After eight years making eventing full-time pay the bills, Lucie McNichol explains why she’s hanging up her competition boots for good

During my eventing career I’ve competed successfully at the top level while managing to run a profitable business, which I believe is quite unusual in this sport.

I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have ridden around Badminton with my horse of a lifetime, Mr and Mrs Wookey’s Zeus of Rushall (aka Jimmy, pictured at Blenheim). I am forever grateful to the Wookeys for not selling Jimmy when stupid money was offered for him as an eight-/nine-year-old. He has been the most incredible horse and I have been very lucky to have ridden him.

I’ve also enjoyed having access to amazing facilities with lovely landlords. But I have now decided the time has come to give up my beautiful yard at Jane and Ian James’ Bosmere Farm and hang up my competition boots to become a geography and sports teacher instead.

While Jimmy’s retirement has played a significant part in my decision, it’s not the only reason.

So why am I giving up?

As everyone knows eventing and “doing” horses is not a 9-5 job – it is your entire life. I have been dedicated to these wonderful horses for a long time. I live on the yard and see the horses everyday (except November when I try to leave the country for the entire month). I don’t take many days off in a year other than my holiday and I think the novelty has finally worn off. My new life will bring me 18 weeks paid holiday a year so I am going from one extreme to another!

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Staff have been a big issue for me. My current girl Jess is brilliant, but where have all the keen, dedicated young people gone?

I’ve had liars, lazy, rude, sulky and slower than slow. When I was 16 I would help wherever and whenever I could, because I was desperate to be with horses. This mentality seems to have disappeared from young people.

While I’ve been lucky to have had some fantastic owners and horses to ride, these are a disappearing breed. And I wouldn’t ride anything I didn’t feel safe on – life is just too short. Equally I have seen a lot of horses suffering injuries since the sport changed to short-format. This is something else I don’t feel comfortable about.

I was very lucky to have generous sponsors and owners, but many riders don’t. The sport has become reliant on big money owners and without these you will have to be lucky to break into the big time. After all, it takes four to five years to produce a youngster from scratch with no guarantee it will turn out to be a top level horse.

Put quite simply, you cannot make money from eventing alone unless you are at the very top of the sport, which only a handful of riders are. Anyone who tells you that they make money from eventing at the lower levels is lying.

When I moved from my parents’ base, I had to make money another way. I was lucky to have St Mary’s Calne private boarding school just down the road and I had a handful of liveries from there, teaching them a few times a week. This paid for my yard, utilities and staff. The eventing was then on the side.

I never set out to run a full livery yard, but it made money. While Jimmy was sound and entered for Badminton, he kept me going. But when he went lame again that finished me off. My heart went out of loving eventing this year and my riding became negative. I was scrubbing around at BE100/novice and wondered what I was doing.

After Francisco’s [Seabra] fatal fall, I think I started re-evaluating my life choice. I always said if my heart ever goes out of the sport, so will I.

Eventing is a dog-eat-dog world and this year has reiterated that. I have never been spoken to as I have been by certain eventing mothers, who are so competitive on their child’s behalf. Well I’m done and I’m entering the real world!

My advice to all young people aspiring to follow their dreams of eventing full-time is to go and get a degree. You may think you’ll never need it and you want to ride forever. The reality is that so many don’t make it and end up continuing to ride because they don’t have anything else.

Who wants to be in their late 40’s scrubbing around BE100s with no money and no life still trying to convince themselves that they are a ‘professional rider’ because they jumped round a three-star 15 years before? Get a degree then ride, then if all fails or you change your mind you have options.

I do not regret what I’ve done. I’ve achieved what some strive for forever – a clear round at four-star and representing my country.

I am super excited to be starting my new life and if I want to ride I’ve had plenty of offers.

Now I look forward to a proper family Christmas with NO mucking out! It will certainly make a change.

Lucie

  • Nancy B

    That was an honest well written article. Even if teaching does not end up being your final career, there is a whole world out there and you are more than a horsewoman with a degree in education. You are a business women who was in a business where it is crazy difficult to make ends meet or make money. You have way more business experience than you probably realize. Good Luck, where ever you end up in life. You can always enjoy horses as a hobby someday in the future.

  • Sam

    Remember to take time to enjoy the journey! Horses, teaching, whatever it might be if you can enjoy the journey you will love most of what you do on most days too, The best advice given to me at a particularly low point more than 15 years ago! I’ve had so many lovely talented horses not make the grade over the years for one reason or another in eventing that I now take time to enjoy the journey and it works. 🙂

  • Rosemary DUDLEY

    I would think that the person in question is NOT an English teacher…Oh dear!

  • Emma McBride

    My sentiments exactly! I wish her luck but I’m not sure she realises what she is getting herself into – I have worked with horses but have also been a secondary school teacher for the past 18 years. I’m trying to get out for almost exactly the reasons she says she wants to leave eventing. I think possibly teaching was like she imagines it to be 30 or 40 plus years ago but no longer. I really would advise her to have a second look before she leaps, I fear unfortunately that she may be about to get a nasty surprise. I hope for her sake I’m wrong and I do know people who love it and would never do anything else (but then you could say the same about eventing!)

  • Cathy Glen

    uh oh. Misplaced apostrophe syndrome. Education today. Sigh 😉

  • Sarah Kate Franklin

    Hmmm Out of the frying pan into the fire !?!- Life is a challenge whatever you choose to do – the cream always rises to the top – people can be difficult depending on their circumstances at the time – there is one sure thing – lack of finance and horses certainly brings out the worst in everyone! I meet some lovely people young and old – we are all on a journey with lots of bumps – I guess it just depends on how you choose to ride them out.

  • Eyeplod

    Couldn’t agree more with the above. “As everyone knows eventing and “doing” horses is not a 9-5 job – it is your entire life.” Replace ‘eventing and doing horses’ with ‘teaching’ and you’ve got a pretty good description of your new life. You’ll meet more competitive parents in one term than you’ve met in a lifetime of horses. It’s a great job, but requires exactly the kind of dedication and self-sacrifice that you’re hoping to give up! Good luck!

  • Dee

    Whilst your article is very honest, Lucie, you are deluded if you think teaching is going to be your answer. It is insulting that you have commented you are now having 18 weeks paid holiday a year. As someone who works in education, I have had to give up my passion of horses due to workload! It is an untrue perception that teachers have to constantly correct that we have all this paid holiday time. Teachers also have to give their lives to their job working VERY LONG HOURS without pay to do so. They work late into the evenings/ early hours daily. Working EVERY WEEKEND and EVEY school holiday to keep up to date with everything required outside of the classroom. You comment you are looking forward to your first proper Christmas. Good luck with that, teachers Christmases’ are usually spent trying to juggle family time with a pile of marking and lesson prep ready for return to school. Many of the aspects you are criticising about eventing will also confront you daily in teaching. Pushy/competitive parents, demotivated/lazy young people etc. As someone who has worked both with horses and in education I can tell you teaching is not an easier option. It is equally, if not more demanding being a teacher. It is a very rewarding career but only if you are prepared to dedicate your life to it or you start to become resentful about the time and effort required. It sounds like you are looking for an easier option. Teaching genuinely won’t give you that. Honestly Lucie I would have a rethink before you go from the frying pan into the fire.

  • Stacey

    That’s very true. I have a sizeable savings account set aside for my working student year knowing that I’ll have to fund an entire year on my own as salaries in any horsey job are so pitiful. I actually tried this working student malarkey over in Europe in a yard that is now, incidentally, CHARGING people a huge amount of money to put in 15 hour days in incredibly challenging conditions.

  • Stacey

    An honest article. However, I’m a high school teacher and I can guarantee you’ll meet plenty of pressure, lazy, rude and sulky young people, full-on parents and the non-stop nagging feeling that your job is NEVER done. However, it’s a brill job and apart from a year I want to spend as a working student on a dressage yard in the USA, I can’t think of anything else I’d do. The bonus is, you really don’t have to muck out too often – you can usually call the caretaker for those situations!

  • Ellie Lock

    Interesting article. I do agree with the previous comment though regarding it not being as easy for young people these days. As a teen I’d spend every Sat at the yard helping/working in return for at least one ride, often more if I was helping with hacks. Trying to find my 14 year old daughter a similar placement has proven impossible. Yards in my area these days want help a set amount of hours, generally 6 or more, in return for one credit. Once a set amount of credits, usually somewhere between 5 and 8 have been earned, they get a ride. For someone like my daughter who works hard doing lots of mucking out, grooming, tacking up and leading this feels like a piss take.

    Anyway, good luck with the teaching. Sounds like tbe right move based on solid reasons.

  • Grania Haigh

    I can certainly relate to this, I quit when I was 31 and went to university then.

  • Tracy Marshall Hutchins

    I love your honesty. I hope you are entering education late enough in life that you don’t get jaded by it as well..it happens to the best of them. But the amazing schedule should keep you positive ;). Good luck to you – the world needs great teachers!

  • Jessica Smale

    Amen Jess Byam!
    I too was one of the super-keen youngsters – I even went to Duchy to obtain an HND and then seemed to be disregarded from the outset by many local yards who wanted someone with experience rather than a piece of paper. I also got to the point of not wanting to accept pay that was well below minimum wage as that seemed to be the going rate as ‘there are loads of girls that just want to be with horses’. As such I went on to get a job in the ‘real world’ and whilst I do still have my passion for all things equine I in no way regret leaving the industry.
    I know that this is an incredibly expensive industry and that many yards struggle but to quote someone far older and wiser than me, ‘if you pay peanuts you get monkeys’.

  • As one of those “keen, dedicated young people” who have struggled to find a place in the horse industry, I must argue that it’s not that we’ve disappeared–it’s that it is becoming harder and harder to find good opportunities. Everything I know about horses has been self-taught because I’ve never been able to afford lessons, and gone are the days when a horse-crazy girl could muck stalls in exchange for lessons. Most yards want staff with lots of experiences, and very few are keen on giving a novice a chance. I’ve looked into working pupil positions, but most of them are volunteer or pay really small stipends. I get that these are great opportunities to learn from top riders, but I live in the real world and I have bills to pay (primarily because I did go out and get a degree). I don’t blame anyone and I understand the frustrations for both sides. It just makes me sad that people have written off my generation as “liars, lazy, rude, sulky and slow” when I would give anything to work for someone like Ms. McNichol.

  • MrsK

    What a beautifully honest article and what a great career change. Sad to read of this all-too-common dilemma but I think Lucie has handled it absolutely brilliantly – life is too short and we need to listen to our hearts … and then have the courage to follow our hearts. Well done and enjoy your teaching! x