From horse-crazy Culpeper kid, to winning professional, national clinician and internationally published author, the journey was anything but predictable.
Charlotte grew up in Virginia which is big race and show horse country. Born in Charlottesville, the place she and Commonwealth Park called home is Culpeper. Like so many horse crazy kids, she started lessons at almost 6 years old, as young as early as her parents and the local trainer Rosemary Thomas would let her.
Summerduck Run Farm and Rosemary Thomas became like home and family to her from all the long days there spent riding her ponies with her friends. Rosie created a safe structured environment full of diversity and imagination. Although horseshowing was always the main goal; foxhunting was a regular winter outing. Hot summer days spent bareback swimming in the pond and goofing around on trails and in the pasture gave all the kids natural seats and open minds.
Charlotte's love of horse shows started in 1975 on Rosie's cute Shetland pony, Easter Angel. Hooked on the 'spotlight' her family bought her her first pony Pastime for three hundred dollars. Pastime was a beautiful welsh/paint cross but was incredibly willful and stubborn, bucking her off anytime she wanted to canter. Fear grew about jumping and cantering but she was passionate about horses and riding. So she began riding other ponies to practice. In 1979 her parents saw the dedication and the need for a new pony, so the hunt began! It ended at the Barracks in Charlottesville on a medium chestnut pony mare named Winged Fantasy. Fantasy was just that - the perfect pony. They cantered and jumped everything in sight. Charlotte gained such confidence that people started seeking her out to ride and train their ponies. In 1980 Charlotte and Fantasy won High Point Pony Working Hunter for the season and there was no stopping her after that.
Her first paid job was at ten years old and it was breaking a pony for Lloyd and Sue Vaught for their granddaughter Lizzie. This began a long friendship full of lots of long days and nights. Lloyd did TB racehorses; Sue did Morgan show horses and foxhunted in the fall and winter. Sue was first to have Charlotte start riding and competing on her personal show and hunt horses. It wasn't long before Lloyd had her riding the leadpony, then galloping horses to prepare to race in Charlestown, WV. Charlotte loved the job and loved the challenge of actually breaking the babies each spring. They really put into her mind the value of a good foundation because not every horse made a great racehorse and if they failed at the track, Charlotte needed to pick them up and make them into showhunters.
The Vaughts were close friends with legendary horse trainers Delmar and his son, Noel Twyman. Delmar was a master horseman and had won everything AHSA horseshowing had to offer. He had the finest conformation horses and when he offered Charlotte a job riding them, she was starstruck. She could ride - and Noel, who did fancy racehorses and steeplechase horses took her in to gallop horses for him too. Riding showhorses by Kelo, Castle Magic and Sir Thompson and racehorses by Seattle Slew, Hold Your Peace and Conquistador Cielo to name a few, made her feel as though she was on top of the world.
After judging her in several shows, Teddi Ismond, well known R judge and former student of George Morris, approached Charlotte's mother and asked if Charlotte could move in and work for her riding, training, showing and selling "A" showhorses. Her mother agreed and at fifteen Charlotte moved in and went to work for Teddi and her partner Spencer Young at his Sonny Dell Farm in Keswick Virginia. Although the primitive living situation proved challenging sometimes, the big horseshows and famous customers made life really fun. Nothing lasts forever and Teddi and Spencer broke up and Charlotte returned home until she found another job.
Life goes fast and with Rosemary's help Charlotte was quickly offered another showhorse job, this one in Middleburg Virginia working for Joe and Dianne, another George Morris graduate, Fiore at their Rhiannon Farm. Her first taste of really fast, really big money sales was intoxicating. Selling almost one hundred expensive horses per year left little time for school. Shows and customers would have challenged even the best student - but Charlotte managed to keep up both lives for three years until she graduated. She had always loved and excelled with the hunters and this was her first foray into the jumpers. She kept up the pace for a little over five years before her body and mind needed a break.
Back to Culpeper and Rosemary she went to ride, teach and coach an interschool riding program of which she had been a part so many years before. During this time she met and fell in love with her first husband Bill Graves. They got engaged, married and moved to Rock Hill South Carolina. What a complete culture shock it was with no big shows and no racehorses. Looking around to find the respected horsemen of the area, she joined the Camden Hunt and picked up some lessons and some horses to ride and show at the local hunter and AQHA shows.
At that time AQHA stallion Sonnys Sensation was king and his owner/trainer D. John Deas was all the buzz. When Charlotte was requested to come and ride a hunter for him she was intrigued. It turned out to be a real turning point in her life. D. John was only a few years older and had, like her, grown up around horseshows. He had an understanding of his horse's minds that allowed him to do things with them she had never seen before. She had never seen western pleasure and he enjoyed the jumping and the high energy sales. Along with his girlfriend, Kimberly Harward, they had a big time riding, selling and showing. They began a lifelong friendship that continues today.
In January of 1992 Charlotte's son, Will was born. He was born three months early and at two pounds had to remain in the hospital to grow. At this same time, D. John and Charlotte were experimenting with John Lyons 'new' colt starting techniques in the round pen. He had five to start and they watched the tapes and then tried the new ideas. These ideas were amazing and really moved Charlotte into a new place in her mind about training. It had always been a very straight line to the show ring or the racetrack, never this 'cowboy' foundation first before deciding which way to go with a horse. It was a wonderful way to introduce more 'lateral thinking' to her.
In the next few years, Charlotte built a good lesson, showing and training business called Fox Point Farm. She also got a divorce and moved to Waxhaw North Carolina to run a big lesson program at Providence Equestrian Center. Board for her own horses was too high at PEC so she kept them with Dwayne Fultz, son of Jack Fultz and grandson of foundation APHA breeder D. E. Fultz. At Dwayne's she got her first taste of paint horses - another huge turning point. During her time at PEC she grew the lesson business from nothing to over two hundred lessons per week between her assistant and herself. She hauled many students to great success not only at the local shows but also those in Camden and Columbia, SC. Things got so big that she felt she was running an assembly line instead of a feeling riding program so she started to look for a place she could purchase and run with her new partner Bryan Stack.
In November of 1995 she had her second child, Charlotte Stack. Now she was more determined to get her own place so she could cut back and provide more personal attention to her clients and her family. Things seemed to be coming together when a freak accident in April of 1996 flipped a horse over onto Charlotte breaking six ribs and her back (L1, L2, L3, L4, crushing L5 and shirring off all the transverse processes) causing her spinal cord to come out and get damaged. Fusion surgery with a metal plate, screws and a bone graft repaired her back. Time in the Charlotte Rehab Center taught her how to walk again. Spinal cord damage challenges the toughest individuals and it gave her an easy out from the horse business if she wanted it. She never gave up and went back to teaching by July sitting in a chair and using her walker to get around. Still today she sits in a chair on a raised platform to teach.
Late that summer a dear friend, Judy Galindo, brought her a flyer for a small piece of property which became the Fox Point Farm of today. Charlotte and Bryan worked tirelessly to gut and finish the barn and an arena by September of 1996. With the most modest of beginnings FPF opened up and has been her dream ever since.
Charlotte groomed her students and her horses to big wins all around North and South Carolina. She was always pushing the envelope by doing 'different' things like showing her hunter bridleless just to see if she could. Or the day Charlotte was in Camden at a joint meet and a visiting hunt member's bridle broke off her horse's head and she was run away with. Charlotte's friend Amy stood her horse sideways in the trail to stop the runaway horse long enough for its rider to dismount. Charlotte scooped the rider up behind her and they took off after the loose horse. When they reached the front of the line (there were about 125 riders out hunting that day) a Master had her horse caught with a piece of broken rein. Charlotte immediately gave the girl her bridle and took the broken strap for herself. Putting the strap under her horse's neck she expected to start back to the trailers when the entire hunt - all 125 of them - took off again tearing by Charlotte's bridleless horse. After that little stunt she began to develop a reputation for having well-behaved well-broke horses. And when Judy offered to take her to a local natural horsemanship clinic, Charlotte was ready to see what else was out there.
Dave Seay was the clinician and he put on a good show. Charlotte had taken her three year old APHA colt Skip N Ol Paint to get him out and expose him to another new environment. Dave was challenging to her and she was determined to meet that challenge. She came home and really worked on her bridleless and refinement skills. At that time the movie 'The Horse Whisperer' came out and it opened some doors for natural horsemanship trainers to showcase their talents. Charlotte was approached for an article in the Charlotte Observer which later led into three TV shows. It was an exciting time and after the publicity, Dave invited her to his place for more help. He showed her how you could take a variety of horses and riders and using basic principles, focus the group and move them in a positive direction.
After Dave, Charlotte was looking for a natural horsemanship mentor and found Gary Biggerstaff. Gary is a certified Master Equine Dentist, and also a close personal friend of Ray Hunt, Master Horseman. Gary was putting on some clinics for Ray and for himself. Charlotte started attending them. Gary and Ray made things seem so simple - a new concept to her. She still works on a regular basis with Gary, who is one of her closest friends.
Charlotte's lifelong love for foxhunting took a big chunk of her time in the 1990's through about 2005. First as member of the Camden Hunt, she represented Camden individually and led a Hunt Team to a prestigious win at the Washington International Horse Show (the first such win in Camden Hunt history) in 1993. She continued to bring home top ribbons each year from the Washington Hunt Night until it's final year in 2000 when representing the Mecklenburg Hounds she won the Masters Class, a class she had dreamed of since she was a child in Virginia. She served as Mecklenburg Hounds Joint Master of Foxhounds for several years until her showing and training commitments got too great to devote the time she needed to lead successfully. She is still an avid supporter of foxhunting and maintains her membership with Mecklenburg so she can take her students out hunting a handful of times each season. Charlotte has the prestigious honor to have earned her 'colors' in both The Camden Hunt and with Mecklenburg Hounds, Inc. "I hope to continue hunting for the joy of listening to the hounds, of viewing the beautiful countryside, of riding an amazing horse: and just of living life to its fullest as people have done for hundreds of years out early Saturday mornings dressed up searching for that elusive reynard with cold air in my lungs and fallen leaves crunching under our feet."
Recently my dear friend and MHI Joint Master sent me a kind note about that trip to Washington in 2000. She suggested I post the story here. I have so many stories similar to this one, I must write them down before I forget because they are the fabric that makes our being. I hope you enjoy Sylvia Picalo's version of that wonderful experience:
"Charlotte. Remember when you and Castle Banny won Washington? You had not ridden him until that morning and went into a schooling hunter class. Later that afternoon you were entered with him in the 'Masters Class' with all those expensive horses and their trainers. Outside the ring waiting to go in, the other riders looked at you like,"OH NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? " (They knew you as a good young rider and exibitor)."
"They were so fancy and YOUR red coat had a safety pin to replace a missing button. You just smiled and beat them. I can still see you and Banny going round and round in the hack class--forever,but all the time forever or longer you never made a mistake. They kept eliminating horses and you and Banny kept going. Then you tore them up over fences. Jumped into the ring. Cleared big fences, opened a gate and from a hand gallop stopped smack on that rubber matt in front of the judges. You two are winners. What courage and talent. You made a dream come true for me and Mecklenburg Hounds. Banny is a great horse, but he takes courage from his rider."
"I was telling someone this story this morning and had to share it with you. I have not forgotten and hope your students read this. Respectfully, Syl."
During this time her stallion Skip produced a few nice foals but seemed to have a higher calling than local hunter shows or foxhunting as Charlotte had planned. So in 1999 she decided to take on the project of preparing and showing her breeding horse at the North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia APHA shows - it turned out to be a choice that would change the course of her life.
With the help of her friend Jack Fultz, Charlotte prepared Skip for the Western Pleasure and the Hunter Under Saddle and was enormously successful. From his first show, people noticed him even without the flashy paint markings that were in style at the time. It quickly became evident that he was to be a better showhorse than a 'color getter', so in June of 2000 she had him gelded so both she could show him in the Open division, and her son Will could show him in the Walk-Trot division. In his first show as a gelding he won the pleasure and the huntseat in the senior and in the walk-trot. The rest, as they say, is history.
Skip won 19 Top Tens at the APHA World Championship Horse Show including 2004 World Champion in Senior Working Hunter and 2005 Reserve World Champion Youth Hunter Hack, 2008 Open and Limited Pleasure Driving World Champion, 2008 Open and Limited Senior Hunter Hack World Champion. He retired from the APHA World Show in 2009 and Charlotte's daughter enjoyed showing him until his death in 2013 just shy of his 20th birthday.
In 2004 lightning struck again, and a thoughtful client brought Charlotte a Parelli Natural Horsemanship Level One Pack. She had two horses in training with Charlotte at the time when she introduced PNH as "you already do it, you just do not know you do". Boy was she ever correct! PNH and Charlotte were a 'natural' fit! Charlotte immediately bought as much information as she could, drinking in the simple yet complex ideas of Pat Parelli. Brilliant with both horses and humans Pat's program revolutionized Charlotte's teaching format and focus. Instead of focusing on material success (like ribbons and trophies) she began to focus on purity and confidence in her horses and in her riders. She has a gift for analyzing both the horse and human to identify where they might be missing, and then building a plan to fix everything up. She has reached higher goals and has trained other riders to attain these high goals as well with the help and support of PNH and the Savvy Club. She teaches individuals at home and travels giving clinics to share her brand of Natural Horsemanship which is applicable to all ages and styles of horse and human. She lives the Pat Parelli quote, " Horsemanship can be obtained naturally through communication, understanding and psychology versus mechanics, fear and intimidation" and works to improve more each day.
In September of 2007 Pat Parelli introduced Charlotte at his Savvy Conference in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Later that winter during a visit to his Ocala ISC, Pat offered her the 'Den Mother' position for his newest vision, Showing Naturally, a global Parelli Natural Horsemanship Program for Kids - the first of its kind! In addition to her regular horseshow, teaching and training schedule, Charlotte is now organizing and promoting the new Showing Naturally Program with demonstrations, clinics and camps. She is truly looking into the brightest future possible combining a winning program, Parelli Natural Horsemanship and the horsemen and women of the future!
Since her focus onto APHA showing began in 1999, Charlotte has brought in, coached, trained and shown many winning youth, amateur and open horses including APHA World Champion Son Of A Top Gun, Multiple Top Ten Winner Titan's Honor, Superior WP Reays Coosa Lad, Multi Honor Roll Winner Kiss Me Not, Multi Top Ten Winner Zapped With Elegance, Multi Futurity Champion A Little Sly, Multi Class Winner Hollywood Spirit to name only a few. Her students have amazed more great wins themselves including APHA Championships, Versatility, numerous National, Zone and State Titles. Charlotte coaches her clients to the biggest wins with pure, natural techniques and exceptional mental fitness and preparedness. She feels riders must learn to ride themselves, her training and riding is only half of the equation. She is a trainer of trainers.
Just since 2001, Charlotte has had a total of 27 Top Tens including 2 World Championships and 1 Reserve World Championship to her credit. She has shown horses to APHA Finalist and Top Ten honors in Western Pleasure, Hunter Under Saddle, Hunter Hack and Working Hunter. She has also has APHA Honor Roll Awards in Western Riding and Working Cowhorse (she led the country most of 2003 in Junior Working Cowhorse). She has put Superiors and Registers of Merit on horses in Reining, Trail, Barrel Racing and Pole Bending. Currently she is preparing horses to show in Pleasure and Utility Driving. And she continues to bring along students from complete beginners to advanced riders at the local open and hunter shows up into national APHA shows.
Charlotte had always had the dream of creating a system to develop horses and riders into a perfect partnership where both are more when they are together. She has had this relationship with a handful of horses in her life and has achieved goals both she and those horses never envisioned. Ten years into her dream, 'Showing Naturally', Charlotte has developed a combination of natural horsemanship and high performance horsemanship that has produced amazing results! Her students continue to excel without sacrificing themselves, their horses, their ethics or their principles. Her students have won 76 APHA Top Ten, World and Res World Championships in 10+ events the last 10 years alone.
She has been fortunate enough to work with many great horsemen from many different disciplines. Taking the best from each teacher/trainer she has created a program that addresses every part of the horse, mental, physical and emotional. Her approach is totally unique and she strives to maximize every horse and rider to take them as far as they can go! She has been approached by many to write a book. She is working on getting her big concepts written down so they can be shared and hopefully developed into a thought provoking, easy to follow path to 'True Unity' with the horse.
Last updated 2008.