Phoebe Locke: All about the balance
For U21 National Champion Phoebe Locke, running a successful yard is just as much a priority as winning competitions.
Having previously being based at my parents’ house in Somerset, I’ve now taken a leap of faith and set up my own yard professionally. The set up at my family yard was great but as it only had 20 acres, the time had come for me to move to something bigger.
My new yard is in Gloucestershire and it’s just fantastic. It has a wonderful yard, an indoor and outdoor arena, horsewalker and 108 acres which is a dream come true. It offers amazing hacking with hills and grassland, and during lockdown, I’ve created 15 cross country jumps.
As a rider, I have so many ambitions, both for this season and much further ahead. However, I’ve learnt that it can’t all be about winning championships, I have to make this work as a business. Anyone involved in eventing will know, this is an incredibly expensive sport and I know a lot of people will think I’m supported financially by my parents, but this isn’t the case.
While my parents play a really active role in my career – my dad Tony drives the HGV and my mum Jackie manages me, albeit from a distance now – it falls to me to make my yard a success in order for me to compete. If I’m worrying about how to pay the bills, I won’t be able to focus, and I’ll lose my competitive edge, so my business needs to come first.
The key to making it work financially is attracting owners. The beauty of the sport is that you don’t need an incredibly expensive horse. There are so many factors to consider and if you get the right horse at the right time, you can create a really, really special partnership.
I had to sell my best horse, Union Fortunus, despite winning multiple medals with him, as I needed to invest in more horses. He was only ever going to achieve 3* and while I’d have dearly loved to have kept him, I knew he wasn’t able to make the step up to 4* and I had to make a sacrifice and sell him for the sake of the bigger picture and my career longer term.
2020 was difficult for everyone, of course, but despite the challenges, I had an amazing year. I had planned to add to my under-21 medals but as this wasn’t possible, I was lucky enough to travel abroad, and won the CCI4*-S at Strzegom, Poland on Pica D’Or and came second in the CCI2*-L at the same event on Clotaire De Ferivel.
At 20, I was one of the youngest riders to ever win at 4* level and stepping up to this level really made people sit up and take note. The 2020 season was definitely a stepping stone for this season and I’m really excited about what lies ahead.
I currently have 11 with me at the yard right now – my four top horses, four younger horses and then a couple that are recovering from injury. I ride eight or nine of them each day.
Pica D’or is 18 this year so maintaining his level is a huge team effort. He’s so intelligent and can be a tricky ride – he knows when he’s at home versus when he’s at an event and behaves so differently. He’s not ready to slow down yet, and people often comment on how young he appears. He’s an incredible horse and loves cross country – he’s like driving a Ferrari. I’d like to do another season at 4* and then look at matching him with a junior.
I also have Clotaire De Ferivel who we have kept at 2* with some great results and Bellagio Declyange, who was eighth in the eight- and nine-year-olds at Burnham Market last season. Cooley Challenger, who I produced from scratch to 4*, may be ready for a 5* later this year; we have an incredible bond and he’ll do anything I ask of him.
Rising to the challenge
I’m very lucky as I don’t struggle with nerves. I think competing from such a young age has meant that I’m used to that type of pressure and I’m able to blank it out and focus purely on my own performance. You can’t let the occasion or the event affect you – you need to remember that you’re there to do a job, end of story.
In the Europeans, when the pressure is on, I’m often one of the first riders out which definitely makes it easier to stay calm and focussed. Also, I spend so much time training younger riders that this really enhances my performance – I can see what goes wrong and identify issues from a different perspective. I think this has really helped me develop as a rider.
I would love to be selected for Team GB at the Olympics one day, and of course to compete at the very top level at Badminton and Burghley. Having already competed at European level through Ponies, Juniors and Young Rider, it would be amazing to compete in the Senior European Championships and follow Laura Collett’s footsteps.
However, all of this will only be possible if I can make my yard a success, and attract owners to invest in a younger rider which will give me the opportunity to achieve all of these goals. It’s an exciting time without a doubt, but with plenty of pressure and challenge, which I love.