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"You won't always win, so be able to look at the positives when you don't" - An Interview with Show-jumper Charlotte MJ Mills

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Charlotte lives in Scotland and show-jump’s her own horses as well as others. She  works this around her full-time job as a community psychiatric nurse for the NHS, meaning she has to be incredibly time efficient and organised! 
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Charlotte currently rides 4 horses.
- Topaz (Quadro), a 16.2h 13 year old Holstein bay gelding, who has jumped up to 1m30
- Aria (Carddento Symphony) a 17hh 7 year old ISH bay mare who jumps at 1m20, with the aim to go bigger in the future
- Fifi (Fifi L’atina) a 16hh British Sports horse, 5 year old bay mare, currently jumping 1m05
- Fifi’s full sister a 3 year old sadly going grey mare who will make about 16.2h, belonging to Douglas Mathison
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Charlotte also has two miniature Shetlands Fearn and Turbo (Hjaltland Fearn and Hjaltland Thorbeau) and a Pomeranian X!
"They are travelling companions, lawn mowers, and just lovely little people. Turbo is a stallion but in 3 years he has not managed to cover Fern, so is a bit useless! I also have a 1 year old Pomeranian x called Foxy."
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  •  What’s your riding background? 
Neither of my parents are horsey at all, although both have sat on a horse at my insistence. My Grandpa was president of the Bahrain gymkhana society, so there is some horsey blood there! I first rode when I was 3, my Mum’s friend took me and her daughter to a local riding school for a lead rein hack.
Her daughter cried the minute she was put on the pony, and I cried when I was taken off!
I have ridden ever since, and can’t imagine not riding.
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  • What was it that made you choose show-jumping over any other riding discipline?
I think it mostly chose me. I can’t really ever remember making the choice to show jump, but I think mostly because all my friends were jumping at the time, and we would spend the summer holidays making jumps out of whatever we could find, that it was just a natural progression. I have done some showing, mainly working hunter, but I lack the patience I think! I have also evented, but I go cross country in this lovely showjumping canter, so I am far too slow!
Plus there is no jump off.
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  • Roughly how many hours do you think spend in the saddle a week?
I think about 3-4 hours during the week, and more at weekends. Shows are mostly all day things but it's more the travelling that takes the time. I am also very quick at mucking out, so that I can take advantage of daylight in the winter. Much easier to muck out than ride in the dark!
Although schooling is quicker, I like to hack as much as possible, you can school whilst hacking, and the young horses in particular, benefit mentally and physically from hacking as much as possible.
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  • What are your top tips for keeping calm and performing your best at a show?

I quite often have 3 horses at shows by myself, so there is no time to get nervous as you are running around trying to get everything ready.
Making sure you know the course helps, it is nice to walk it with friends, but you are not really concentrating if you are chatting!
Having a warm up routine helps as you are focused on that, rather than getting nervous, but the routine also needs to be flexible and changeable for different horses. Topaz hardly needs any warm up fences as he knows his job, but Aria needs a few to get her eye in.
Also, sometimes they do put in a bad jump in the warm up.
It is important to put that behind you when you go into the ring.
There has been more than one occasion where I have fallen off Topaz in the warm up, then gone on to win the class.
Sleep is really important as you are always more negative when you are tired, and lack concentration.
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  • How hard is it to balance a full-time job with a competitive show calendar, do you have any tips for anyone that wants to do the same?

You are always going to be at a disadvantage if you don’t work full time with horses, but it is possible. Supportive colleagues help, although this is out of your control! Mine are non horsey, but take the time to ask how I get on at shows, which is really sweet. If you can get flexi-time, or hours that suit you it is incredibly helpful. Most of my colleagues do 9-5, where as I do 08.30-16.30 to get more daylight hours which helps a lot. If you can accumulate time due, it means that you can take that for the farrier or vet, which saves precious holidays for shows! If you can work through your lunch and get away early it is a bonus too!
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  • You often travel to shows, when you go away, do you find it possible to take time out and see the area when you’re staying or is there no time for that?

Not really as the lorry is too big to take into towns etc, unless we take a car with us. We mostly just watch the other classes, and nose at the stands.
It is a good chance to relax as stay away shows are less busy than being at home. It's also a good chance to socialise and catch up with friends, so I always have something to do!
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  • What has been the most challenging moment of your show-jumping career so far?

I think everyone has periods where things aren’t going well for whatever reason, horses aren’t jumping well, the lorry is in the garage for weeks on end (mine seems to live in the garage!) and it can be hard to stay positive as you are putting in all this hard work, and getting nothing back for it. It can also be really expensive and you feel like you are wasting all your hard earned money! I am lucky just now in that I have got someone who knows exactly what to say to me when I feel like this, which is exactly what I need.
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  • What has been the best moment of your show-jumping career so far?

When I got Fifi she was a totally unhandled 3 years old. It took quite a while to get her broken and to trust me. At 4 years she jumped the Royal Highland show 4 year olds, clear round BYEH 4 year olds, and also qualified for the national amateur finals at Aintree. This year at 5 years she has done all of that and more, she qualified for Scope, and jumped a double clear every day to qualify for her final, which again she jumped double clear in and was placed, which meant an awful lot knowing I had done it all myself.
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I also qualified for Blue chips which meant a super long journey down to Hartpury which was amazing!! I loved the whole thing, I would happily live there! It was also really nice that this year when we got Fifi’s full sister Heidi, she won her first in hand class, at her first ever show, and then went on to stand Champion. That was lovely for not only me but also  her owner, and her breeders.
  • What advice would you give to young riders looking to get into show-jumping?

Have a tough skin! Don’t worry about what other people are doing, just concentrate on yourself.
Also you won’t always win, so be able to look for the positives when you don’t.
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  • What do you like most and least about the show-jumping?
What I like least, is that sadly in this sport money talks. So many people go out and buy ready-made horses that have jumped 1m20 plus but I think there is so much more achievement in doing it yourself. What I like best is the amazing friends I have made through the sport, who are now mostly my best friends. Always nice to go to shows when you see people you know and can make it into a social day as well
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  • What are your future plans? Do you ever want horses to be your full-time thing?
I would love to ride full time, but will just need to see where life goes! Hopefully next year I would like to compete abroad, I have a friend who lives in Belgium, and has a show very close to her, so the plan is to do that next summer funds dependant! I would also love to jump at Hickstead, it is the other end of the world from Scotland but it is very special, and I hear the shopping is excellent! Also, thinking about a trip over to Cavan in Ireland, so will need to keep working full time to pay for it all!
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Thank you so much for talking to us Charlotte. If you'd like to keep up with Charlotte's journey, you can follow her Instagram @cmjmills