Equestrian property buyers ache for acres

  • Charles Dudgeon from FPD Savills in Edinburgh neatly summed up the dearth of properties with land in the latest Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ farmland market survey: “The market is deprived of acres.”

    Despite climbing interest rates, demand from lifestyle buyers shows no sign of abating, but farmers are reluctant to sell until the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy’s mid-term review becomes clearer. As a result, riders have a hard time finding a house with enough land to suit their horses.

    The simplest way to get those precious acres is to strike up a grazing agreement with a local landowner through a separate negotiation. An increasing number of farmers are diversifying into letting paddocks for horse grazing, which fetches a much higher price than agricultural tenancies.

    “Land [let] as agricultural grazing is worth between £50 and £100 per acre per year. Equestrian land can be worth to the landowner up to £15 per week per horse,” says Diana Rowell of Churchill Country & Equestrian.

    Competition for the best paddocks can be fierce, especially in land-starved regions such as the south-east. Availability inevitably drives prices, which vary hugely from area to area. As a rule, however, the weekly rent should cost about 50% less than grass livery where shelter is also provided and 60% less than DIY livery.

    Most grazing arrangements start off by word of mouth, so a homebuyer who is moving to a new area may wonder how to find a field to rent. The first port of call is the managing agent of the nearest estate, which usually has acres to spare. If none is available, it may be worth having a chat with a local farmer.

    Both horse- and land-owner should then agree their terms in writing to prevent future headaches. Well drawn-up licences are flexible and easy to set up and terminate, so agreeing to a licence over a tenancy doesn’t make much of a difference for horse owners, unless they would like to use the land for purposes beyond grazing.

    “Generally, landowners will enter into grazing licences that need to be for one day less than one year. There’s no security on renting the land on an ongoing basis and therefore it would be unwise to develop equestrian facilities over and above what your existing land can suitably accommodate,” says Rowell. “Complications can also arise if activities other than grazing are carried out, such as putting up jumps.”

    Whichever contract is adopted, it should spell out both the basics — such as the rent — and the rights and responsibilities of both parties. Under a grazing licence, the landowner usually retains responsibility for the land, such as managing and fertilising the pasture, watering the field and looking after fencing.

    The grazier, by contrast, is fully responsible for his horses: if they bolt, jump a fence and crash into a car, the liability rests with him, which is why Rachel Flynn, who heads the bloodstock and equestrian team at Taylors Vinters, advises horse owners to get public liability insurance.

    There are issues that are best specified in a contract, such as who is responsible for rotating horses between paddocks?

    “We’d suggest that it is at the landowner’s discretion — the landowner has a lot of control because grass husbandry is something he should know,” says Clive Beer, head of the Rural Management and Professional Department for FPD Savills.

    But, he points out, what really makes a grazing agreement is a good relationship between both parties. Spending money on grazing rent is inevitable. Spending it on a well-crafted contract is sensible. Spending time in building a rapport with the landowner is priceless.

  • This property focus was first published in Horse & Hound (21 October ’04)

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