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Top Tips for Developing Your Equestrian Property

Designing and building a horse property is a big project, one that will require significant time and financial investment. To get started, what are the planning steps you should take to start this journey?

1. Make a wish list

Start big and write down your ultimate wish list with exactly what you would like on your dream equestrian property.

Things to consider including in your wish list (limited only by your imagination):
o Paddocks including sizes, access laneways, gates
o Fencing: electric, PVC, wire, wooden post and rail etc
o Paddock shelters
o Irrigation
o Water: taps, pipes, automatic waterers in paddocks/stables
o Stabling including numbers/sizes of stalls, design for ventilation
o Manure/compost pile
o Electricity
o Tack area, including layout, number of saddle racks, shelving etc
o Feed storage
o Type up/cross tie
o Hot/cold wash bay
o Slip resistant footing
o Float/truck storage and parking
o Arena
o Round yard

2. Plan, plan, plan!

Draw a site plan of your property, including all of the existing improvements, then add to this plan space for everything on your wish list. Ok, so that heated wash bay or undercover arena may not be financially feasible yet, but include it in the plans so that if/when it does become feasible it has a place to go.

That way an early decision won’t impact a decision that may be made further down the track. For example in two years’ time, you don’t want to have to move a permanent fence line 20 metres to the right to fit in your new arena just because you didn’t include the arena in your property plan today.

Always plan your design to maximise convenience and minimise labour. Small details such as thoughtfully located water troughs, gates, taps and light switches can make a large impact over time.

3. Consult your family/spouse/housemates

Unless you live solo, chances are you are sharing space with at least one other person, possibly several, who may have other priorities and uses for the property other than horses. This is the time to include them in the planning, not only to make sure they are aware of your plans and are (hopefully!) in agreement with them, but also to possibly compromise to keep the peace. If an extra space in the shed for the other half’s boat or designated paddock space for your son’s motorbike track will make your plans more appealing to them, then it might be an idea to consider a compromise.

4. Consult a professional

This is one that really can come into play at any time throughout the process. Remember that what might take the average horse owner weeks to research and lay out will take an experienced property design consultant or planner just days, if not hours, to complete. Many hours can be lost trying to figure out paddock layouts and paths of travel, only to have a trained professional sketch a solution in minutes.

Areas where professional help is essential:

Council Regulations
Do you know what zoning your property falls under? Do you know what building works require Council approval? How close to your fence lines you are permitted to build? If you are considering installing a toilet/bathroom/kitchenette, will this mean you are required to upgrade your septic (if you are not on town water)? Contacting a town planner at this early stage (ie BEFORE you start work) can save the headache of dealing with breaches of Council regulations, possible fines and, in a worst case scenario spending thousands to either pull down the work and start again or fix what is already there.

Arena
The construction of an arena has caused many a horse property owner much anxiety! The cost of the construction, depending on the location, the soil, the space, the slope etc of the arena, is one of the biggest expenses of a horse property. It is also the one where cutting costs really is a false economy.

Before making a decision on what type of an arena to design, get some professional advice from someone who constructs equestrian arenas for a living. DON’T listen to Joe Blow who lives down the road and has an excavator. There is nothing more disheartening to spend many thousands on an arena (even the cheapest arena will cost thousands) to have it fail due to the construction of an unsuitable base.

Sheds/Stables
If you are planning on building stables or having them built by a contractor, again, make sure you engage someone with experience in the horse industry. Small details like the width of a breezeway, designing to maximise ventilation, or the best design for the safety and functionality of stables/wash bay/tack room are the details that the average shed constructor won’t be aware of but they can make such a difference to yours and your horses comfort. Remember, once it’s built, you have to live with it.

Drainage
This is so important and something that must be incorporated into the planning stage. The lay person generally doesn’t consider the effect that property works might have on the way water runoff will be directed in bad weather. You would hate to discover that after completion of your new stables every time it rains, the water pools right in the entry way, or is redirected to a new paddock/arena/your back door step!

Boundary Fences
If you already hold a survey of your property, you (if you are DIY) or your fencing contractor should refer to it to ensure your new fencing doesn’t encroach on your neighbour’s land. Fencing is an expensive enough project without having to redo it due to accidently building the fence 50cm on your neighbour’s side!

5. Do your research
For every aspect of developing your property there will be many options to choose from in terms of price, function, durability and aesthetic appeal. The age of the internet means that there is no excuse for not thoroughly researching different products that are available on the market.

Talk to professionals, friends, sales reps anyone who can provide information on a product you are considering using and then make a decision with your own purposes and priorities in mind. If you are planning on using your property for breeding or keeping stallions, then investing in state of the art foal and stallion safe fencing may be more of a priority than state of the art arena surfaces. It all comes down to YOUR priorities for YOUR property.

6. Budget
This is the point where your project gets real, fast.

If you’re working with an architect and/or general contractor, your team will meet with you about project requirements and costs, line-by-line. How much money you need depends on your local design and construction costs, material prices, and if you’re doing some of the work yourself. In general, pad your budget by at least 10%. Costs rarely come in less than you expect, and material and labor costs often increase as time goes by (i.e., a budget completed today won’t apply next year from now if your project gets postponed).

For each item on your budget, check with at least two vendors or service providers (such as an excavator and builders) for pricing, and compare numbers before you purchase products (such as fence posts, troughs, or gates) or hire a service provider. In the case of arena installation, prices varied by thousands of dollars. When comparing general contractor and subcontractor estimates, make sure you have an apples-to-apples comparison of services, and get it in writing. Not all contractors offer the same scope of service, and prices can vary greatly.

More budget tips:
• Avoid spending money on major things you plan on changing later (eg if you are unsure of paddock layout, perhaps go with portable electric fencing for internal fences as these tend to be less expensive and easily changed)
• Be realistic and be prepared to compromise on some things (you don’t really need that concrete rearing horse water fountain feature out the front of your stables)
• But don’t compromise on safety and functionality (secure and horse safe fencing is obviously a must)
• Get quotes from more than one supplier/contractor, preferably in writing
• Look for recommendations from other horsey property owners
• Don’t even think about trying to DIY the important stuff (for example any electrical work, building foundations or the base of your arena)
• Keep in mind the resale value of your property and try not to overcapitalise
• Plan to undertake the work in phases and over time. Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Developing your equestrian property can be an expensive, time consuming and frustrating process but it can also be hugely fun and rewarding at the same time.

By investing some time and energy into the planning stage you can make savings in angst, time and money as well as reap the benefits from facilities that will provide both function and enjoyment for you and your horses for many years to come.