Every rider dreams of having his horses grazing in picture-postcard paddocks ringed by immaculate post-and-rail fencing. But the demands of everyday life keep interfering and the fields in many equestrian homes often bring to mind a scene out of War of the Worlds rather than Black Beauty’s “large, pleasant meadow”.
Lavishing some tender loving care on your acres, however, makes a huge difference to the wellbeing of your horses — and will also help make a home more appealing to potential buyers.
“A lot of properties we see have been so poorly managed that it impacts on their saleability,” says equestrian estate agent William Grant of Fox Grant, who keeps his own horses at his farm in Somerset.
Paddocks can become bad very quickly, but the good news is that some sound pasture management will kick them back into shape quite easily, unless you have years of neglect to contend with.
Some specialist agents advise their clients on how to prepare their land for a potential sale and their first tip is usually to make sure fields don’t look like the aftermath of a locust invasion. Horses are notoriously bad grazers so paddocks need to be adequate for their needs and carefully tended to prevent overgrazing.
“Badly-managed circumstances, such as three horses constantly grazing three acres, will end up as a ‘churn-out’ instead of a ‘turn-out’ paddock,” says Zoe Napier of Fenn Wright. ‘Rest and rotate’ is a cornerstone of good land management.
“I have eight acres and divide them into three paddocks,” says Grant. “I have my horses in one paddock and rest the other. And if you’re thinking that you may sell your home in the future, it pays to carve the paddocks out in an attractive way.”
Grant swears by cross-grazing, which he sees as a godsend to help reverse some of the damage done by horses.
“I have all my paddocks topped and sheep graze them in June and February. The sheep make them like a lawn, so you don’t get horse-sick fields,” he says. “The key thing is to plan ahead and fence your land with cattle- or sheep-proof fencing, so farmers are happy to have their sheep there.”
Whether it is just for horses or for cross-grazing, fencing must be safe and secure. This is vital from a welfare viewpoint — and it helps impress potential buyers.
“Post-and-rail fencing is usually the best choice, although it’s often expensive,” says Helen Owens of the BHS welfare office. “Electric fencing is good as a secondary boundary or to subdivide fields. Stock netting or barbed wire should not be used if possible.”
As for the fields themselves, the priority is keeping them clean. This means removing poisonous weeds and droppings.
“Removing droppings helps with worm control,” says Owens, while Napier reminds vendors that “land only looks good if regularly poo-picked”.
As for weeds, checking for and getting rid of ragwort is crucial. A surprisingly high number of owners don’t do this and, beyond posing a serious hazard to their horses, they often shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to selling their home.
“It puts off buyers,” says Napier. “If they see ragwort in a field, they think: ‘Crikey! I’ve got to remove this every year.’”
Guaranteeing easy access to water is equally important. Troughs should be moved regularly or, if they are fixed, should be placed on a hard or well-drained surface to prevent poaching. The same applies to gateways, which should always be clean.
After all, as Grant says, “you don’t want prospective purchasers twisting their ankle on poached ground”.
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