By Tafra Donberger
Portraits by Alex Banks
Charlotte Babbitt displayed her competitive streak early in life when, at 14, she moved away from her family in South Lake Tahoe, California, where riding opportunities were slim, to train with Andrea Pfeiffer at Chocolate Horse Farm in Petaluma, California. The eventing world was calling, and Charlotte was eager for the thrill of cross-country and the hard work the eventing world entailed. Eventually two disciplines, eventing and show jumping, would capture her heart.
Both basketball and horses were Charlotte’s interests when she was a 10-year-old; she began riding lessons and played basketball with school teams until it all came to a head and the busyness of her schedule forced an ultimatum: horses or basketball. “It seemed like a hard decision at the time, but it was easy in the end,” Charlotte said. Basketball was hard on her body, and she and her mother, Elizabeth, purchased her a more competitive eventing horse, Under Wraps around that same time. The decision was clear: Horses won the day, and she made the decision to move away from her family for access to better training.
By attending most of high school online, Charlotte had more time in the saddle and the ability to travel for competitions. With Andrea’s guidance at Chocolate Horse Farm, she purchased 2 A.M., known as Abe, and developed him through the levels, then set her sights on competing on a team at the USEA North American Youth Championships. In 2018 the pair won the CCI2* short course at Woodside International Horse Trials, then followed it up with a win at the CCI2*-L course at Galway Downs International. The following year, she got the call inviting her to be on the Area VI team for the upcoming 2019 North American Youth Championships CCI2*-L.
“It was realizing a huge goal of mine,” Charlotte said. She and Abe won the individual championship that year. “The lead-up was rocky, but we got there and Abe was unreal. He led it start to finish, and I’m super lucky to have had the horse, opportunity and support from my coaches and family to be able to realize that dream!”
“We went into it knowing she could win it,” said Andrea, who helped Charlotte every step of the way. “She had the horse, put in the time and effort and she went in with a team mentality. That year her team really struggled, so in the end she had to ride for herself and rode beautifully.”
With that win under her belt, Charlotte readied for college and continued to train Abe for the next level. She began taking classes at San Diego State University and training with Tamie Smith, winning the Advanced at Copper Meadows and then competing in their first CCI4* at Twin Rivers Fall International, where they placed seventh.
In spring 2021, Charlotte tagged along on Tamie’s annual trip east, little knowing how her life was about to change in big ways again.
Her Heart Horse
In 2021, Charlotte was named to the Emerging Athlete Eventing 25 program. When she came to the East Coast with Tamie, it was impossible to ignore the opportunities she discovered and she situated herself in Ocala, Florida, with Leslie Law, preparing for what would be the last 2021 spring Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event. “It was supposed to be a few months of getting experience, then going back to California for school,” Charlotte said. “That didn’t happen, because I found out Abe is allergic to gentamicin.”
Abe had incurred a scrape a week before Jersey Fresh, and Charlotte had no intentions of letting anything stop his momentum, so she had the on-call vet come out to attend to him. The antibiotic was administered to stave off infection, but instead of preventing illness, it incurred it. “Within two minutes, he was convulsing, in cold sweats, and panting,” Charlotte explained. “He went into anaphylactic shock, walked over to a tree, lay down and closed his eyes. It took eight people to get him up and into the trailer to go to the hospital.”
The gelding’s core temperature dropped to 94 degrees on that frantic rush to the veterinary hospital in Ocala, which helped veterinarians determine he was suffering from a reaction to the antibiotic. “No one had seen a gentamicin allergy that bad,” Charlotte said. “He was in the hospital for a month. Every day I’d show up expecting to say goodbye, and every day he’d be a bit perkier.”
Abe fought for his life through colitis, laminitis and various complications from catheters and thrombosis. He’s now missing the right jugular vein because of infection. When he was released from the hospital, Charlotte had to administer medication eight times throughout the day and night.
“He really did fight for me,” Charlotte said. “No one expected him to live!” After nine long months of recovery, she was able to take Abe on the flat to discover what he may or may not be able to do; he has since proved he not only has the will to live but the capability to compete again. With careful conditioning and an ever-vigilant concern for his health, Charlotte took Abe to Preliminary and Advanced competitions, and in April 2023 they completed a CCI3*-L course at the Florida Horse Park.
As thrilled as Charlotte is to have taken Abe on the cross-country again, she’s put his future plans on hold to evaluate his health and is looking into whether the lost vein is affecting his fitness. “Whether he can or can’t do high-level eventing won’t change my relationship with him,” she said. “He’s never going to be for sale; he’s my heart horse. I’ll make different goals so we both have fun out there.”
The Show Jumping World
During Abe’s long road to recovery, Charlotte wasn’t about to ship him back across the country to return to California, so she switched gears and remained in Ocala. She began her own business in eventing sales horses, which led to a job with Olympian Will Simpson, which in turn led her to branch out into the show jumping arena.
The entrepreneurial young woman found herself in the position to work for Clark and Jessica Montgomery at Serenity Spring Farm, and in 2022 she went to Germany with Clark to scout horses. The very last horse that they evaluated was Vivianne Blue PS, a 10-year-old Oldenburg that Charlotte liked from the start.
Though the mare was built differently than the event horses she’d been accustomed to, smaller at only 16-hands and jumping at the 1.40m while in Europe, Charlotte still convinced her family to purchase the horse with her. After conquering a staph infection from a shipping accident, Charlotte and the mare she calls Annie began show jumping in the States, aiming for their first Grand Prix, which they completed in April 2023 at the Florida Horse Park with a clean round.
“I’d never sat on a horse with such scope,” Charlotte said. “She’s gotten super consistent and clean at the 1.45m level. I definitely got lucky once again!”
With Charlotte’s background in eventing, others often insisted that eventing was the more difficult task, but Charlotte has found that show jumping, though a part of the three-day event, is its own sport. “The accuracy you need is unbelievable,” she explained. “I thought I’d miss the adrenaline of cross-country, but walking into the ring to jump 1.45m is a rush! It’s been really cool to learn a new craft in this way.”
Her current mentor, Clark, had also transitioned from eventing to show jumping and has been instrumental in Charlotte’s adaptation. “Charlotte was hungry for information,” Clark recalled. “She is very good on the flat, and we worked specifically on her eye and ability to get to a jump. She started this process because she wanted to be a better jump rider, and that’s helped her get where she is.”
Pursuing both eventing and show jumping with top-tier horses is a dream come true, but for a business-savvy young person, Charlotte is setting herself up for long-term success out of the saddle. “She was certainly ambitious, and had a clear path forward early on,” Andrea recalled. “She wants to make it work, so she’s not afraid of the actual hard work of it!”
Charlotte’s position with Clark and Jessica at Serenity Spring is a full-time job where she gets firsthand experience on the business side of sales and barn management, so that one day in the future she can operate her own business. “One thing I always want to give to any kind of aspiring rider is what I missed in my upbringing: what you’re supposed to do to make money in horses,” Clark explained. “A lot of our conversations are not only how to ride better but also how to really make this work for your entire career financially.”
Much of that focus is on sales, where Charlotte hones her eye for prospects and incorporates her experience from both the eventing world and show-jumping arena. “Developing an eye can be difficult,” she remarked. “Knowing what you’re looking for and what you want is learned. We have conversations about biomechanics, the way the horses jump, how they jump.”
As a young rider in dual sports, Charlotte is hesitant to choose a favorite but is extremely savvy about the business opportunities in the show-jumping world. She’s also extremely grateful for the abounding opportunities she’s had through both family and outstanding mentors. “I have two incredibly talented horses in both sports, and I have the same coach to help me with show jumping and eventing,” she said. “I love riding horses, and I’ve really prioritized the horses. I hope to be able to do both long-term!”
For more information, follow Charlotte on Instagram @_cbequestrian_
Photos by Alex Banks, www.alexbanksphotography.com
Charlotte and Abe competing at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida.
Photo by Andrew Ryback