You ask the questions: Rachael Faulkner
Former Olympic rider, Tweseldown venue owner and now BEOA (British Event Organisers Association) chair, Rachael’s world revolves around eventing
Q: When did you first fall in love with eventing?
I come from a horsey family – my mother rode and evented – so it was a given that I would follow in her footsteps. I was born in England but moved to Canada when I was young and that’s where I started my riding career. I did Pony Club and the youth programmes over there, worked my way up and eventually rode for Canada in the 1992 Olympics.
My mother was always an organiser, so I was involved in it with her while I was growing up. I came over to England when I was younger to ride and compete, then I came over in 1992 and based myself here while I was doing the Olympics. Then I got married, had children and never went home.
Q: Was being an event organiser in your blood?
I don’t think I was attracted to becoming an organiser. I loved organising events with my mum– she ran a World Cup qualifier in Canada and I used to fly over and help her with that – and as a child we ran competitions as well.
But I was never really thinking ‘oh, I want to be an organiser’. But when Tweseldown became available, I saw it as a really good business opportunity. It’s been an event for many years and has a huge love in the eventing community, so I could see a really good opportunity. The going was sandy and you can run it most of the year round. It was more a business decision and the organising came with it. It wasn’t a choice, but it was a really lucky encounter and I loved running the competitions – it’s me through and through and is clearly what I was born to do.
Q: You describe yourself as an entrepreneur, so what was it about Tweseldown that appealed to you?
There are many things, but its history is incredible. It was first and foremost a racecourse – and has been since 1867 – and we had point-to-points here too.
Queen Victoria used to come and watch her troops train, so the buildings have that kind of history– there’s one called the Queen’s Room that has an extra-tall door to accommodate her headdress.
That side of it is wonderful. They also ran the pentathlon cross country part of the 1948 Olympics at Tweseldown, so it has an incredible history for equestrian and horses.
It’s been going since the 1960s, so people including Princess Anne have come to Tweseldown and continue to do so.
The reason it works so well from a competitor point of view and as a training venue is because it’s got this free-draining sandy soil. That means you can run in any weather – apart from if there’s horrific frozen-solid ground – and it’s got a really unusual terrain. There’s so much you can do with the terrain for cross country courses and really good consistent ground. Everybody knows Tweseldown; it’s been around for so long.
Q: You’re now BEOA chair as well. What are you trying to achieve in the role?
My main goal is to establish our organisation so we’re not firefighting all the time and we’re helping to drive the sport forward. I want us to have initiatives so wean help and make things better. We are always going to have to deal with the everyday stuff that’s thrown at us, but I’d really like us to become a group of organisers who are proactive and pushing the sport forward. That’s really important to me and it’s something I’m trying to work through with people: what’s our vision? What can we do to help keep this sports amazing as it is now?
Rather than battling against BE or the board, we want to work with them to move things forward and the only way we can do that is through relationships. What I’ve really noticed in recent months is that our relationships are getting stronger. BE, the board and us are all coming together more.
Q: Do you see the unaffiliated events as a threat?
One of the things that everybody bandies about is event standards and that there’s a big unaffiliated market out there. Personally, I don’t see it as a threat, but I know a lot of people do.
Ultimately, all we can do is make sure our competitions are the best. If you spell it out, BE’s medical cover is second to none, and the stewards and the technical advisors that are signing off the cross country courses, the course designers and all of these field staff deployed are all experts. That’s what BE events have above all other events. In order to uphold our standards, our officials need to be well-trained, well-versed and well-travelled.
At Tweseldown, I’m blessed with an incredible course designer and course builder, and they do an incredible job. Every time you come to Tweseldown, the course is different and the ground is good most of the time – that’s my main priority. Encouraging that in other events is important, so having highly trained course designers available to lots of events can only help maintain the highest standards.
Q: Fixtures scheduling can be a contentious issue, so how does BEOA manage that?
That is a very, very difficult thing. There is a fixtures process at the moment and we’re working on a revised version of that specifically for Covid because we have to be a lot more dynamic in this environment, especially when we don’t know if events are going to run.
Organisers don’t want other organisers to put on events on their weekend because it’ll affect their entries. However, last year when we started [after the first lockdown], we balloted more than 500 horses from our event as the first weekend running, so the argument for that is we should have had more events on that weekend. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s very hard to predict.
Some event organisers would like to let everybody decide which days they run and give everyone a method of free for all and then others like it to be managed by BE, others want a combination of both. It’s a minefield and it’s something we’re all looking at and discussing and trying to find a way forward.
Q: BE has introduced several new competition opportunities this year. Are there any that you’re particularly looking forward to?
I think the Science Supplements Area Festivals is really exciting. For riders who don’t have the most incredible dressage but have got a good cross country horse and just love doing the sport, they’re going to have the opportunity to do a couple of double clears to compete at a really prestigious venue. It will be treated like a mini Badminton and a real destination event.
It’s exciting for the organisers too as it’s something they can build on. We’ve got some amazing organisers who are running these events and have been doing it for years and have incredible venues, so I’m super-excited about them.
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This feature was first published in the Summer 2021 issue of British Eventing Life magazine.