Emily Ham’s driving blog: Averting disaster

  • This has been a very wet winter even for the Brecon Beacons in Wales and our two small areas were waterlogged making it impossible to work the ponies. Disaster!

    It’s so steep here at 1000 feet up the mountain that I do most of my work for my driving ponies using the small arena with the majority schooling out of the carriage especially with long reins.

    An arena is the most wonderful facility. Our surface of rubber crumb fibre and sand has been down for many years of good service, helped by the good construction build of drains, gravel layer and membrane.

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    Back in the day, fifteen years ago, it was the chosen surface at HOYS and has been brilliant for ridden dressage, showjumping and especially carriage driving as the wheels don’t cut in too deeply making it less effort to pull the carriage, especially if practising tight turns.

    When built we excavated back into the mountain, creating tons of soil which was brought up the track to create a flat area near the house for stabling and a small turnout area with constant daily use swapping between ponies. We managed to cut back to create a 35m x 22m arena but no bigger. This is tight for driving, especially with my Welsh Section D, although possible.

    Our sand spaces double up as year-round turnout areas and my lovely Spanish horse Soltero roams the driving arena when it is not being used for schooling. At 16.2hh he gives it a very good daily workout helped by my mini Shetland who likes to keep him exercised! She’s a spritely 27-year-old and my retired first driving pony so she has no doubts that she’s boss of the herd!

    By November the hoof prints were filled with water — everything saturated by the run off from the whole mountainside overpowering the drainage and one area was developing a water feature threatening to turn into a lake. Still it rained! A constant deluge from stormy skies.

    Harrowing would not rescue the surface in these conditions but I was desperate to have the ponies able to stretch their legs and enjoy a romp as well as hoping to get some training in between winter competitions.

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    How could I add to and improve my surface? I contacted several different arena companies and was given different options and hugely variable prices for the options depending on the supplier. Of course transporting bulky and heavy materials into the Welsh mountains often doubled or even more than doubled the cost.

    I was beginning to despair that I wouldn’t find anything suitable within my £500 budget. Then we discovered Equi Est Ltd online. A phone call to them changed everything!

    Simon Pengelly of Equi Est was incredibly helpful. He has ten years in estate management and has great references for the many gallops and arenas he has built. He recommended Pro Ex fully synthetic fibre which he uses very successfully for gallops and arenas. It helps absorb water and would mix in well with my existing surface. He not only quoted a brilliant price but brought up three tons of surface fibre spread into ten large jumbo builder’s bags.

    Simon assesses the  sorry state of the turnout area

    Simon assesses the sorry state of the turnout area

    He delivered these in person just a few days later — on a February afternoon, with his trusty Land Rover and large flatbed trailer braving a ferocious storm with pounding rain to get it to us. He cheerfully manhandled the massive bags off the trailer at both sites and spent time evaluating the arenas and advising me about how best to use the fibre mix. After barrowing the fibre and spreading it over the surface, we harrowed it in with our homemade rake harrow behind the quad and then rolled it as he recommended. Simon saved my surface!

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    The improvement was immediate and now after two months and a LOT more rain and run off it’s proving a really good arena rescue. What a brilliant find his company was and all this was made so easy and reasonable! If I ever achieve my dream of moving to a property with flat enough land for a full driving arena of 80 x 40m, I know who I will be bringing in for the job — Simon!


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