IN THE SPOTLIGHT WITH Caroline Harris

Laura Phipps 

Hope is the greatest of propellers. It is an inducement to believe that perseverance will see you wake up one morning to a kind fate. Maybe the kind where you are trotting down the centre line for your dressage test at Badminton, or you take the call to learn you have been selected to compete for your country, perhaps. Caroline Harris knows no bounds. And these are the dreams harboured. “My ambitions are to represent my country and obviously winning Badminton would be right up there.” But merely hoping, seldom produces the desired outcome. “I also just want to make sure I train to become the best rider I can be and train my horses to become the absolute best they can be” continues Caroline. Clicking onto Caroline’s website reveals a rather more inherent opening image containing the words “we aim to go to the very top.” It is felt this is not a revelation but a statement of fact. No, it’s not hope. It’s pure hard graft, a bewitching way with horses and a huge dose of natural talent.

Lucky, for many, that the bustling metropolis of London proved no barrier to a childhood which would forge a love of ponies. Caroline started riding aged 5 at Ridgway Stables on Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park. 5 years later, the magic of riding firmly instilled, the family moved to Somerset which allowed Caroline and her sisters to keep ponies at home where they joined the Blackmore Vale Pony Club. Caroline chuckles “my earliest memory is doing my first ODE on my 12.2hh pony. I have a gorgeous photo of him showjumping but if you look closely, you can see someone chasing me over the fence! It’s safe to say he taught me to kick! My fondest memories are from those days in the Pony Club where I made some brilliant friends.”

In 2003, Caroline took on a 4 year old called Carromore Gemstone and together they reached the Blue Chip Championships. “Yes I got into eventing through that brilliant pony” remarks Caroline. “I mainly showjumped him until someone told us about pony trials and said we should give it a go…so we did!” Success in pony trials sowed the seeds for her competitive eventing ambitions and Caroline went on to finish third at the Chepstow under 18 championships on a pony called The Lap Dancer, following which they were shortlisted for the Junior team and long-listed for the Young Riders. “Eventing has created a lovely friendly world that’s a pleasure to be involved with. I have met some of my greatest friends in the sport. In an ideal world, it would be lovely to be more affordable for people but I know everyone is just trying to make it work.”

Instead of making good with her success as a young rider, Caroline ploughed on into seniors, notorious for the step up. A latent ability and developing technique sealed success with her next horse; The Undertaker whom she produced from Novice through to finishing second at Tattersalls 2* and jumping her first Advanced.

Tireless dedication led Caroline to finding the honeypot; she is now based with Australian Olympic Eventer, Sam Griffiths. The catalyst for their alliance is proof in the pudding that you should always strive for the best even when tottering down the road for a lesson, as Caroline takes up “Sam taught me for years and when I said I was looking to base myself with an eventer, he offered me to go to his.” Five seasons have passed at Sam’s Team Symphony Farm. And the accolades are heaped on Caroline. She is ranked among the top 75 British event riders in the world and has garnered a highly respected reputation for producing young horses. Back to the website and the words ‘rising’ and ‘star’ are indicative of the esteem in which Caroline is held. And Sam’s quote? “Caroline has developed into a highly skilled event rider. Her attention to detail, incredible work ethic and strong determination can only be admired.” Gold standard praise indeed for this 24 carat hope for British Eventing. I ask Caroline if she could only take one thing that she has learnt away with her what would it be. There’s a pause. And then “it would be that if you are struggling on your horse to get the right distance, it is because the horse is either not in front of your leg or not responsive enough to your waiting aid.” Take heed.

The one constant throughout Caroline’s time with Sam has been her current top horse, Billy Bumble, who Caroline bought as a 4 year old from the Billy Stud. This 16hh mare by Kannan, now 10 years old, is very clearly Caroline’s princess. “Bumble, in my eyes is perfect” gushes Caroline. Best in the land, fleet of foot, springy of heel, aristocratic of class then? “Actually she isn’t really” laughs Caroline. “She is small and very careful, so we have worked hard on getting her to travel across her fences when showjumping. She is also ridiculously sharp so teaching her new movements on the flat, such as changes, can take time and patience.” Despite imperfections, of which lets face it, we all have, the pair were never out of the top ten at international events in 2016 – which included a third in Bicton’s CIC2* and seventh in Blenheim’s 8/9 year old CIC3*. Unable to capitalise on this fabulous success in 2017 due to Bumble sustaining an injury, Caroline concentrated on her ‘exciting string’ of younger horses naming Epica and Falko TH as ones to watch. On how she likes to produce her youngsters Caroline comments “I like to take my time with them and each one is very different. I like one that’s forward thinking and not looking for the way home. I don’t like one that looks back at you when you ride it. When looking to purchase, I firstly look at conformation and whether you can picture it at a 4* trot up in years to come. Secondly, It must be scopey! I love La Biosthetique Sam – he is an out and out trier and wants to win as much as his rider. That’s the sign of a really really special horse.”

The well known adage ‘fail to prepare and you prepare to fail’, it seems, was simply borne out for Caroline for everything scales back to preparation; “I do suffer with nerves but I find if I know I have prepared the horses in the best way possible, then I feel far less nervous as I know I’ve done the best I can to prepare them. I also work with Jon Pitts who has really helped me to focus on the right things rather than the wrong” said Caroline, when asked if she suffers with nerves. Somewhat comforting to know that riders at the top can also suffer.

So, what are the aims this season, with Bumble back for more? “I’d love to aim Bumble at some spring CIC3* and possibly aim to get selected for some Nations Cup teams. My main aim though is hopefully Blenheim CCI as this is my favourite event that has such a special feel to it and of course continue to produce the younger horses.”

The dreaded question that is virtually impossible to answer I’m sure: ‘which would you rather win – Olympic Gold or Badminton? “That’s a very very tough question. A gold medal would be exceptionally special but Badminton is the best event in the world… I can’t decide!”

We know one thing – Caroline will not have failed to prepare. With this in mind – watch this space.