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.