Don’t spare the horses for your coun­try re­treat

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Af­ter the Grand Na­tional has been raced and the Na­tional Hunt sea­son closes, the time ar­rives when horse-lovers think of buy­ing their dream eques­trian prop­erty in the sticks.

That is pre­cisely what Frances Wil­son, the renowned dres­sage trainer and judge, did eight years ago. She and her hus­band, Dun­can, 60, a fi­nance di­rec­tor, bought the Old Rec­tory, near Faver­sham in Kent, with the in­ten­tion of equip­ping it with ev­ery­thing she needed to train her horses. “We were amazed to find both an Olympic-sized arena and an in­door arena here – you hardly ever find th­ese in a pri­vate prop­erty,” says Wil­son, 48, who bought the house from a Swedish dres­sage rider. “We re­fur­bished their sur­faces and ren­o­vated the sta­bles, in­stalling sealed rub­ber floors and au­to­matic drinkers.”

At the Old Rec­tory, Wil­son rides in the morn­ings and teaches dres­sage in the af­ter­noons. Now she ad­mits to feel­ing a wrench at leav­ing this six-bed­room Vic­to­rian house, with its high ceil­ings and big win­dows, for a new life in Por­tu­gal. “This has been a per­fect spot for us, es­pe­cially as we’re near the Con­ti­nent for in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions,” she says of the prop­erty, which stands in al­most 24 acres and is for sale with Strutt & Parker for £2mil­lion. “The hack­ing over the North Downs has been bril­liant, but I’ll be tak­ing the horses with me to Por­tu­gal, so it’s not an end to rid­ing.”

How do you judge a good place to keep horses? There is one golden rule that ex­perts al­ways of­fer buy­ers: pri­ori­tise the land over the house. You can im­prove the house, but you can do lit­tle to the land.

“Your prime con­cern should be to have some­where nearby to ride,” says Ed Old­ney of Ru­ral Scene, a com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in coun­try prop­er­ties. “A place may be deep in the coun­try­side but that’s not much good if – as in parts of De­von – the lanes are too busy with vis­i­tors to ride through with any safety, and you can’t get ac­cess to the fields.”

In that re­spect, west Wales has a lot go­ing for it. There are very ac­tive rid­ing clubs, and a good net­work of bri­dle paths. It is pos­si­ble to clip-clop around open moor­land on the Pre­seli Moun­tains, as well as quiet coun­try lanes and spec­tac­u­lar beaches. If the re­mote­ness of this west­erly out­post is a draw­back, its prices are a plus. One eques­trian-friendly prop­erty on the mar­ket is Car­reg Gr­wca in Whit­land. It is a fivebed­room house, built in 2000, with sta­bles and a manège set in 68 acres, and is on the mar­ket with Fine & Coun­try for £795,000.

It is also im­por­tant to as­sess the qual­ity of the land. It is best to opt for freedrain­ing ground be­cause if the land gets wa­ter­logged, horses will be stuck in the sta­bles all day, mean­ing more muck­ing out and higher food costs. Send sam­ples of the soil away for anal­y­sis; flint should be avoided as it can harm horses, while light loams and chalk are prefer­able to heavy clay, which gets boggy in win­ter and dries hard in sum­mer.

Kate Humphrey-Lear, 33, car­ried out im­prove­ments to as­pects of her horsey es­tate, in­clud­ing the drainage, and ended up spend­ing £55,000 in to­tal.

The Old School House, in Earls Colne, 12 miles from Colch­ester in Es­sex, had suit­able land but needed changes to the fa­cil­i­ties. She had mir­rors put into her arena, which she has en­larged to around 200ft, and bought a horse-walker, which is a type of equine tread­mill.

She lives with hus­band Dan, 36, who runs a build­ing com­pany, and sons Joseph, 10, and Grayson, four. Humphrey-Lear looks af­ter three horses for friends, keeps four of her own and, like so many peo­ple in­volved with horses, talks of rid­ing as an ob­ses­sion. “I sim­ply love train­ing horses and their riders and see­ing them im­prove,” she says.

She is ex­pect­ing a daugh­ter in the sum­mer and is sell­ing up for a big­ger eques­trian prop­erty nearby. “It’s a life­style choice, not a job. If I can’t ride, I’m de­pressed.” The house – a stylishly con­verted red-brick for­mer Vic­to­rian school – is be­ing sold by Zoe Napier and is cur­rently un­der of­fer.

It is im­por­tant when buy­ing an eques­trian prop­erty that the out­build­ings are up to scratch. If it is an older prop­erty then it’s best to check that noth­ing is listed, as that is likely to rule out any plans for mod­erni­sa­tion. Con­sider the qual­ity of the sta­bles, as they re­quire good drainage. It’s im­por­tant that they are in good con­di­tion as they will un­dergo a lot of wear and tear. A

Frances Wil­son, left and be­low; the Old Rec­tory, main, £2 mil­lion with Strutt & Parker The sta­bles at the Old Rec­tory, right; and the pad­dock, be­low

Frances Wil­son, be­low; and the kitchen of the Old Rec­tory, left

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