Traditionally a showjumping venue, Britain’s iconic Hickstead is diversifying into eventing with the launch of extensive new all-weather cross-country facilities.
Top event riders Gemma Tattersall, Francis Whittington and Emily King were on hand to mark the launch of the facilities, which were used for the first time on Sunday for the Arena Eventing classes at the Science Supplements All England Jumping Championships.
Tattersall, an Olympic and World Equestrian Games gold medal-winning event rider who is based near the showground, said: “I am extremely excited about the new cross-country schooling facility at Hickstead. It’s so close to us so to have the option of coming here in the winter to train on an all-weather surface is beyond brilliant – what a great opportunity for all of us that live in the South.”
The £500,000 project comprises two vast arenas connected with an all-weather track. Equine America Ring Three has been transformed from a grass ring to a surfaced arena, while the adjoining Airowear Ring Four has been extended and now features a vast water complex.
The facilities boast about 60 cross-country type obstacles, ranging from 80cm in height to 1.10m, making it ideal for grassroots riders, young and novice horses, and those competing up to British Eventing Novice level.
Showground manager William Bunn said that was just the start. “We’ll be creating a large stock of additional fences that can be rotated in and out of the arena, allowing us to refresh the design and build new combinations according to the riders’ demands, as well as increasing the height of some fences when event riders begin preparations for their spring events,” explains .
The course will include a wide range of single fences and combinations, with plenty of skinnies, corners and arrowheads. The water complex is expected to be a huge draw, with several jumping options into the water and within the lake.
Bunn said the new winter training facility would open from October to May. “We believe it’s going to be the biggest and best facility of its kind in the South East, and it is going to be of huge benefit for local riders. Not only will it draw event riders, it will also be a boost for riders from all disciplines and levels, who want to vary their horses’ routines, try something new or just come and have some fun,” Bunn said.
Several eventing experts have assisted with the creation of the new facilities, including Badminton course designer Eric Winter, who oversaw the plans for the initial project, and Olympic course designer David Evans, who was consulted on the design of the course.
Pre-booking for the new facilities is essential via the online booking system. One-hour sessions will cost £36 per horse, and when booking three sessions the fourth is free. The facilities are also available for hire for trainers, Riding Clubs and Branches of the Pony Club who may wish to hold clinics and competitions.