Moving house along with your horses features high on the stress scale, as equestrian estate agent George Windsor Clive has often witnessed.

“We’ve known lorries full of horses waiting outside the gates [of their new home] because the money hadn’t arrived in the bank yet, and the buyers tearing their hair out. It happens on one sale a year.”

Negotiating the right contract can do much to ease the strain of moving. All it takes is some forward planning because special clauses must be agreed early in the home buying process.

Early entry allows buyers to access some areas of their new property between contract exchange and completion. Prospective owners can move in horses, hay and straw, or have equestrian facilities built before completion takes place.

“On a recent sale of a farm that had equestrian potential but no stables, we agreed an early entry so the [buyer’s] family could go in and build the stables,” says William Grant of Fox Grant.

Delayed completion — which takes place two or three months after contracts are exchanged, rather than the customary four weeks — is a common practice, especially in the sale of big yards.

Stipulating early entry can be tricky because “vendors’ lawyers always advise not to let anything or anyone in until the money is in the bank,” according to Windsor Clive. “It can only happen if there’s trust between buyers and sellers.”

If early entry cannot be agreed, buyers can set up a fixed-term licence to rent the vendor’s stables for a specific period of time until completion. Or they can purchase their new property before selling their old one.

“You can exchange contracts at the same time on both sale and purchase, but you bring completion on your purchase a week before your sale,” says Windsor Clive. “It gives you a chance as a seller to leave a clean property behind and a chance as a buyer to sort things out.”

This requires buyers to be able to pay for their purchase even if they haven’t yet received money from their sale.

“Most banks will lend against a contract. But people need to be aware that there is a cost of delaying and they need to speak to their bank manager pretty early,” explains Windsor Clive.

If financing is an issue, “holdover is another trick to make your move easier,” suggests Grant. “You exchange and complete, but you have holdover [on your old property] for a month, so you have your horses grazing while you gradually move out.”

But, he advises, sellers who want to negotiate holdovers or delayed completion should endeavour to get competing offers: “If you only have one bidder, you have no choice.”

While negotiations progress, take time to locate a vet and farrier and plan your journey carefully. BHS welfare administrator Rebecca Palmer suggests that you should “get everything possible sorted out before you move your horses — down to the stabling, feeding and bedding. If it’s all ready, they can come into their new home and settle straight away.”

For long-distance moves, breeders Mandy and Gary Francis, who left the UK to set up an Andalusian stud in Coin, Spain, recommend using a professional horse transport company with experienced drivers and quality lorries.

And never forget that horses can find new surroundings extremely worrying.

“But they can adapt, provided you are very relaxed about them,” says equestrian author Marthe Kiley-Worthington. “A horse needs to be reassured that all is well in the world. Moving is stressful for humans — but try not to communicate that to your horses.”

  • This property feature was first published in Horse & Hound (18 November, ’04)
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