Dream stables: Badminton, Burghley and other places to hit the hay in style

  • Sometimes stables are more than just a bed for the night. Julie Harding asks top riders which are the stables they won’t tire of

    Mary King

    Favourite stabling: the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (pictured, above)

    What it’s like: there are 45 boxes in the main quadrangle, plus another stable block, the Dog Kennels, adjacent to Badminton House, so called because the late Duchess of Beaufort kept her whelping pens there. Another block is called the Clock Tower; there are 15 boxes in the Farm Yard, while the Portcullis block is close to Badminton village and is a quiet spot for nervous horses. A total of 92 horses can be stabled during the event.

    All the gear: most of the stables have built-in mangers and some have automatic drinkers. The full-sized pitch pine doors still boast their original brass door furniture from the 19th century. Horses are bedded down on Bedmax shavings, unless riders prefer paper bedding, in which case they are asked to bring their own. They can also bring their own mats if required.

    Mary on the wow factor: “I’ve been going to Badminton for years, both for the event and for team training, when the riders would stay in the servants’ quarters above the Dog Kennels. You get a real sense of old England and tradition when you are there and the stables are wonderful, from the polished brasses to the spotlessly clean permanent mangers. I also love the old-fashioned bridle hooks and saddle racks outside the boxes. I have invariably stabled my horses in the Dog Kennels — most returning riders generally go back to the same block. King William competed at Badminton most frequently and being a sensitive horse he always knew where he was. Being close to the house, the Dog Kennels is also close to the action, but there are only a handful of boxes in the block meaning fewer people and horses milling around than in, say, the quadrangle.”

    Laura Tomlinson

    Favourite stabling: Laura’s yard at Eastington House, Ampney St Peter

    What it’s like: a total of 25 stables, including eight that form a part of the block around the 20x46m indoor school. There is also a tack room and a traditional washroom here — Laura uses buckets and sponges rather than a horse shower. The block was constructed over the shell of the old stables that existed when the Bechtolsheimer family moved in when Laura was 12 months old.

    All the gear: the indoor and the 27x60m outdoor school both boast Martin Collins surfaces that the company has adapted to include extra sand to give more “slide”. Each stable has sliding doors made by Loddon, a removable manger (most horses are fed from the floor), a drinker and rubber matting (originally applied as liquid) in each box, plus a 1m high rim of rubber to prevent injury in the event of a horse becoming cast. This was fixed by indispensible handyman Ben Flood. The floors of the passage and wash bay are constructed with non-slip rubber blocks. There is also a Kampmann-Foehn dryer/solarium.

    Laura on the wow factor: “The Cotswold stone building and the colourful hanging baskets make a great combination on the outside. Inside I love the yard for its practicality. It is easy to keep clean, tidy and well organised, which was the idea behind it when my father [Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer] designed it three decades ago. I also love riding in the outdoor school, being able to keep an eye on the horses in the front paddocks at the same time.”

    Tim Stockdale

    Favourite stabling: the Royal Mews

    What it’s like: built in the gardens of Buckingham Palace in 1825, and set around a quadrangle, the Royal Mews houses working stables as well as the carriages, coaches and cars used by the Royal Family. Originally there was space for 100 horses, while today it can accommodate more than 70.

    Tim on the wow factor: “After a lecture demo a few years ago, my horses spent the night in the stalls at the Mews’ stables. The stalls themselves weren’t massive — perhaps not as big as people think they are — but everything about the place oozed quality and history; you were totally aware that you were in a part of Buckingham Palace. The stables are beautiful and contain old cast-iron mangers that were installed in the year dot. Clearly everything is made to last. One of the horses I took was a youngster and he was a bit overawed by the experience. It turned out to be the highlight of his career for a while.”

    Christopher Burton

    Favourite stabling: the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

    What it’s like: portable stables from LH Woodhouse, sited two fields away from the showground along Barnack Road. Each block has boxes along both long sides with a walkway in between.

    All the gear: riders bring their own equipment, but shavings are from Bedmax.

    Christopher on the wow factor: “What makes Burghley’s stables special is the camaraderie of being stabled alongside other riders. This year the Aussies were next to each other, while the Kiwis were opposite. At an event like Burghley it helps to be stabled close by as we usually walk the cross-country together. Like a lot of other experienced horses, [2016 Burghley winner] Nobilis 18 is pretty seasoned when it comes to travelling and he’s accustomed to turning up in a new place and settling straight in.”

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    Natasha Baker

    Favourite stabling: Natasha’s Manor Farm base near Uxbridge

    What it’s like: an American-style barn, built by Shufflebottom, with 12½ (the half is to house the miniature, Pilgrim) brick-built, 12x12ft stables running down one side. There is a wash-down area and a Hot Horse Shower, plus a Dri Mee solarium at the far end. The 20x40m outdoor arena has an Andrews Bowen surface taken from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    All the gear: every box has rubber matting bought on the internet by Natasha, topped with Verdo Horse Bedding. Each stable has an automatic water drinker and a manger, plus saddle racks and hooks directly outside to make tacking up easy.

    Natasha on the wow factor: “Thanks to clear panels in the roof, the barn is really light, while the wooden slats that partly make up the walls mean it is breezy even on a hot day. Even though we are only 10 minutes from Heathrow Airport, the barn is surrounded by fields. Horses love the place and any unsettled liveries are soon relaxed. We also always have the radio on. Cabral (JP) [her Rio Olympic triple gold medal winner] is stabled at the far end of the row. He loves the peace and quiet of his cosy corner, but he also loves having to walk past all the other horses, saying: ‘Look at me.’”

    Spencer Witlon

    Favourite stabling: Unicorn Equestrian Trust, Stow-on-the-Wold

    What it’s like: thirteen permanent 12x12ft stables that run parallel to the long side of the indoor arena, with 14 new wooden boxes next door. There is a 30x66m indoor and a 100x49m outdoor arena, both with Andrews Bowen surfaces.

    All the gear: rubber matting from Fieldguard is in each stable, with shavings from Bedmax. The stables are otherwise empty for ease of cleaning and riders (who often come for team training as the Unicorn is not open to the public) are expected to bring their own equipment to cut down on cross-contamination.

    Spencer on the wow factor: “This place opened about 20 years ago, but it is so cleverly designed that it is timeless. It is situated in a beautiful part of the world — the stables all have windows overlooking the Cotswolds — and it has a very special feel. This is due to the amazing team that runs it, headed by Sydney Smith, who has so much passion and energy. It is also kept spotlessly clean. Each stable is power-washed and disinfected after every visit.”

    This stabling and arenas special was first published in the 20 October issue of Horse & Hound magazine

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