Why Leicestershire is a great place for equestrians to live *H&H Plus*

  • Prime hunting country and proper countryside make Leicestershire and Rutland an attractive proposition for equestrian house-buyers, at competitive prices

    IF Leicestershire is the heart of rural England, then the horse is surely the heart of Leicestershire. Few counties can boast quite so many links with the equestrian world, and those roots run deep.

    If the inviting hedges and rolling countryside don’t set every rider imagining the feeling of galloping across the open fields, the fox emblem synonymous with the county serves as a reminder that this is considered by many to be the birthplace of hunting. Chasing foxes is consigned to the past, but hunting within the law is very much part of the area’s present and future.

    Alongside this heritage, a broader and thriving equestrian industry is blooming – sport horses, leisure horses, riding schools, military horses, racehorses, heavy horses – which makes Leicestershire and neighbouring jewel Rutland a special place to live and ride.

    ACCESS and space are two of the key selling points – add to that the extensive network of specialist independent and chain equestrian businesses and a (marginally) more wallet-friendly cost of living to the south of the country, and it’s easy to see why the area is so popular.

    “It is a very horsey area – when people say Leicestershire you immediately think of hunting,” says Louise Harrison, a director at Savills’ farm, estates and equine sector.

    “A fair few of the county’s equestrian properties are typically rural manor houses or farm houses with hunting boxes and turnout.”

    Louise adds the strong network in the area means private sales are common, but properties do come to the open market.

    “Price-wise, if you’re buying a home with a few acres and stables, you would be starting to look around the £750,000 mark,” she says. “Something bigger with 10 to 20 acres and stables would be just over the £1m/1.25m mark; an all-singing, all-dancing equestrian set-up would be £2m-plus – the exact price depends on many factors.

    “It is a much cheaper area than somewhere like the Cotswolds, being a bit further from London and the Home Counties, which is the reason you get more for your money.

    “In terms of access, it is very good – you are right between the M1 and A1 and the A46, so you are very well connected. There are fast trains into market towns with good links to London, Birmingham and airports, as well as East Midlands Airport in the county itself.

    “Another reason it is a popular area is there are some very good schools.”

    Rupert Sweeting, Knight Frank’s head of national country sales, agrees it is a “very popular” patch, with schools, countryside and riding a big draw.

    “You are almost right in the middle of the country, so it is a great place to be based,” he says.“It is proper countryside and while you have the bigger towns, you are quickly out of that into quieter areas and proper countryside.”

    He adds while the very large farms and estates don’t often come to the open market, there are opportunities to be had on the rung below that to suit a range of buyers, with which Knight Frank can help.

    That closeness of town and country has other benefits. Having your horse in the garden is not a reality for most, so being able to live close to areas rural enough to have livery yards and quiet hacking is significant.

    ACCORDING to RightMove, properties in Leicestershire had an overall average price of £245,041 over the past year. Most sales were of semi-detached properties, with an average price of just over £213,000, with the figures for detached homes around £345,000 and terraced properties fetching an average of £173,300.

    “Funnily enough, we actually don’t have any eventing in Leicestershire itself. Burghley [Lincolnshire] is our most local one, but because we are so central, we can go in any direction without being limited to which events we have to go to and few venues are too far away,” explains five-star eventer Imogen Murray, who is based in south Leicestershire.

    “If you think of a triangle, with say Barbury, Burnham Market and Cholmondeley at each point being the same distance for us, plus all the events within that, we have many options.

    “That makes life easy when you have a string of horses: it means I have a lot more flexibility as to where I can go – especially this season when things are up in the air and so many events have been rescheduled.

    “It’s also a great area for coaching as there are so many professional riders based around here and loads of centres.”

    Imogen adds that the balance between having towns and cities on the doorstep, while being quickly into very rural countryside, is a definite plus.

    “The hacking is brilliant and living on top of a hill is great for fitness work – although not so good if you are on a bike,” she laughs.

    “It’s nice to be able to have both – we are only 15 minutes from the M1, yet the roads near us are pretty quiet.”

    Rider and guide Danielle Rowles, based near Loughborough – close to the country parks of Beacon Hill and Bradgate Park – loves exploring the county and sharing with others through her Hoofing About blog, and has recently started guided rides in the area.

    “I’m very lucky to have fantastic hacking where I live, but I do get out and about to go and find new rides in different areas,” she says. “I like to head out towards east Leicestershire and Rutland direction – I’ve yet to cross my tracks over there as there are so many places to ride and the views are fantastic. I absolutely love seeing the world from horseback.

    “Over my direction we have the woods – the National Forest – and not so much in the way of canters, whereas east of the county is much more open spaces and grass tracks, and wonderful views over Rutland Water. It’s a real mix of slightly more challenging terrain and lovely open rolling countryside.”

    Danielle has started her trail rides as a way of helping people explore the area and to be confident in doing so, and she also has advice for anyone wanting to do their own exploring.

    “Really research the details before you go – I love the OS map app as you can map out a route and follow it on your phone,” she says. “It costs a few pounds a month, which is pretty good, and you can see the whole of the UK, so if you need to divert, you can see exactly where you are.

    “Street view is useful to find places to park, beware some car parks will have height barriers, but it is worth checking if they are permanent as some councils will open them for you if you contact them in advance.”

    THE county is well served for yards – Loughborough is a popular university choice for riders and there are plenty of stables as well as larger professional yards dotted in villages close by.

    In terms of training, you’re spoilt for choice for cross-country schooling venues and equestrian centres. Head east towards Stamford and you’ll find Richard Jones’ newly built schooling course in Rutland; north-west of Oakham leads you to Angus Smales’ Chestnut Tree Farm cross-country; head north to choose between Aylesford and Field Farm.

    Vale View, near Melton, and Newbold Verdon, in west Leicestershire, are among the county’s premier equestrian centres and British Showjumping is developing Home Farm in Hothorpe as a national training centre.

    “I’m born and bred in Leicestershire, so in that respect I only know what I know!” laughs William Bell, Cottesmore field master and land management associate director at Strutt and Parker. “But it is great for me in that I’m on the edge of Cottesmore Tuesday country; I can exercise the horses before work and hack to most meets. It is still a fairly unspoilt country and if hounds are running you can cross a huge area with no real barriers, which is amazing.

    “There are still pockets of country maintained for the benefit of hunting which have been passed down from ex-masters to current hunting stalwarts.

    “There is also still an opportunity to cross the country as you would have done back in the 1970s. While that’s not the case across the whole county – Oakham is considerably bigger now, for example – there are still places where you can, and that is quite special.”

    William’s role covers estate management for a variety of private clients, which includes looking after estates that have properties within them available to let.

    Some of these do also have space for a horse, and while they are understandably popular, they do come up.

    So any tips for those considering renting over buying?

    “The easiest way is to keep an eye on the online property portals, or if you are serious about having a bolt hole up here, give us a call and we can keep you in mind when something suitable comes up,” William adds.

    Great days out in and around Leicestershire

    For the thrill-seekers…

    • WHETHER you’re fearless in the saddle or prefer to watch from a safe distance, Leicestershire is not short on adrenaline. Don’t miss the Melton and Harborough hunt rides.
    • Team chasing up your street? Hop across to Tur Langton to enjoy hedge after hedge in the Fernie, or nip up to Garthorpe for a lovely early autumn season run.

    For all the family…

    • RUTLAND County Show on the edge of Oakham in early summer is popular, as is Leicestershire’s event in August.
    • Keep an eye on Leicestershire and Rutland Bridleways Association website for information about special access to hidden corners of the counties on selected dates.
    • Enjoy a day watching point-to-pointing at scenic Garthorpe, one of the Midlands Area’s top courses, which has five meetings pencilled in for spring 2021.

    Top events on your doorstep…

    • BURGHLEY – needs no introduction. Strictly speaking in Lincolnshire, but a stone’s throw from the border in Stamford.

    H&H 24 September 2020

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