It’s official – the West Country horsey haven of Devon has come out on top in the 2018 H&H study of Britain’s horsiest counties. But just why is Devon so great for riders?
1. It has every type of riding terrain you could wish for
Devon isn’t (quite) the only place that boasts both beach riding and open moorland, but it is the only British county to feature two separate coastlines AND two moors, in the form of sprawling Dartmoor — the largest open space in southern England — and part of Exmoor. And in between you’ll find patchwork fields, quiet forests, idyllic villages with dream country pubs — everything you need for perfect, varied hacking.
2. It’s home to some top-notch equestrian events
You don’t have to travel out of the area to catch some of the country’s top riders in action. There’s international eventing at Bicton, and plenty of the UK’s best showjumpers and showing teams flock to the Devon County Show, with its host of prestigious qualifiers, every May.
3. There are competition venues for everyone
Devon may not have as many show venues as some more central counties, but the ones it does have are pretty great. From Bicton, to the Grange and Wellbeck — plus a host of fantastic agricultural shows — there’s showjumping, dressage, eventing and showing on offer to everyone, whatever the level. And for those wishing to travel further afield, there’s fast road access via the M5.
4. Winters are usually kind to riders
Endless snow, freezing conditions and the frustration of not being able to ride as much as you’d like? A familiar winter story in many parts of the UK — but rarely Devon! The county enjoys a generally mild climate — while you’ll find plenty of snow on the moors, for most of county it’s the exception not the norm, and the area doesn’t suffer from such stifling summer temperatures as many inland areas either.
5. You’ve got Pony Club branches galore
Horsey children growing up in Devon are spoilt for choice when it comes to Pony Club. Both Area 15 and 16 occupy Devon, with the county boasting more branches than any other in Britain.
6. It doesn’t fall down on hunting options, either
With such fantastic landscapes it follows that hunting in Devon is a treat, and there’s no shortage of packs to follow — 12% of all Britain’s hunts are to be found in Devon, from the South Devon and the Dartmoor to the Devon and Somerset Staghounds and the Axe Vale Harriers.
7. Fitness work comes as standard
There’s no getting away from it — most of Devon is hilly. Very hilly. But this is a blessing when it comes to getting your horse — and yourself — fit. From Mary King’s base on the south-eastern coast, the valley that runs down to the sea means it’s possible to ascend and descend 600ft in half an hour.
8. Top riders are flocking to Devon
As well as the established Devon-based riders, such as Mary King, Lucy McCarthy (nèe Wiegersma), Helen West and Justin Tuff, several other top riders have felt the lure of Devon recently. These include leading dressage rider Anna Ross, who will move from Wiltshire to the beautiful Barons Wood Equestrian Centre in east Devon at the end of July.
9. Devonians are the friendliest bunch of horse people you’ll find
As such a rural county, Devon is chock-a-block full of riders. But you’ll be hard-pushed to find the snootiness you might come across in some other horsey areas of the country — the Devon equestrian community is one of the most down-to-earth and welcoming you’ll find. It’s often said the pace of life is slower in the West Country, and you’ll certainly feel relaxed down here.
10. Mere mortals can actually afford to live here
A cottage with land and stables in Surrey for under £1million? Forget it. Not so in Devon, however. Even in the most sought-after areas of the county you could snap up a five-bedroom house with stables and around 30 acres for under seven figures. And, if you travel to the west and north-west of Devon, you’ll find even more for your money.