Lucy Egerton: Why I swapped film studios for Yorkshire racehorse stables

FIELD OF DREAMS: Lucy Egerton holding Mountainside, one of the horses at her stables
FIELD OF DREAMS: Lucy Egerton holding Mountainside, one of the horses at her stables
  • Lucy Egerton swapped the film industry for a Yorkshire yard. Now she tells Heather Dixon why she’s on a mission to make horse racing open to all. Pictures by James Hardisty.
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Like a lot of women, Lucy Egerton admits that in her late 20s she came to a crossroads. She had spent the previous 10 years working in the film industry, travelling the world and for a while was swept along on a glamorous, frenetic wave. However, it wasn’t a lifestyle particularly conducive to having a family, so in a major change of career she decided to return to Yorkshire and open her own stables and develop a new concept aimed at bridging the gap between the sometimes elitist world of horse racing and the general public.

“I’ve been around horses and the racing world all my life and realised there were a lot of misconceptions surrounding the racing fraternity,” says Lucy. “Most people assume that they can’t have a stake in it, that they would never be able to afford it, and I wanted to change that by helping to make the racing world accessible to all.”

To achieve this Lucy has worked hard to become one of the youngest – and probably one of the most controversial – trainers in Yorkshire, setting up on a shoestring budget. Her modest yet significant niche in the racing world focuses on buying horses at the cheaper end of the spectrum and turning them into potential winners.

“These are great horses but ones which some trainers might not take a second look at,” says Lucy. “I offer a simple, straightforward approach of one-to-one care, good food and plenty of exercise in the belief that a happy horse will want to work hard for you. I have had to buy horses between £800 and £2,500 because that was what I could afford. Every time they raced they had to be in the top three to win the diesel money back. It is possible to win with cheap horses and anyone can own a share in them – either as an individual, a couple or in a syndicate – for the price of your average monthly gym membership.”

Their owners are often first timers, people from very ordinary backgrounds who just want to experience, and be part of, a world they have only seen on Channel 4 from the comfort of their armchair.

“You don’t have to ride a horse, or know anything about racing,” says Lucy. “You can still get an awful lot out of it and your family can join in too. Our owners are always welcome in the yard; it’s very much the point – door is always open, come and see your horse and then have breakfast afterwards.”

Lucy’s simple and unaffected approach is undoubtedly at odds with the high stakes, high fashion and highly competitive public face of racing, but it seems to be working. She got her full licence as a professional racehorse trainer last July following the requisite three wins from three horses and consistent placings from the yard – no small feat considering her limited budget.

“People think I’m barking mad to work in the racing industry where I shall probably never make any money,” she says. “But life isn’t all about making money. It’s about challenge and achievement. Making racing clubs affordable so that everyone can have a stake in the racing world if they want it doesn’t seem like a crazy idea. In the film industry you can work on the big studio blockbusters and also small independent films. Just because the blockbuster has a £200m budget and the other £20,000 doesn’t mean that the blockbuster will be better watching... probably the opposite.”

Lucy’s business bears many similarities to the star-studded film industry which saw her work alongside some of the most famous names in show business. “I was first assistant director, so I was given a copy of the script and would organise the schedule, bringing together all departments, overseeing the logistics and being responsible for the welfare of the cast and crew,” she says. “It’s not much different to overseeing the yard. It’s all about being organised, looking after people, working as a team and making sure everyone’s happy.”

Lucy and her brother Harry were born and raised into a family which was already entrenched in the film industry. Her mother, Cara, was an assistant to top directors, including Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Altman. Her father, Yorkshire-born Mark Egerton, was an assistant director and director on such movie classics as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously. He is also known for his work on cult films, including sci-fi blockbuster Alien Vs Predator, and worked alongside the likes of Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Dame Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson and Mel Gibson. He is now a highly acclaimed photographer, living and working at the family home near Malton.

“It was an amazing life and I could have kept going,” says Lucy, who was one of the key production figures for the third Harry Potter movie, as well as The Black Dahlia and The Queen. “Then I got to 28 and thought ‘yikes – do I marry the industry, continue to travel the world, or do I return to Yorkshire, settle down and eventually have a family?’”

Lucy chose to re-establish her Yorkshire roots and look for alternative careers. “It was a natural progression to work with horses,” she says. “I’d been around them all my life, so why change? I needed to find something that was as demanding as the films, an office job wasn’t going to cut it.”

Lucy, now 33, is a direct descendant of the great 18th century jockey and trainer Leonard Jewison. When she left Queen Margaret’s school in Escrick she divided her time between working at the Star Inn in Harome and riding racehorses for friends and colleagues in the racing fraternity.

Lucy eventually followed in her parents’ footsteps and joined the film industry in 2000, dipping back to Yorkshire to race and hunt between films. She bought her first point to pointer, Desert Tommy, in 2011 and following a win on her second outing was “totally hooked”.

“It was absolutely terrifying yet it was the most amazing experience,” she says. “Horse racing is all about rhythm, speed and tactics. It’s exhilarating. It’s like riding in a race car or a motorbike. The feeling is insane. You just can’t stop smiling.”

Over the next two years one success followed another and in December 2013 Lucy took out a permit to run horses under rules. Last year she gained her trainer’s licence, pitting her against some of the most seasoned and experienced trainers in the business.

But Lucy isn’t daunted – or influenced – by the traditions, competitiveness and high stakes of the racing fraternity. She might be ambitious, but her agenda is to carve her own niche in a world which continues to be one long learning curve.

She recently moved into a new yard with her partner Tom Holt where she has 30 stables and a gallop. “The new yard came up at the right time. Tom and I were looking to move and the Birdsall yard was full. The new yard at Brawby has fantastic facilities and the team will be able to grow and improve from here. For me it’s about simplicity,” she says. “Simple, one-to-one care of each horse, efficient running of the stables and making the yard, the horses and racing generally accessible to as many people as possible.

“Five years ago, if you had told me I was going to be a professional racehorse trainer, I would have said you were bonkers, but I want everyone, from the local postie or school teacher to the owner of the corner shop, to feel they can have a stake in the racing world.

“People are shy and nervous about the idea of getting involved, they think it’s unachievable and out of their league, but that’s not the case at all any more, times have changed and racing is for everyone. My aim is to encourage lots of people to have a look at our syndicates and clubs as there are small, affordable shares in lots of horses that you can lease or buy. That’s what racing should be about: accessibility and affordability for everyone.”

• For more detail about Lucy’s business go to