Sam Ecroyd - Cheshire's three-day event star of the future
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 March 2017
Sam Ecroyd has always been mad about horses and now this young three-day eventer is living his dream. Martin Pilkington went to meet him at his family’s farm.
Sam Ecroyd’s family farm at Pentre Halkyn slopes down to the Dee Estuary, the great views across the water matched – bettered perhaps – by the fabulous farmstead reminiscent of a grand French manoir. The young three-day-eventer, however, is focussed not on the scenery but on his horses, as he has been for at least half of his 20 years on this earth.
Sam, a former pupil at The King’s School, Chester, said: ‘My parents rode, not to a particularly high standard, they just enjoyed horses, and I have an older sister and a brother who both rode too, so it was just natural that I got into it,’ he says.
For Sam’s family riding was a pastime, but for Sam eventing has become his passion and profession. He has numerous successes against his name already, including victory aged 13 in the Under 16 National Championships, and four youth medals at the European Championships.
‘I’ve got 22 horses here, of which about half are in work – by which I mean being readied to go to a competition this year. By the nature of the sport we’re so focussed on progressing the horse’s fitness and form that we can often forget about our own personal strength and fitness,’ he says, though his tall and slender frame suggests the job itself, plus football twice a week with friends, takes care of that side of things. ‘My day is very full on, I start at 8.30, ride all morning till about 1 o’clock, working with another girl who helps me work the horses, then we have lunch, and ride again all afternoon until the girls groom and tend to the horses before they’re put in the field at about five, and it all starts again next day.’
Sam’s talent and some eye-catching results mean that he’s now on the third year of UK Sport’s lottery-funded World Class Podium Potential Programme, which helps with the considerable expense involved in competing at a high level, as do sponsorships from the likes of Frickers Formula, Zebra Products and Whale of a Time clothing, and the owners who let him ride their valuable horses. But it’s mum and dad who top the list of helpers: ‘I’m very lucky that my parents are extremely helpful,’ he says, ‘because if you wanted to get into this alone it would be hugely difficult to get a start - my parents really are my biggest supporters.’ Mum Penny is a solicitor and his dad Clive, an engineer, was previously a director of a large medical manufacturing company, and now owns BOSS Horseboxes.
Another major boost to Sam’s development came by sheer serendipity. The German owners of a B&B he stayed in while competing in Cambridgeshire mentioned they knew some major German names in the sport. A few emails and phone calls later and – totally unexpectedly - he had a place at the yard of legendary trainer Michael Jung. ‘He’s an idol of mine, probably the best trainer of horses there’s ever been. To have the opportunity to go there was amazing - and now I’m heading back for a second time.’
There are setbacks to cope with as well – a horse qualified for major events this year is temporarily lame, but he has time on his side: ‘Look at Nick Skelton who won Gold at Rio when he was not far off 60,’ says Sam. ‘I’ve set short- and long-term targets within the national and international sport, of achieving age criteria and becoming Under 21 Champion and so on, but Olympic Gold is a career goal, a dream.’ Before that he’s hoping to compete soon at Badminton, Burghley and Pau, and is directing his endless enthusiasm into the business side of the work too.
Of the sport’s three elements Sam enjoys show-jumping the most, and is least fond of the dressage: ‘That’s probably a typical boy thing, but dressage is something I’m always trying to develop more knowledge of, as I did with Michael Jung, and work hard at – it’s the only phase you can never be perfect on, so there’s always room for improvement.’
You need nerves of steel and no little courage to pilot a wilful horse around a cross-country course, or get it to jump a series of fences in the arena before stands full of spectators waiting to see you tumble. Sam is happy to face such dangers, but a couple of years ago he undertook another challenge that scared him more: ‘I went on the ITV programme Take Me Out. It was an experience, and fun being on national TV, but really nerve-racking too knowing there were three million people watching, something that will only happen to me again if I win an Olympic Gold! I enjoyed it – but dating on national TV? Never again.’