Dry weather creates havoc for horse sport

  • Equestrian events are suffering as some of the UK remains in the grip of one of the driest spells for more than a century.

    According to the Met Office, East Anglia was the driest district in the UK this year having only 21% of the average rainfall for March, April and May.

    Nearly all disciplines have been beset with hard ground and there’s a fear of growing financial implications both for riders, who have to travel further for better ground, and for events having to invest in preparing rideable going.

    “Most events have tried really hard, but some simply don’t have the finances to make the ground perfect,” said H&H eventing columnist Tina Cook.

    Shows have also reported low entries with hard ground believed to be one factor.

    H&H showing columnist Katie Jerram said: “It’s definitely affected entries. And there could be massive knock-on effects if it’s like this all summer — not just with entries, but the condition of horses’ hooves.”

    She added that Suffolk showground (1-2 June) was “near perfect”. But “they spent £42,000 on it and not many can afford to do that,” she said.

    And in April Hickstead put 3.1 million litres of water on to the International Arena to ensure good ground.

    In polo people are unwilling to risk their ponies on hard ground.

    H&H reporter and polo pony breeder Aurora Eastwood said: “Only a few clubs have irrigation and smaller ones are suffering — the ground is rock hard you don’t want to take the chance.”

    Point-to-point has been hit too, with a lack of runners over the past few months (news, 21 April), prompting H&H columnist Polly Gundry to describe it as a “testing time”.

    Although racecourses are regularly watered, the grass gallops in Newmarket have been virtually unusable since March. Consequently, the town’s watered gallop had to be opened earlier than usual, but as all-weather gallops don’t make the horses work as hard, it has been harder to get fitness levels up.

    H&H readers are reporting their own problems, too.

    “I love the hot weather, but not the side-effects,” said Karen Burfoot from Stanstead. “We are schooling indoors and I haven’t competed much on grass as I don’t want to wreck my horse’s legs.”

    Donna Samujh from Cambridge added: “It’s an absolute nightmare — the ground is literally like concrete. I’ve pulled out of competitions.”

    At the same time, there are fears the weather could affect hay and straw yields and prices, with farmers in East Anglia expecting harvests to be down by 25%.

    This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (9 June, 2011)

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