Setting up a Business During Lockdown?

September 22nd 2020

Five months of lockdown, untold disruption and an array of worrying economic forecasts would be enough to put most people off starting a business – but not Tegan Clark and Ellie Whitaker.

They have bravely made the jump and set up WC Equine. Based at Bottisham Heath Stud, the site of Robert Cowell’s training operation, Tegan and Ellie have taken 15 boxes where they will open their doors for breaking, pre-training and spelling horses.

In a secluded part of the Suffolk / Cambridgeshire boarder, the facilities at their disposal are first rate and Richard Freeman from Lycetts’ Bloodstock Division went to meet them.

How long has it been the plan to go out on your own?

Tegan Clark: It has always been the plan since I started working in racing but definitely the last 5 years I’ve had a strong drive to establish a proper plan. It’s quite scary to do it on your own, but then I met Ellie and thought she was the right person to start a business with!

Ellie Whitaker: For me I have always enjoyed working with youngstock, it’s something I have always wanted to do since working with Mark Dwyer, I was fifteen when I first went there.

How concerned have you been about setting up in the current climate?

TC: It definitely is a concern, we were planning on setting up in 2021 rather than this year purely because of Covid-19 putting everything including our industry on hold, but we have been given a good opportunity and we just felt if we were to wait for the ‘right time’ we would be waiting a long time. We are not going to get over this [Covid-19] in a couple of months’ time, it’s a problem that’s going to affect us from now on and we just have to learn to adapt and be very savvy with what we do.

Both of you have gained a lot of experience in the racing and bloodstock world, who would you say has been the most influential in shaping your careers to date?

TC: I would have to say definitely Olly Stevens and Hetta Steele at Robins Farm. They both gave me a job in racing when nobody else would because I had no experience. We had a fantastic few years there, I was with them from start to finish. I broke in horses, rode track work, travelled horses to America. We had lovely horses every season. They definitely molded me and I took a lot from them moving forward.

EW: Probably Jean Clemmit, who has nothing to do with racing actually. She was the hardiest of them all – if you fell off or were kicked you got back up. She taught me a lot of patience and shaped me not only as a rider but also as a person. I was mucking out 15 ponies and had to ride all of hers before I was allowed to ride my own! In the industry I would say Mark Dwyer. He is tough but he’s probably the best at what he does. He doesn’t push the horses too much, yes he’s a businessman but more importantly he’s a horseman and that makes the difference – he’s there for the animal.

How do you see the demand for pre-training & spelling services developing in the coming years?

Ellie turns around to face a row of empty boxes and jokes ‘at the moment not very well’ but concedes ‘the demand is definitely there, especially in Newmarket.’

TC: I think with the capacity at which trainers are operating and how racing is so constant throughout the year now, together with Covid, there will be a lot of fixtures going onto the All –Weather. They are only going to have more horses in and ready to run which provides pre-trainers with a flow of business as there will be more of a demand for breaking in and pre-training.

EW: There aren’t always the facilities or staff to do it nowadays so the demand will increase especially for the people that are able to do it well. Anybody can break in a horse but it’s about having the skills to do it well, it’s about quality.

You are starting with fifteen boxes – how challenging has it been to find clients committed to sending you horses?

EW: It’s difficult, anything to do with horses is difficult. We are putting a lot of trust in people we have built a relationship with in the past and you just hope that you have built enough of a relationship for them to believe in you. I do believe once people see what we’re capable of, our actions will speak louder than our words.

TC: I think we are very lucky to be the generation we are with social media being such a big thing, we have put ourselves out there a lot via Twitter and Instagram. That’s been the biggest way that we have made people aware that we are operating. So it is difficult and you are approaching people that have their guys already, and we’ve got a lot to prove. We just hope we can get one horse, one end product and that will be our advertisement. I feel that we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the right people in the industry – it’s a matter of falling back on people that you meet, starting with your close network and then branching out from there.

There are a number of established pre-trainers already operating within the market – how will your approach differ, if at all?

EW: There is always something you can learn from others. I don’t think we can say we are not going to do anything differently, everyone has a different routine, if something works for one person it might not work for us. However we have both been fortunate enough to work with some of the most prestigious people and animals in the game. We’ve seen what happens when it goes right and what not to do when it goes wrong but we’re only human.

TC: We definitely have our own ideas on how we would like to do things but I think the basics of breaking-in a horse are pretty similar wherever you go. We are starting with a small number which I’m not worried about, and in the future if we are successful, I don’t want to get particularly big. I feel if we keep to a good number then we can manage our animals and staff correctly and if we can do that we can produce a quality product rather than quantity. We have a very clear vision of what we want. We want the horses that we break-in going to trainers safe, ready to go and healthy.

EW: I think if you look at your competitors all of the time you drift away from what you are doing. You are better off keeping your head down, doing what you know and doing it well. One thing we do have is the facilities and they are great. We are on a privately owned property, it’s very quiet, we have a 7 ½ furlong gallop, we have turn out pens. It’s a nice environment for young horses, it is a really great place to start.

WC Equine uses Lycetts Insurance Brokers for their Combined Liability Insurance. To get a quote for your equine business, please contact Richard Freeman 01638 676 700.

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