Good horse keeping

When it comes to choosing a home, horse lovers prioritise the paddock above the parlour. Penny Jackson investigates what makes good horse sense for our four-legged friends
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The Independent Online

The kitchen, the number of bedrooms, the size of the garden, even the view are all criteria for many buyers looking for a new home. But any keen rider who has tried to find land and stabling for horses will understand why the animals' needs come first when it comes to the search for a property for the horse-lover. Hours spent driving a car laden with tack and buckets to far-flung fields is a compelling reason for re-ordering the usual priorities.

The kitchen, the number of bedrooms, the size of the garden, even the view are all criteria for many buyers looking for a new home. But any keen rider who has tried to find land and stabling for horses will understand why the animals' needs come first when it comes to the search for a property for the horse-lover. Hours spent driving a car laden with tack and buckets to far-flung fields is a compelling reason for re-ordering the usual priorities.

Even in the country it is not easy to find a house where you can walk out of the front door into a convenient spread of paddocks and outbuildings and, for that reason, roomy loose boxes tend to provoke more excitement than a roomy kitchen. But, if the horse is to come first, then it is the land that really counts. The acreage is a natural limit to the number of animals that can be kept.

The South-East hosts a high quota of the established annual events, some with as much social as equestrian cachet. Yet behind the public spectacle, from the Derby and Glorious Goodwood to showjumping and dressage at Hickstead, and polo at Cowdray Park, there is the need for accommodation with the facilities for training for top-level competition. This points to Sussex as a particularly popular base. It is where Diana Rowell runs Churchill Country & Equestrian. "When it comes to finding the right property, the horses come first," she says. "Stables need to be well constructed with good ventilation and enough of them to house your string. Exercise facilities are often the next most important consideration and will depend on the particular equestrian discipline. Showjumpers and dressage riders need a good arena or manège, while eventers and racehorse trainers require access to gallops and schooling fences. Good grazing will be essential for any breeding establishment but may not be a priority for other types of competition yard."

Churchill has three properties that fit the bill. Emmetts Farm, at Coneyhurst, West Sussex, replaced some down-at-heel buildings and has the merit of being a modern country house with four large loose boxes and tack room with a loft in 60 acres. The house itself - five bedrooms, large reception hall leading into drawing room, dining room and conservatory - is in a lovely rural location and sits in pasture rather than garden. It would be ideal for breeding or competition horses as there is also an all-weather manège. The asking price is £1.45m.

Croft House at Horsham (£1.395m) is an elegant country house with a cottage, gardens and more than eight acres of land. Its pretty stableyard has eight loose boxes, a sand school and a groom's flat. The grounds adjoin a route to the South Downs. Millfields Farm at Rusper (on the market at £1.5m) could fairly be described as an equestrian property with a house attached - albeit with five bedrooms. But it is the facilities that count here. These are extensive, with 45 stables, an indoor arena with waxed sand and elastic surface, further outdoor school, lunging ring, wash-down room, grooms accommodation and land of some 43 acres.

In Devon, in the unparalleled landscape of Dartmoor, Strutt & Parker, which set up an equestrian department this year at its Exeter office, is selling White Tor at Peter Tavy at a guide of £1m. It has been run as a riding school and has a traditional farmhouse plus a contemporary barn conversion, seven loose boxes, a barn suitable for more stabling and an outdoor arena. It comes with 30 acres of land, and riders step straight on to the moors.

The same agent is also selling Ball Hill Farm, at Okehampton, a 16th century, Grade II farmhouse with a livery yard, outbuildings and 37 acres. Asking price is £885,000.

Rather like farms, the small riding school has become squeezed by the combined pressures of increased insurance, running costs and a limit to how much it can charge. Not even small girls lending a hand at weekends in return for a lesson make them economical. On the other hand, rising capital values have made sense of selling up. Parents who are persuaded by a child in the throes of pony passion to buy one of their own, need to be reminded of the pitfalls. Livery stables are expensive because horses are costly and time-consuming and teenagers can very quickly lose interest.

Robin Thomas, of Strutt & Parker, sees most of his buyers coming from London and the Home Counties in search of a different lifestyle. "We get a lot of houses to sell with 20 acres of more where no one is interested in riding anymore. The choice is to downsize or let the paddocks and stables for DIY livery."

The British Horse Society (BHS) has long been worried by the numbers of people dropping unthinkingly into buying a horse. Money is no protection from ignorance. A welfare officer in Devon who rescued a horse abandoned in a field by its wealthy London owner to occasional visits said they treated it like an expensive sports car. They expected it to start up at the touch of a key. Buying land, stables and the horse is the easy part - it's the commitment that counts.

Churchill Country & Equestrian www.churchillcountry.com: 01403 700222

Strutt & Parker www.struttandparker.com: 01392 229400

British Horse Society: www.bhs.org.uk

Other specialists in equestrian properties: Bidwells: www.bidwell.co.uk; Rural Scene: www.ruralscene.co.uk; East Anglia Equestrian Properties: www.eaequestrian.co.uk; Humberts: www.humberts.co.uk; www.worldofhorses.co.uk;

Hobbs Parker: www.hobbsparker.co.uk; Stags Estate Agents; www.stags.co.uk/equestrian.htm

FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH

* Check there is enough land. At least one acre per horse.

* Check the water supply and drainage.

* If not adjoining the property, be assured it is secure.

* There should be some shelter.

* If you want to build a stable on the land check first with the relevant authority.

* Go to the British Horse Society ( www.bhs.org.uk) for advice about a horse's needs.

* Tell the estate agent exactly what you want. Wanting "a bit of land" is not good enough.

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