Well, it appears that the organisers of Belsay Horse Trials really have put good money down the drain.
That was the conclusion of eight regional event riders who came to test-ride the new arena last week, complete with its state-of-the-art sports drainage system, which was installed last autumn.
The test-event comes just six weeks before this year’s horse trials, which take place on Saturday, June 6, and Sunday, June 7, and are once again supported by a stellar list of local companies led by headline sponsor Barbour, show-jumping arena sponsors Bond Dickinson and platinum sponsors UBS, Cussins, Ryecroft Glenton and Benfield.
Local event riders Jamie Atkinson, Will Murray, Mark Jackson, Katherine Hague, Jay Ryder and Adam Gillespie plus Scottish riders Emily Galbraith and Louise Clark brought a couple of horses each to jump over a course of jumps built by BS and BE-accredited builder Keith McVittie.
British Eventing’s Jane Peters, chairman of Under 18 Eventing, Fran Hay-Smith, regional co-ordinator, and Rory Boswell, technical advisor and cross-country course-builder, were on hand to watch together with local equestrian coaches and representatives of local pony clubs the Tynedale, Morpeth, South Northumberland and Percy.
Jamie Atkinson, who has represented Great Britain on all the young rider teams and now specialises in producing top young event horses from his yard near Durham, said: “The team at Belsay have done a super job – the new drainage system has really worked and the ground has a fantastic spring to it.
“All the horses jumped beautifully. It is so nice to see people putting time and effort into creating a top-class natural surface.”
Trainer John Hill, who coaches many up-and-coming riders in the north as well as attendee Emily Galbraith, one of Scotland’s leading riders, was also at the event.
He said: “The new show-jumping arena at Belsay looks fantastic and rode really well. We are lucky to have a venue like this in the north with organisers who are prepared to invest in it.”
Simon Kirkup, partner at Bond Dickinson, was also present at the launch event and said: “We have been involved with Belsay Horse Trials since the beginning, first as headline sponsor and now as sponsors of the show-jumping arena. Today has obviously been a great success and we are very excited about the horse trials in June.”
Laura de Wesselow, who co-organises the event with husband Peter and Edward and Jane Pybus, was delighted with the response. She said: “The idea of this event was to create a positive buzz about Belsay and all the money and hard work that has gone into improving the ground conditions in the show-jumping arena. We had a fantastic day last Thursday watching all the riders school their horses – it really has been a pleasure to organise.”
Mrs de Wesselow said: “The drainage project has been a huge investment for us but we believe that it is absolutely worth it for the long-term success of Belsay.
“We have had such amazing support for this event from sponsors, competitors and the local community and are committed to making it one of the leading sporting, spectating and social events in Northumberland. We are particularly grateful to Bond Dickinson for their sponsorship of the show-jumping arena.”
The organising team at Belsay Horse Trials decided to make the huge investment in a belt-and-braces drainage system for the show-jumping arena last summer after yet another wet winter and heavy and persistent rainfall in the run up to the 2014 event made for holding ground conditions in the show-jumping phase.
Mrs de Wesselow contacted the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI), a company which has been responsible for grass surfaces at Hickstead, Dublin Showground, Greenwich Park and Ascot Racecourse among others, and asked it to undertake an assessment and feasibility study. STRI’s Robert Everett visited Belsay in mid-June 2014 and determined that the existing agricultural drainage system was inadequate.
Installed around 150 years ago, the Victorian tile drains are still in working order but at 1m or more deep in places, and with no permeable aggregate backfill, they cannot respond quickly enough to provide good conditions for a natural turf equestrian surface.
STRI’s recommendation was to install a new primary pipe drainage system on top of the existing agricultural drains and supplement this with a secondary slit drainage system, like those used in many sports fields.
Robert Everett also made extensive recommendations for the reinstatement of the turf following the works.
The project was carried out in two phases. DG Walton and Son, a leading local agricultural drainage contractor, undertook the first part: Firstly clearing and cleaning out the main drain of the old existing system and installing a new secondary main drain with an inspection chamber at the connection point; then installing the new pipe drainage system with lateral and intermediate drains at every five metres.
The second phase of the project, the installation of the slit drainage system and the reinstatement of the turf, was completed by White Horse Contractors, specialists in the design and construction of natural and artificial sports surfaces. Based in Oxfordshire, the company has a northern office near Thirsk in North Yorkshire.