Mark Phillips: Watering the ground is unrealistic *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    A lot of riders are unhappy because event organisers aren’t watering their courses in this long spell of dry weather. Some organisers have access to water and some don’t. You can’t extract water from any natural source without a licence; some do it illegally, some don’t feel they can take that risk and most don’t have the option.

    At Burghley, we are lucky — we have to lower the lake to make the causeway usable at the Lion Bridge, and so we can use that water on the course. For many events, such as Barbury and Gatcombe, it is not an option.

    Here are some facts: to put one inch of water on one acre of ground requires 22,000 gallons. In order to maintain grass growth at this time of year, you need one litre of water per day for every square metre of grass — that won’t improve footing, it will just keep the grass green.

    Cosmetic effect

    At Badminton in 2017, they put nine million gallons of water on two-thirds of the course — and that was less than an inch of water on any of it. Water can produce a slight cosmetic effect — to make any real difference to the footing, the volumes needed are extraordinary and totally unrealistic for most events.

    Last weekend at Aske, which is run on clay, they had agri-vated the ground (which breaks up the ground to a depth of 6-8in) and then aerated it (which breaks up the top 2-3in) and they had good footing. The problem with that system is that the deep action of the agri-vator does damage to the root structure of the grass. You can get away with this on clay, but not on most other soil types.

    Years ago at Gatcombe I put the agri-vator on the track two weeks before the event. A week later, there was a yellow strip of dead grass; without rain on it, agri-vating just killed the grass.

    Organisers try to explain to people that when they come to walk a course in dry weather, the going is likely to be hard. If the ground is worked with a machine the afternoon or night before, the going will be as good as it can be on the day of the competition.

    Courses for horses

    It is also a question of using the right machine on the right ground; for example at events with sandy going, such as Kelsall Hill, Luhmühlen, Barbury, we use a verti-drain — this uses tines to punch a hole in the ground and the angle at which they come out of the ground creates a cushion in the top 12in without damaging the root structure. We can’t use that at Gatcombe, which has thin Cotswold brash on top of rock, because the tines of the machine become white-hot within 100 yards; we can only use the aero-vater.

    At Barbury this week, we will work on the ground the day before each phase at each level to produce the best footing we can, using two verti-drains. There is a really good coverage of grass, which will provide a good cushion to the verti-drained ground.

    The cross-country courses at Barbury this year are 100% different. They now start at the south end of the valley, rather than the north end, and finish in a different place to in the past, with the Event Rider Masters class finishing in the main arena. I like the flow of the tracks; I don’t think the time will be any easier to get, and we are set for an exciting competition.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 5 July 2018