To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down with Rachael Falkner, former Olympic rider, owner of Tweseldown and Chair of the British Event Owners Association (BEOA) to take a look at building a business, challenges she’s faced along the way and what changes are needed to ensure that our sport has longevity.

Tweseldown has a long equestrian history and horsey heritage. Looking back to when you first took over the stewardship, what was the number one challenge you faced and were there any challenges you faced as a woman?

Tweseldown had been unloved for a number of years and competitors were not flocking to the venue so, my first challenge, was to bring it back up to the wonderful Tweseldown that it always was. I had to get a plan together and decide where to spend money. I decided to invest in cross-country, which I believe is the heart of the sport and what people come to events for. I hired Eric Winter (Badminton course designer) to design all the competition courses and the schooling. He also helped enormously with layout. Along with Dominic Moore, my talented and creative course builder, we have brought Tweseldown back onto the map.

It was also really important to me to create a happy and welcoming team at Tweseldown. As soon as a visitor arrives, I want them to see a happy face such as, Alan, our amazing and welcoming parking attendant. It’s important to me that riders have a good, fun and relaxed experience here.

I guess, as a woman, I could have been underestimated. Quickly, I showed that I had knowledge and skills to give. I knew what I wanted but, most importantly, I was willing to listen, learn and collaborate with others, which I believe is the biggest strength a businesswoman can have.

What key skills gained whilst riding at international and Olympic levels has been most useful to you in managing a business?

The first and most important skill I learned, as a little girl wanting to get to the Olympics and achieving that, was to be resilient. You will always hit roadblocks. Your horse might hurt themselves or your truck breaks down on the way to an event. Working through these challenges, you build up grit and resilience so that, when something bad happens, you can pick yourself up and keep going and never give up. This skill has helped me succeed at Tweseldown.

Understanding how the sport works and being able to communicate and collaborate effectively with the diverse group of people that are involved in our sport has been hugely important in being successful at my job. Building good relationships with everyone and maintaining them is so important to me.

Many of us know the huge advantages of the sandy, well-drained soil at Twesledown and I’m sure that, from a business perspective, this was not lost on you, but how much do you think extreme weather patterns, which are already having an impact on the events calendar, will affect the shape of our sport over the next 20 years?

It will have a massive effect and it’s one of the main topics of conversation that we have within the sport. Events in the middle of the summer that would never have been cancelled before are now being cancelled due to these freakish weather patterns. So, we must try and mitigate the risk by making sure that the right events take place at the right time of year, to limit the number of cancellations and I know that reassessing the fixtures calendar is something that British Eventing is going to address. We also need to be adaptable, where possible, and we’ve shown we can do this through the pandemic.

Will being Chair of the BEOA provide you with an opportunity to address the questions of climate change and the affects that it will have on our sport going forward?

Yes, and it is at the top of my ‘issues’ list. Since coming on board as Chair, we’ve been reactive, but it is in my sights to address it. We’ve made changes at Tweseldown; we’ve got our recycling bins and we make sure that all the vendors and caterers that come to us use sustainable materials. I’m still very aware that we all drive big trucks and so I want to start the conversation amongst the organisers and with BE about what we can do, as a sport, to start offsetting our carbon footprint and I’m excited to do this.

Can you give us your top three tips for being more ‘green’?

Our sport is from dawn till dusk, it’s a tough life, so changes need to be achievable. My top three changes, that I believe anyone can start implementing are:

  1. Recycle what you can
  2. Buy yourself a reusable water bottle and find out where you can get a refill, especially when at an event
  3. Where possible, buy products without plastic packaging

Would you agree with the statement that, as horse owners, whether elite athletes or weekend hacks, we all have the responsibility to offset our environmental impact where we can?

Yes, I do believe that, but we do need to educate them and show them it is doable. Being environmentally conscious is a lot easier than people think and we have a responsibility to guide them.

Horse ownership, sport and employment within the equestrian industry is dominated by women at lower levels and yet by men at the higher levels. Firstly, do you agree with that and what advice would you give to women who want to turn their love and passion into a business career?

It’s definitely dominated by women on the recreational front and, although we have more women in the industry at higher levels now, there is still a higher ratio of men.

It’s a tough and competitive industry to be in and I think that it’s very difficult to juggle all the demands of the job as well as other things such as family and so, my advice to women is to think sideways. Find your niche and specialism and be the best at what you do, but most importantly, make sure it’s sustainable for you.

In terms of your career, what are you most looking forward to over the next year?

During the pandemic, I set up the Lucinda Green XC Academy.  Lucinda is one of the best XC riders of all time.  We have nearly 700 members now all learning from Lucinda each month and I’m excited to continue to develop our business to help more XC riders and show women and men that money can be made out of our industry and give them guidance on how to achieve this.

I’m also really excited about eventing. We’ve got a bright forward thinking CEO and new Chairman in BE who are both dynamic and come with enthusiasm and fresh ideas. I’m really looking forward to working with them to mould and shape eventing so that it’s a forever sport.

To find out more about the events taking place at Tweseldown, why not visit their website.

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