Why are competition centres closing? *H&H VIP*

  • Riders are having to rethink their competition plans after the recent closure of several popular competition centres and event venues.

    Hertfordshire’s Patchetts Equestrian Centre revealed in June that it would be shutting after 32 years (news, 2 July). It closed on 2 August.

    The centre hosted British Showjumping (BS) and around 30 British Dressage (BD) shows a year.

    The closure was followed by the news that Carlton Cross-Country, a training venue and home to both affiliated and unaffiliated horse trials in Bedfordshire, would be shutting this autumn (news, 13 August).

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    Other recent losses to the calendar include horse trials at Milton Keynes Eventing Centre, Stafford and Salperton Park.

    A variety of reasons have been given by owners and organisers regarding the difficult decision to close.

    Patchetts’ said the centre was making a loss and the McTaggart family could no longer personally support it.

    Milton Keynes’ owner Fiona Gifkins confirmed last year that they were putting a wind turbine on the cross-country course as it was more “financially viable” and they wanted time to compete themselves.

    The impact that running a horse trials has on the parkland at Salperton Estate means that too has disappeared from the calendar.

    Other commitments are behind the loss of Carlton after 25 years, while health reasons mean Stafford organiser Amy Dixon is stepping down from the role.

    One venue making that is making the numbers work is Washbrook Farm at Aston-Le-Walls in Northamptonshire (pictured, top).

    This season, owners Ann and Nigel Taylor have so far run 12 days of affiliated and nine days of unaffiliated horse trials – drawing large entries.

    Mr Taylor said the money they make comes from entries.

    “You must have the numbers through the door,” he said.“If you are not running a full day, you are not making money.”

    At their latest unaffiliated horse trials, which ran on 16 August, they had around 330 entries.

    “We have probably now hit where we want to be,” he told H&H.

    At the other end of the scale to the grass-roots unaffiliated competitions, Aston’s British Eventing (BE) advanced is also hugely popular.

    “Because we provide good ground at the right time of year, we do end up with around 300 advanced horses,” he added.

    Washbrook Farm has invested in the ground and infrastructure to ensure riders want to run there.

    Mr Taylor has spent around £100,000 on hard tracks throughout the farm, to access the course without churning up the ground ahead of competitions.

    In 2014, they built an all-weather cross-country arena, which he said has been “incredibly popular”. This provides year-round facilities without the danger of damaging the ground.

    “People come from all over the country — I have had people come down from Scotland to use it,” he said.

    Arena UK in Lincolnshire is also investing in arenas and competition days.

    The centre hosts international showjumping and major shows, including championships affiliated to Ponies Association (UK), the British Show Pony Society and BS.

    Arena UK’s general manager Teresa Stratford said the grassroots unaffiliated championships are also “growing at a rate of knots”.

    But the venue looks to non-equestrian areas to generate income, too.

    “You have to diversify in order to stay in the market,” Ms Stratford told H&H.“We have had antiques fairs, boxing, beer festivals, motorbikes, dogs and TV and filming.

    “We look at anything and everything.”

    The centre is also looking into the possibility of hosting music events.

    “We are unique in that our site can cater for a lot more than most venues,” added Ms Stratford. “If it is a viable business proposition, we will look into it.”

    This is an area Hickstead has branched into – the Boomerang Hickstead Music Festival runs for the first time at the All England Showground on 12-13 September.

    Chris Farr, BE’s sports operations manager, said the organisation is fortunate that a number of existing and new venues wish to replace those lost.

    BE currently has 24 potential new sites that wish to host affiliated competition and many that wish to run further competitions,” he added.

    Mr Farr also said that a new organising team for Stafford is being sought.

    Milton Keynes (1) will be replaced by Whitfield, Northants, in April and Salperton, Glos, is to be replaced by Farley Hall, Berks, next year.

    A BE spokeswoman also confirmed that there would be replacements for Carlton and Milton Keynes (2).

    She added the final draft of the fixtures list has not yet been finalised.

    Ref: H&H 27 August, 2015