Why this equestrian champion who’s in charge at the Olympics doesn’t ride anymore
PUBLISHED: 12:13 21 May 2019 | UPDATED: 07:03 22 May 2019
He is the man who ensures this weekend’s Houghton International Horse Trials goes according to plan. And that is while cramming Japanese in time for the Tokyo Olympics. CAROLINE CULOT spoke to Norfolk event director Alec Lochore.
Like so many successful people, Alec Lochore career has actually taken him away from what he loves most - riding horses.
He hasn't actually owned his own horse for six years.
"Time is an issue but also an excuse, I'm pretty competitive so I wouldn't do it if there wasn't an end goal but I came to Norfolk as a professional athlete with 18 horses," said Alec, who is a former eventing winner at Badminton and Burghley. "I haven't sold any of the saddles, though, so I'd never say never."
Alec, the eldest son of a Scottish aristocrat father and former European eventing champion mother, spearheads Musketeer Event Management with wife Emily from what he describes as a "shed" in the bottom of their garden at a cottage just outside Burnham Market.
From there he and a small team manage some of the UK's top equestrian events including the Burnham Market horse trials and the Saracen Horse Feeds Houghton International, which starts tomorrow and runs until Sunday.
It's a logistical challenge. With the UK events, he's the mastermind who brings it all together.
"In advance I design the courses, I work with the course builder and I will decide who we want to come in terms of officials."
Incredibly there are about 14-15 different nationalities among up to 200 volunteer staff to ensure Houghton runs smoothly. Events like Houghton have really helped put the county on the world equestrian map, bringing tens of thousands of pounds into the local economy when riders and horses from around the globe descend on north Norfolk.
This year's event includes the Nations Cup with riders from countries like Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland hoping to qualify for an Olympic place with big names like local hero Piggy French, the Queen's grandaughter Zara Tindall, Thomas Carlile, Karin Donkers and Sam Griffiths.
"If Tiger Woods was playing golf at Brancaster the whole world would know," Alex said. "We've got every single one of golf's equivalents in equestrian sport right here, you're not watching John Smith and Jemima Clippety-Clop, you are watching the highest elite riders in the world."
But Alec is really keen that eventing isn't seen as too elitist or something you have to be an expert in to enjoy watching.
"I think that what you can never really understand on the television is the size of the jumps, you don't need to have a hugely detailed knowledge to know if you are asking someone to jump something at a 60 degree angle, three times in a row, that it's technically very challenging. Also you can stand so close to the action, you don't get that in many sports.
"Also Houghton is such a beautiful place to be. I know eventing is a slightly complicated sport to follow, and the scoring can be difficult but it's like if I went to watch gymnastics, I wouldn't know why they got a 6.15, say, but I'd know when it's looked really good and know damn sure I couldn't do it."
Alec is also juggling running the pinnacle of equestrian events as eventing competition manager for the Tokyo Olympics. He was also the eventing manager at the London 2012 Games, which means he's responsible for the overall delivery of the sport.
Meanwhile in his little spare time he's training for the quadrathlon Norfolk Superhero raising money for the children's charity the Benjamin Foundation.
"You have to find all the pitfalls, work out what everyone wants, and make a good and safe environment for athletes to compete at the top of their game in under a great deal of stress.
"Today I'm writing a plan on how we are getting muck from a stable block to a compound to be emptied and recycled without too much noise pollution to the horses. Yesterday I was working how much metal barricade to ensure spectators don't come into contact with horses. A 5,000 volunteer list has just been released and I need to break that down to 600-700 and deploy them. I need to liaise with the course builder and designer, work with transport and security, and then there's the language barrier. You have got to be careful everyone understands what you are saying, when you're being asked to give advice and my Japanese is very limited.
"But it's the satisfaction at the end, to see athletes perform to the highest of their capabilities because of what you've produced.
"Horses were in my family, it wasn't expected that I would ride but up to a point you do it for fun then you have to do it properly. It's great fun training with something, an animal that's half a ton has a mind of its own."
And tips on being the next Olympic gold medallist? "You need the horse, of course, and not every horse can be a champion but I'm an absolute advocate of good training, persistence.
"You are going to have plenty of bad days when the clouds are black and ask yourself why? Because you still can, enjoy the good days but never expect anything, everyone can single out Zara but she breaks her bones like everyone else, Oliver Townend gets up in the morning and hobbles around because he's broken his legs, his hips, shoulders, you just have to persevere.
"It will happen because you make it happen."
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