Charlotte Lee had one down last weekend in the 1.40 CSI2* class at the Longines Global Champions Tour of London. But the giant smile on her face as she patted her 13-year-old KWPN mare, Zarina, on the way out of the ring said it all: this is what she had come for.

“I was over the moon,” Lee says. “[Zarina] jumped fantastic the whole way around and it’s probably one of the best rounds that we’ve done. And to do it in London, the feeling was phenomenal.”

The 25-year-old British rider from Wareham, Dorset was competing Zarina in just her second 1.40m class to date, against the likes of Emily Moffit, Georgina Bloomberg, and Mathilda Karlsson. But as her jet-black tie and jacket and black-and-white checkered helmet band proudly proclaimed, Charlotte is not a professional rider traveling from city to city on the international circuit. She’s a full-time response officer with the Dorset police force.

“I’m the person on the ground who goes to all the 999 calls. Because we are an already small force, we don’t have a mounted section, so I can’t join my passion [for] horses and my work together, unfortunately,” explains Lee. “I’ve worked with the Dorset police now for three years, and it’s the best job in the world. It’s great fun.”

I was one of those small-time people that just chugged away and worked really hard. [I’ve] just done as much as I can in the time that I have.

Charlotte’s choice of attire is intentional and one that she only reserves for CSI5*-level shows, where there is a strong public attendance. “To be [there] as the only serving UK police officer representing our emergency services and the hard work that each and every one of us puts into serving the public has been an honour,” Charlotte wrote Sunday on her Facebook page. 

“I work [as a police officer] to fund my show jumping and to be able to keep the horses. I end up working a lot of overtime and there’s a lot of long hours, so I kind of feel like I have two full-time jobs. But it’s worth it in the end,” she says.

Charlotte Lee and Zarina competing at LGCT London.

A relative latecomer to the sport, Lee began riding at the age of three, though she didn’t start jumping competitively until 16. After some initial success, Charlotte says she caught the show jumping bug, and it’s been history ever since. But don’t misunderstand; what she’s achieved is the result of plenty of toil in and out of the ring—and on horses that she’s produced herself.

Last year, Lee did her first international horse show in Belgium as one of six riders selected for the British Show Jumping International Experience Programme, an achievement, she says, that had a major impact on her riding. “I was one of those small-time people that just chugged away and worked really hard. [I’ve] just done as much as I can in the time that I have,” Charlotte explains. And that time is relatively short.

Lee and her mother do all the work at their yard for the 11 horses on the property (three belong to Charlotte), and her parents also pitch in at horse shows. “I am my own groom as well, although my parents are absolute saints and they come with me. My dad does the driving, so I don’t have to do that, and my mum is kind of the best groom in the world, to be honest. They support me wherever I go.”

“I think it’s when I start talking about [my schedule] that I think, Wow, I’m actually quite mad.”

A devoted team is essential to competing at this level in the UK, though, Charlotte admits, the rest of her recipe for success is pretty simple.

“Extremely long hours and not a lot of sleep! [Laughs] I just have to be really strict with my timekeeping, and even if I finish the night shift at 7 a.m. [and] I’m absolutely knackered, I still come home, I still ride all the horses, and get everything done at the yard before I go to bed. Then I start again, ready for the next night,” she says.

“I think it’s when I start talking about it that I think, Wow, I’m actually quite mad.”

In addition to Zarina, Lee also competes her seven-year-old Irish Draft-Cross, Hillviewfarm Fergus, and has particularly high hopes for Graddus T, a young KWPN gelding called “Eddie” in the barn. “I’m hoping that my new five-year-old has the potential to be my grand prix horse, but it’s just taking the time to get him there,” says Charlotte, adding that her goal is to compete at Hickstead and Equerry Bolesworth International next year.

If she does, you can bet Charlotte Lee will be sporting her police uniform—a testament to the hard work she puts into the career she not only loves, but which also makes her life with horses possible.

“It’s just [about] being really disciplined, I think. It is hard work, but the good results outweigh the days when you’re knackered and you feel like you want to give up.”

-Reporting by Tori Repole. Photography by LGCT / Stefano Grasso.