RUNNING A HORSE TRIALS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED BUT CAN GIVE HUGE SATISFACTION
Now first things first, what a great job are Jess and the team doing? The season has started and despite hanging up my boots as Editor, I don’t feel like I’ve missed a thing! Eventing Worldwide is looking hotter than ever and it’s certainly the place to come for all things eventing!
Now, Jess has very kindly invited me to write the Property Column, with nearly seven years under my belt as an agent at Savills, specialising in rural property matters, I’m hoping to bring you words of wisdom on all things property and equestrian. If there’s anything you’d specifically like to hear about then please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
So, my first guest blog as the Property Pro…….
Like all sports eventing is not just about those who compete for their country such as the household names of William Fox-Pitt and Andrew Nicholson, nor is it limited to the Capability Brown landscapes of Badminton and Burghley’s great parks, it has a huge following up and down the country from grassroots to international level and many landowners are eager to provide venues for competitions.
The governing body for the sport, British Eventing (BE) receives nearly 94,000 entries for its 180 events in the UK. As a governing body, it doesn’t run its own events but oversees them and gives support to organisers. Speaking with Operations Manager, Chris Farr, BE is always considering new venues but it is clear there is no set formula for success. Surprisingly, you don’t need to be a landowner to organise a horse trials but typically it is a landowner who has an interest in the sport. Beanie Sturgis is a great example having relaunched Dauntsey Park Horse Trials on her husband’s family farm in Wiltshire.
Beanie has a proven track record as an event rider and is now joint organiser of this popular fixture, which she relaunched in 2008 when a nearby event ceased to run.
“It is incredibly hard work but the positive feedback makes it all worthwhile,” she says.
Dauntsey has a fixed cross country course which the organising team (with the help of the farm staff) keep carefully managed year-round to ensure optimum ground conditions. Some years they had to water and aggravate the course. Beanie says they’ve had to make changes to their farming system to accommodate the horse trials, they no longer graze cattle because any poaching of the ground is a threat to the horse trials enviable reputation for ‘perfect going’. She stresses – “if you have bad ground, people won’t come back”.
Jo Carr, organiser of Firle Place Horse Trials, which is in its 39th year, runs her event in the parkland of Firle Place in Sussex. Jo rents the site from Viscount and Lady Gage for one and a half weeks each August.
“The course builders start building on the Monday and finish the following Wednesday” says Jo, when asked how she manages the ground she says, “you can’t control the ground, it’s always the big unknown”.
She adds that the key is to have a good relationship with the owner and to ensure there is open communication, explain where your dressage arenas will be so that they’re not over-grazed or poached.
It is beneficial to have a landowner that is supportive of a horse trials. From a commercial perspective weddings are going to be less disruptive while generating a similar potential income, whereas a pop concert or festival is likely to generate greater revenue. As well as the alternatives other threats include countryside stewardship schemes and onerous management conditions, which may be in place.
It is important to have a written agreement or licence in place to protect both sides. Where parties are making substantial investments into cross country courses or infrastructure knowing the payback period and ensuring the length of term agreed is protected are essential. Cross country course building is a professional industry and a significant amount of development has gone into ensuring the technical aspects of the course are correct and safe. Chris Farr says “Organisers should expect to recoup the cost of a new cross country course within 3-5 years, BE has loans and development grants available to help with capital works.”
Some courses are rented and utilised all year round. Mr and Mrs Coupland successfully run Eland Lodge Equestrian Centre on the Duchy of Lancaster’s Estate in Staffordshire and host two affiliated BE horse trials along with other competitions over a permanent course.
There are also an abundance of colleges including Warwickshire College at Moreton Morrell and Askham Bryan in Yorkshire, which host BE events alongside training courses and other competitions. Stuart Buntine and Alec Lahore’s organisations run numerous events up and down the country at different venues.
Securing yourself a slot in the BE calendar is also not guaranteed, Chris Farr says there are “eight or nine venues that have indicated they are interested in hosting a horse trials”. Interested landowners need to complete an application form on the BE website or speak to their regional co-ordinator. Venues need to be large enough in terms of acreage to support three cross-country courses of varying difficulty. Undulating topography complete with natural features such as woodland and water will add to the attraction. Although Beanie Sturgis warns that this can add to the cost, at Dauntsey, the River Avon divides the course which is a great feature but means two sets of support vehicles are needed during the cross country. “Spreading costs and using your own resources such as stone and wood helps”. At Dauntsey they are very lucky to be on gravel, which is not only free-draining, but enables them to supply the materials for jump take-offs and landings as well as being a key component to the ground for water based fences. Having farm staff on hand as well as their own farm machinery for rolling and re-seeding is cost-saving for the horse trials.
Competition entries will generate some income but events should look to other sources to help with funding and ultimately profit. Dauntsey doesn’t charge a gate fee but does have plenty of local sponsorship, which Beanie says makes all the difference. Firle Place charges on the gate and includes a country fair and dog show, bringing some 10,000 visitors to the August bank holiday event.
Costs associated with running a horse trials vary hugely and it is important for any organiser or landowner to prepare a budget at the outset. Events also vary in their commerciality, some organisers want to give back to the sport and have the ability to do so, while for others it is very much a commercial proposition.
Louise Elliott is a chartered surveyor based in Savills Country Department in London.
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