Charlotte Hook with Hardline after 2015 Karaka Million win.  Photo: Supplied

Charlotte Hook : Three decades of dedication.

Leigh Phelan
9 August 2020
Dedication to the job is an understatement when it comes to Charlotte Hook, who after three decades at Hallmark Stud has finally called it a day.
Charlotte was just 14 years old when she decided to leave school behind, instead putting an ad in her local paper on the search for a job. She received just one reply, from the renowned Denny Baker who was simply looking for extra help at his stud farm in Te Kauwhata.
From the small Waikato town of Tuakau and not even old enough to drive, Charlotte packed her bags and moved to work full time at Hallmark Stud. Denny was in complete shock by her young age,“When he asked me how old I was and I said 14, I can still remember him saying; ‘Good God girl!’”.
However, he agreed to give the young determined girl a chance at a job. Reminiscing on those early years, Charlotte explained how she will never forget her first day as she watched a two-year-old Roman Empire colt being lunged and being in complete awe of its immense size.
Up until then, her experience with horses, let alone thoroughbreds, was relatively small. Only riding her next door neighbour’s ponies as a young girl. “I had no idea of anything, Denny taught me everything.”
She remembers often feeling homesick, but never while she was working with the horses as it was where she felt most content. “When I was working, I was fine.” While Denny, along with his wife and family were always there to help.
As Charlotte’s experience quickly grew, she went on to help with every aspect needed at the Stud. “When I first started, most of the work I did was with the breakers because I was little and light.”
Describing it as a perfect learning environment, she was always encouraged to give new things a go and never be afraid to ask for help. “It was always easy to say, ‘I don't get it. Can you show me again?’”
Over the years that experience built her expertise. “I loved it so much, all aspects. From the riding, breeding, weaning, everything. I loved it.”
From breaking in yearlings to stomach tubing, sales prep to even learning how to drive the farm tractor, she did it all under Denny’s mentorship.
“Everything I know is because of that place,” she said. That willingness to learn and absorb what she was taught saw her work her way to assistant farm manager.
Charlotte pictured at the NZB Karaka Sale. Picture : Supplied
Given those valuable memories Denny has been as reluctant to see Charlotte go as she was to leave.
“I loved her qualities,” he said. “She was so kind to the animals; she was great with them.”
Denny confirmed Charlotte’s willingness to learn, stating that every task which was sent her way got done. “If she had my horse and I didn’t see Charlotte or the horse for six months I wouldn’t be worried about her, or the horse,” he said.
The appreciation between Denny and Charlotte is mutual, with Charlotte labelling Denny as invaluable. “It’s nice to be able to be a great mate with your boss,” she said. “It’s huge and I really appreciate that.”
Charlotte also respected the support from others around her which helped her learn so much while at Hallmark Stud. She labels farrier Marshall Stead and vet Murray Bertram as a couple of people whose work fascinated her and whom she learned from. “[Murray] was amazing for teaching something, he was unbelievable, and he took the time,” she said.

Over the past three decades Charlotte saw not just horses but also people come and go.
“The more people that come in, those people teach you more about yourself. You’ve got to be flexible because one day a person might be there and the next day they're not.”
She worked alongside individuals with all sorts of nationalities, age and backgrounds, all bringing their own methods and varying experiences. “When you're there that long, and you see that many people come and go, you don't actually realise you're getting better as well.”
She not only became a great mentor, but also learnt a lot from those around her, “Staff would come in, and I would ask them ‘what do you think? Their opinions count as well, or they might come up with something you had never thought of. It was easy for me to be that kind of person.”
Charlotte valued not only her own personal growth, but that of Hallmark itself, remembering when they had their first yearling go through to the premier sale to that being a matter of course.
“To watch something over the years go from one premier horse, to 24-25 book ones, that's huge. I feel grateful that I've been a huge part of that as well,” she said.
One of her favorite aspects of the job was seeing a horse’s life from start to finish, with mares often returning and having foals of their own. “Watching those horses, you've been lucky enough to handle, come out and do something, they stick with you for a long time. You see it go on and do a really good job for someone else, and you feel as though their time at Hallmark, their mental state, helped.”
Some of those horses include the likes of Katie Lee, Miss Jessie Jay, and Banchee, “I feel blessed to have been able to do them as weanlings and yearlings,” she said.
Holding a special place in Charlotte’s heart though, is Hallmark stallion Super Easy. “I’m very one-eyed when it comes to Super Easy, I love him. He’s my screensaver on my phone.”
While Charlotte never really planned on leaving Hallmark, life had other plans. Her day-to-day life changed as she had children and began running her own farm and now she is moving to Christchurch for her partner’s job.
“My heart broke the day I had to say goodbye, they’re real family,” she said with emotion in her voice. “Sometimes you do have to get out of your comfort zone to find out what you’ve really learned in life and I feel they have prepared me for life.”
While initially not sure what she might pursue when settled in the South, she has faith that her time at Hallmark has prepared her to be ready to give anything a crack.
“I’m not worried if I had to do something new, because I think about those big colts that think they can push you around, or broodmares with a one trick mind, you just take a deep breath and say right, we’ve got this. Even if I worked at McDonalds I’d try and be the best,’’ she said.
Her advice to anyone else having to reluctantly leave a job; “Make sure you move somewhere far enough away so you can't get in a car and drive back there.”

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