Seventeen-year-old Charlotte Jacobs sits atop her horse with her long, blond hair spilling over her right shoulder — bouncing in rhythm as Soleil gallops. A picturesque moment as the sun beats down on her parents' barn in East Aurora. Jacobs rides as naturally as most people speak.
Dramatic success is an expectation among the Jacobs family, but Charlotte — the granddaughter of Boston Bruins and Delaware North Companies owner Jeremy Jacobs — has been obliterating expectations since Day One.
She could ride horses before she could walk, and the rising senior at Buffalo Seminary trains in Florida from January to April. Her years of hard work have paid dividends at this point in her equestrian career — in the form of five-digit paydays.
Quite a sum for a high school student.
She's not thinking about how she'll spend it, though. Charlotte has another passion: dogs. So when she saw money coming in and dogs in need, she started thinking about how she could help.
Jacobs has struck a balance between fiery competitor on the equestrian course and generous philanthropist off it. That balance has produced approximately $23,000 in donations for Danny and Ron's Rescue, a South Carolina shelter that rescues helpless/hopeless dogs, takes care of their medical needs and seeks out loving homes.
"We try to make the younger generation aware that millions of animals are in U.S. animal shelters every year," said Ron Danta, co-founder of Danny and Ron's.
The SPCA estimates that between 5 million and 7 million companion animals enter shelters annually.
"For someone as young as Charlotte to make this move, to really want to help animals in need, I admire her so much," Danta said. "Every time she rides, she thinks of helping and saving more dogs. We appreciate all donations, but this one is really special."
Danny and Ron's frequently sets up a stand at equestrian events with dogs available for adoption.
At a competition on St. Patrick's Day last winter, Charlotte fell head over heels for a little brown dog named Clover. She'd seen Danny and Ron's set-up before, but had never before been able to convince her mother, Joan, to adopt another dog (they now have four, two from Danny and Ron's).
"Clover was with my other two dogs and she was playing with them and having so much fun, and my mom was trying to say no, but really couldn't," Charlotte said. "They're doing an amazing thing. I adopted Clover, and usually when you adopt a dog, you donate a little money. I donated $3,000 and then decided I should really donate all of my money."
She is thriving because of punishing perseverance. When she's living in East Aurora, she's away at competitions two or three weekends a month. And when she's living in Florida, she competes every weekend.
"She works more at this than most people do at their jobs," said her father, Lou.
Just how good is she?
"She's one of the top juniors [under-18 riders] in the country," former Olympian Mason Phelps said.
Phelps, who owns Phelps Media Group, rode in the 1968 Olympics and has followed equestrian closely ever since.
"She has natural talent and great horses, but she has a work ethic and determination you don't normally see in people her age," Phelps said. "I think Charlotte has as strong a shot as anybody in her age bracket [to make the Olympics]."
For now, Charlotte isn't dead set on the Olympics. She said it's all a matter of timing, having her best performances at the right time.
"It all depends how things fall into place," she said. "I know I could have the worst luck or not be riding well."
She also said many riders don't make the Olympics until they're in their 30s.
Her father was a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team, competing in two World Cup Finals, and her mother was a groomer for the team. Talk about equestrian DNA.
"It's harder for me to watch her ride than it ever was to ride," Lou Jacobs said.
"I think any father is happy to see his daughter or son have a passion, and that's what's great about it: it's something that she just loves to do. It's her own thing."
Since she is the granddaughter of an owner of an NHL team, she of course is a hockey fan — a Bruins fan.
She laughs when asked about her allegiance, saying she gets a lot of jokes from friends at school.
Nevertheless, she wears Bruins gear to First Niagara Center every time they play in Buffalo.
While equestrian may not be the physical sport that hockey is, the threat of falling is always intimidating, she said. She hasn't fallen in competition since last summer, but last year she and her horse flipped over completely while attempting a jump.
"There are times that falling is very, very scary," she said. "A lot of people are like: ‘it's such an easy sport, anyone can do it.' And it's like ... it's a tough sport. It takes a lot of work. It takes up a lot of time. It's a huge deal. The season is all year long."
The late Doris Clark taught Jacobs how to ride. She taught horseback riding for 35 to 40 years, her daughter, Missy Clark, estimates. Now Missy Clark is Jacobs' coach.
"She's beautiful on a horse, her position, her build," Clark said.
"But she has a competition mind. She's one of those people who the more important competition, the higher pressure, she can focus."