in applying for the USEF’s Emerging Eventing Athlete U18 list. Stablemate Mallory Hogan, now on the U25 list, had great things to say about the opportunity to work with USEF coach Leslie Law. Charlotte applied without having the qualifying credentials as she had not yet completed the requisite 1* or 2* competition. “It helped” she says of winning her first two 1* outings.

News that she’d made the U18 list arrived in early December, along with several rising star California pairs.

Charlotte with best barn buddy Krista Stevensen, left.

Participating in the first U18 clinic with Leslie last month was everything Charlotte had heard and hoped it would be. Collection, straightness and self-carriage were topics she asked Leslie to focus on, and she’s excited about the exercises and ideas he suggested and demonstrated.  She was especially thrilled to have Leslie agree to hop on 2 A.M. to see how he addressed those challenges. “I learned a huge amount from him,” Charlotte says.

Held at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, the clinic included one-on-one training and competition planning sessions and a visit to Estrella Equine Hospital. There, Charlotte appreciated seeing how horses are laid down for surgery, a timely topic because her second horse, Otter Pop Jr, would soon be doing exactly that on his road to recovery from an injury late last year.

Otter Pop is a 9-year-old Off The Track Thoroughbred brought up to 1* level by Amber Levine before Charlotte’s mom purchased him as a surprise. What Charlotte has learned from this more finished horse helps greatly with Abe as she brings him up the levels. “Otter Pop is so experienced, but also sensitive and a challenge. Riding him has given me more tools in my toolbox to work with Abe.”

Until now, everything Abe has been asked has come easily. “Working on Intermediate dressage now, he’s like, ‘Wow! This takes a bit more strength’,” Charlotte relays. “Helping him use his body to his advantage” is a current training priority made easier by Charlotte’s knowledge of how Otter Pop uses his.

Charlotte & Andrea Pfeiffer

A Family’s Full Circle

Charlotte has no regrets about choosing “regular” high school in her senior year. “After last year, I was introduced to a lot of people at Petaluma High. I realized that I only get one chance to do this in my life. I wanted to go to the dances and sports games and make friends there. It’s been super cool.” That’s true even as looming AP tests and college applications mean skipping some favorite West Coast competitions.

College is a family priority Charlotte fully buys into. “I’d love to ride and train every day of my life, but if I got injured, I want a back-up plan.”

In aspiring to juggle college with caring for and campaigning two horses, the young rider has a role model in Frankie Thieriot Stutes, her second cousin. Long a contender on the eventing circuit, Frankie also has two young sons with her husband and owns two businesses. She competes as an amateur and had a breakthrough 2018, winning the Rebecca Farms 3* and earning the National 3* Champion honors at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International in the fall. Frankie also earned the US Eventing Association’s $50,000 Rebecca Broussard International Developing Rider Grant to help finance her continued advance with Chatwin.

Charlotte’s mom Elizabeth and Frankie are cousins and Charlotte’s success is an arc on a circle coming full for the family. Elizabeth was the first to put Frankie on a horse, a mare named Mocha, and is half of the Chatwin Group that owns Frankie’s self-developed superstar. Many years later, after Frankie had galloped off in her own riding, Mocha retired in Frankie’s care, passing a few years ago at 32. Frankie recommended Charlotte and her family to Andrea and Chocolate Horse Farm, where Frankie had ridden when she was Charlotte’s age.

Abe at the AECs. Photo: Elizabeth Thieriot

“Frankie is a great role model and she’s a big part of why I started in this sport,” Charlotte explains. “It’s been really cool to see her success, especially knowing how much behind the scenes work goes into it. I’ve seen all the work she puts in for Chatwin’s care, health and training. She really wants what’s best for her horse and it’s great to see her work pay off.”

Frankie is equally impressed with her second cousin. “Literally just a few years ago, she had never gone above Novice or Beginner Novice. It’s pretty incredible how fast she’s come up the levels, while getting a lot of top results doing it.”

Watching her grow up as a horsewoman and a person is a thrill. “She transitioned unbelievably once she went to Andrea’s,” Frankie notes. Moving away from her family at 15 “says a lot about her dedication to the sport and she has matured a lot in her riding and everything since then.”

Like Andrea, Frankie has props for Charlotte’s parents in letting their daughter solo so young. Chocolate Horse was a perfect landing spot, starting with the reality that Charlotte found herself among equally talented, devoted and hard-working contemporaries. Along with Amber Levine, Chocolate Horse families provided her a place to live, logistical support and the guidance important to even an independent teenager.

“It’s a big deal to move away from home at 15, and our Chocolate Horse Farm people really did what they could,” Andrea notes. It wasn’t smooth sailing every minute, she adds, but the village approach helped further an “already good kid” toward the next phase of her ambitions.

Having launched many talented riders over nearly 30 years in business, Andrea says kids like Charlotte keep things exciting and focused on what she hopes will be many more years of nurturing ambitious and talented youngsters.

“I can’t help it” Charlotte says of the grin that spreads ear-to-ear anytime she’s campaigning 2 A.M. She laughingly describes it as one of several “weird faces” she’s known for making while riding, but it seems more a manifestation of the reason she aspires to a life with horses: the pure joy of it.