A supreme showman, Simon Charlesworth is the picture of elegance, but he credits much of his success to a rather wayward 13.2hh show pony called Ainthorpe Treasure Hunt.
“I had him when I was a kid,” recalls Charlesworth. “I’d had other ponies, he was about the fourth or fifth one I had, but he was the first I had for a length of time — about five seasons altogether.
“I was very young when I got him — there’s a video somewhere of me on him at HOYS and my feet just came past the saddle flaps. It was at Wembley, so would have been the mid-1990s. He won his class then at HOYS but in the championship when I came to change the rein, something flew into my eye. I dropped the reins, trying to get the thing out of my eye, and lost the championship. I trotted across the middle with no reins. I could do that now easily, and it would be planned,” he jokes.
Charlesworth’s showmanship is now legendary, his partnership with the large hack Pearly King — supreme horse at both HOYS and the Royal International — one of the all-time greats. But it was the tricky Treasure who showed him the ropes.
“He was very bad in his mouth and he fiddled constantly with the bit,” says Charlesworth. “He taught me how to have good hands.
“When I was really small he would look after me. As I got older and started asking more questions and dictating what how we went, he was like, ‘Nah, I want to do it my way’. He would never ever dream of hurting you but he would push the limits in every way he could. It was a constant battle with him.”
At the time, Charlesworth and his parents, Alan and Andrea, were based at Jerome Harforth’s Stanley Grange Stud in North Yorkshire, so there were plenty of ponies, but he says that Treasure was the last one that was “done” for him.
“I was 12 when I finished on him,” he recalls. “The first one I did myself was Westhill Chatterbox. He had been backed and they [Harforth and Charlesworth’s parents] thought, ‘Well, if it decks him, it’s not going to kill him’. I’d got to that stage where I pretty much thought that I knew more than anyone else. Jerome had got fed up with me answering back. So he said, ‘You think you know what you’re doing, you can do it yourself.’”
That early grounding paid off and in 2012, aged 29 Simon became the youngest rider ever to win the supreme horse accolade at HOYS with Pearly King. The following year, they were supreme at the Royal International.
Now based in Newmarket with Steve Pitt and Vicky Smith, this season Simon has some young horses that are well worth watching, not least Romanno Royale, last year’s Cuddy supreme at HOYS. Now aged four, he won his middleweight hunter section at the Great Yorkshire. Simon also rides Formula 1, a four-year-old lightweight hunter who won at Royal Bath & West, the novice heavyweight Man of the Moment, and the riding horse Boston Legal.
Image: Simon Charlesworth and Romanno Royale at the 2015 Horse of the Year Show, by E.S. Photography, courtesy of the Horse of the Year Show