Heritage Farm: Beyond the Ingate with Charlotte Morse
In this behind-the-scenes series from Heritage Farm, we’re introducing you to the program’s horses and riders in a whole new way. Get to know our group beyond what you’ve seen ringside, accolades and all:
Charlotte Morse and Tender Star at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Photo by SportFot.
Horse(s): Tender Star
2021 Highlights: Two wins in the Low Junior/Amateur Jumpers at the Saratoga Classic (NY); jumped the Medium Amateur Jumpers at the Winter Equestrian Festival (FL) and Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (MI)
Charlotte Morse has come full circle with Heritage Farm. The now 34-year-old took her first lessons with Andre Dignelli when she was 12 years old, and after her family's travel twice took her—quite literally—around the world, she returned to Heritage in 2020.
By definition, Morse is the "weekend warrior," commuting to shows during the winter season in Wellington from her New York City base, where she works in investor relations and marketing for Bridge Investment Group, which went public last year. The demands of the job limit her time in the saddle but have also made getting back in the ring possible.
"It's been challenging, of course, but totally doable to balance work with riding," Morse said. "I'm at the point in my career now where I know I have at least as much flexibility as I need on the weekends. Obviously, things happen, but that's life. I know I can make the time on Saturdays and Sundays to ride or show, and I think that makes me a better employee and a better, happier person." Morse took her first lessons as a 5-year-old in Greenwich, CT, but her path in the sport thereafter became less traditional, as her family moved to Hong Kong when she was nine. Desiring to keep riding, she built her foundation in the area's pony club program, until she returned to New York at age 11. That winter, she and her two siblings began riding at Heritage. Charlotte was the only Morse who stuck with the sport, and through age 16, she campaigned with success in the junior equitation and jumper divisions. But before her senior year of high school, her family made another move—back to Hong Kong. "The thing I was most apprehensive about when I was moving was the horses. You know, we were kind of just putting the pieces together in both the equitation and the jumpers," she recalled. But in 2005, a decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed the course of Morse's life. Equestrian events at the 2008 Olympic Games were relocated from Beijing to Hong Kong. Morse had recently imported a horse from Europe to show in Malaysia, and suddenly she was a candidate for the home nation's Olympic jumping squad. "There was a very limited pool of people to pick from [in Hong Kong], and we had the opportunity to get a couple of good horses," Morse shared. "That allowed me to then go to Europe and jump some big classes, which is really, really exciting and something that I'm so grateful for." Morse earned her Certificate of Capability the Games, but her participation wasn't meant to be, as while she had been a Hong Kong resident for several years, technicalities kept her from a passport. "For a long time, you couldn't get a Hong Kong passport unless you were ethnically Chinese, which I am not," Morse explained. "It was heartbreaking at the time, but I think with time and wisdom, I realized it wasn't a defining thing for me."
Morse and Bellinda in Traverse City. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography.
After the 2008 Olympics, Morse returned to the United States to earn her degree from Yale University. During that time, she stepped away from the saddle—for nine years.
She returned to the show ring in 2016, riding with longtime friend and international show jumper Katie Dinan, but when Dinan herself began graduate school, Morse knew it was time to make another kind of homecoming.
"The only place I even thought about going back to was Heritage," Morse said. "There was no hesitation, and it was like nothing had changed, even though I hadn't had a lesson with Andre in 15 years. It instantly felt perfect."
Morse competes in the Amateur Jumper ranks with her own Tender Star, after recently retiring longtime mount, Bellinda. She's also dabbling in breeding and hoping to campaign a homebred someday. Her life seemingly constantly in motion, she appreciates her time in the saddle as an outlet, even when it's limited.
"It's about that balance. There's no pressure for me to spend more time here than I can or am comfortable with," Morse said. "There's an understanding that I'm going to do everything I can to be here, and the team at Heritage is going to do everything they can so that when I am here, we can make the most of it.
"It's about having fun, and I think if you love it and your goal is to have fun, the ribbons don't matter," she continued. "I only have so much time to practice, but I still love being here—and being at the horse show and being at the barn really is my happy place. I ride at 7:00 a.m. so that I can spend the rest of my day working, but it's what I do. It's hard to have a bad day when you start your day by riding."
And this time, Morse is staying put.
"I joke that at this point, they're stuck with me for life, because they've been in my life for 22 years now," she said. "It's been so much fun to get back to it and to do with really what I think is the best team."
Go Beyond the Ingate with other members of Heritage Farm: