Deep in the Gloucestershire countryside, professional 5* event rider Becky Heappey (or you may know her as Becky Woolven as she has headed down the aisle recently) can be found at Charlton Down House in Tetbury. Her eventing career has strengthened in recent years and she is now very much at home at top 5* events including Badminton and Burghley.
With her passion for eventing together with coaching, Sam Hobden from Haynet recently caught up with Becky to find out more about the personality behind this super event rider:
Horses are your complete passion. Did you grow up riding ponies and competing?
I come from a completely un-horsey family so horses and riding wasn’t quite the plan as far as my parents were concerned! Not knowing quite what to do with a horse-obsessed child and desperately hoping I would grow out of this “phase,” my parents finally agreed to let me have lessons at the local riding school from the age of 7.
Three years later I managed to secure my own pony (it took a LOT of persuasion) and had brilliant fun with my friends who also kept their ponies at a local livery yard. We’d ride for hours, jump crazy things out on hacks and then spend the rest of the day talking about it and plotting the next crazy ride! I got into eventing through the Pony Club when I was 14 and it went from there.
When did you realise that you wanted to work and compete with horses as a career? What advice would you give a school leaver that wanted to event and work with horses?
I knew very little about careers in horses because it wasn’t something that my school or my parents were particularly keen to encourage. When I discovered that there was such a thing as an equine degree at university, I had my heart set on it. I went to the Royal Agricultural University and gained a First Class degree in International Equine and Agricultural Business Management which was a brilliant course and I learnt a lot. I also got to take my horse with me and kept him locally which was brilliant.
I think it’s important to have something to fall back on in case horses doesn’t work out – it can be a brutal career and there’s no knowing if it’s definitely for you until you’re doing it, day in day out.
All equestrian sports bring triumphs and challenges. Tell us about yours within your eventing career.
My biggest triumphs would have to be finishing 17th at my first Burghley on Charlton Down Riverdance (“Socks”) in 2016 and then 13th last year on DHI Babette K (“Betty”). Betty also finished 9th at Luhmuhlen in her first 5* last year which was a huge high!
One of the toughest moments in my career to date was when my old 4* horse LB The Phantom (“Otto”) did a tendon a few months before we were set to do our first 5* together at Burghley. He’d been 11th at Blenheim the previous year and things had been going so well…I will never forget the moment my vet ran the scanner down his tendon and looked at me with a sombre expression.
What do you look for in an event horse? Do you go with your gut feeling or should a horse have a list of requirements for competition?
Gut feeling is very important and I always like a horse to feel “on side.” They are hopefully going to be your teammate for many years to come so it’s important that they want to work with you, and that they enjoy it. They must have good enough conformation, but obviously it will never be perfect.
I’m sure it’s the case with everyone that you would be prepared to overlook certain things but not others, and this is sometimes influenced by bad experiences you may have had in the past! I always like a good pair of front feet.
Who have been your support network with your equestrian career?
When I was younger I was very lucky to benefit from the wisdom and support of lots of pony club families and in particular the Chief Instructor of my pony club (South Oxfordshire Hunt South), Jane Adderley. Jane took me under her wing and introduced me to eventing.
In more recent years my family (especially my parents) and my friends have been amazing but in particular my husband, Matt, has been an incredible support. He wasn’t horsey when we met but has thrown himself into it and can now be seen helping at lots of events!
He’s been a huge help with the business side of things but his greatest contribution is the emotional support. As everybody knows, the highs and lows that come with horses (sometimes in quick succession) are extreme and he supports me with both in equal measure.
I’m also extremely fortunate to have such a fantastic and growing group of owners. We go through the highs and lows of the eventing journey together and it makes my life much easier when they’re all so supportive.
Which of your horses has been the “special one”?
It would be hard not to say Socks. I bought him with his owner, Julie Record, as a weak and gangly 4 year old out of a hunting yard for £4,000 and we went to Badminton and Burghley together. He’s now retired from the top level but he had the most extraordinary heart – he would literally do anything for me and when a horse gives you that much, is it such a special partnership. I now feel a huge responsibility for him to have the happiest of times in his new life. I have found him a wonderful loan home very locally where he has been having the time of his life out hunting!
Which equestrian rider do you take inspiration from and why?
I grew up watching Pippa Funnell’s videos and still take huge inspiration from her. Pippa is so passionate about her horses and is meticulous in her preparation.
If you hadn’t had travelled down the equestrian career path, what would have been your Plan B?
I genuinely can’t imagine doing anything else. If the equine species didn’t exist then I think I’d like to have been a farmer – I just love being outdoors with animals, you can’t beat it.
On a day off, where would we find you?
Matt and I bought a house in September so any days off at the moment are spent trying to furnish it – I have become very familiar with Ikea lately!
Where do you hope to be in ten years time?
I would love to be representing GB on a senior team and also have produced some more 5* horses. I would definitely like a top five result at one of the “Big Bs” soon and then the dream is always to win one!
Against the Clock
Bays, Greys or Chestnuts: Bays
Champagne or Gin: Gin
Schoolmaster or Youngster: Youngster
Sunshine or Snow: Sunshine
Home Cooked or Eating Out: Eating Out
Spend or Save: My husband would say spend but I’d say a bit of both!
Music or Film: Music
Horse Racing or Racing Cars: Horse racing
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