Buying an equestrian property so that your horses can live just outside your backdoor is the goal of many. Yet this exciting adventure is also an enormous one, and there many things to consider before you purchase your dream home. Did you know, for example, that buying land with agricultural use does not cover horses and cannot always be amended retrospectively? Or that lenders are often reluctant to issue a loan on land purchases unless there is a commercial element involved?

Buying an equestrian property presents its challenges, especially when located in a national park where planning rules are very strict. The market is tough, because so many people want to realise their dream of taking care of a horse at home. But don’t let the thought of a potentially tumultuous journey put you off. It can and will happen if you do your homework and tick all the boxes you need to before buying an equestrian property. Here is a summary of the most important things to consider:

What is the local hacking like?

Given how busy and dangerous UK roads have become, one of the top priorities when buying equestrian property is that it has either immediate or nearby access to a bridleway network, or that it features a private way that joins the property up to where you intend to ride. Ideally, you will want to avoid having to ride your horse on roads wherever possible — and if you can’t, you’ll want to be on them for as shorter a time as possible.

Is it well connected?

If you enjoy competing your horse or taking part in group lessons and clinics, consider how far away a property is from equestrian centres. Is there a cross-country schooling facility locally? You may also like to be part of a riding club and the local equestrian network, which will allow you to meet and ride with other like-minded people. Have a look at what’s available locally before buying an equestrian property to make sure it suits your needs.

Are planning consents in place?

It is important to check that the necessary planning consents are in place when buying a new home for equestrian use, so that you know whether the property can actually be used for equestrian purposes. People are sometimes caught out by assuming that consent for agricultural use is the same as for equestrian use, which unfortunately isn’t the case and cannot always be amended retrospectively. You don’t want to go to the expense of buying an equestrian property, only to find out that you cannot actually legally keep your horses there.

Leading on from this, be sure to check whether the property has been used for equestrian purposes in the past and, if so, whether it was a stud farm or a private stables, as there might be planning restrictions in place for liveries. This means that you can use the property for yourself and keep your own horses there, but cannot have a livery or use the property for commercial equestrian purposes. Again, you do not want to buy a property to run your equestrian business from, only to later learn that this is impossible.

What services are connected?

Good services are crucial, so that you have mains water available in your horse’s paddock. Your animals will need access to a water source, and while many people assume that it is easy to do, it isn’t always possible to run a supply from the property’s main building to the field. Filling water churns in the kitchen and lugging them out to the field is hard work and time consuming, and not really a long-term solution. Consider also whether you will need electricity for lights in your stables and plugging in things like clippers or a kettle in the tack room.

Will your horsebox fit?

It may sound obvious, but you should make sure that when viewing a property, you take your horsebox or HGV with you to check that it can fit through the roads. In parts of the West Country in particular, narrow country lanes can make this especially tricky, if not impossible in places.

Are there rights of way?

You must also check that, where the property’s access involves a private right of way, this is also for equestrian use and not just agricultural use. Check whether there are any public rights of way, such as a footpath, passing through the equestrian property and land that you are thinking of buying too. You might not like the idea of dog walkers being able to walk close to your horses while in their field, for example, so it’s important to know if this is a risk before you buy.

Common problems when buying equestrian property

Competition is fierce

Prospective buyers need to be aware that competition for suitable equestrian properties is fierce in areas that offer good off-road riding. It is not just about having brilliant equestrian facilities at the property, as the house also has to be right for your family’s requirements. Properties that meet all the necessary criteria are rare, and thus highly sought-after. It is therefore important to be in a good buying position.

Getting finance

This is something that’s easier said than done, as one of the most common problems people face is financing the purchase. Many prospective buyers assume that they can take out a mortgage, but lenders are often reluctant to issue a loan on land purchases unless there is a commercial element involved. This needs to be clarified before you can realise your dream of buying an equestrian property. Ideally, you need to know what you can afford before you start looking.

Stamp duty

Another common problem to be aware of is the levying of stamp duty land tax. HMRC has been increasingly focusing on whether properties are for residential use or mixed use, and this affects the rate at which you have to pay stamp duty. It is highly advisable to seek professional advice on this issue so that you don’t receive any unpleasant surprises.

How to fix these issues

Overcoming these common setbacks really boils down to having done your homework and being prepared. Know what you want to do with the property: is it for your own use or for a commercial enterprise? Have the funding in place to make the purchase, in the form of cash or a viable mortgage offer, so that you can move quickly.

With the government’s increased flexibility for agricultural buildings, there is now the opportunity for landowners to turn disused agricultural buildings into a house. However, there are conditions that come with this. For example, development is not permitted if since ceasing to be part of an agricultural unit, the building has been used for any non-agricultural purpose.

There are solutions, and a lawyer can help you understand what options there are. For instance, you may need to apply for planning permission or if the property doesn’t have a water or power supply, you can request an easement from your neighbour for these in order to run a pipeline from their property to yours.

Managing muck heaps

Keeping horses at home means you’ll have a muck heap, which can be a worry, especially if you have close neighbours. It is important to site and install your muck heap correctly. Specifically, you will have to ensure that you are compliant with DEFRA’s guidance on muck heaps and make sure that the muck heap is not situated near a water course, as any leachate from manure can represent a breach of environmental rules and regulations.

If you are considering putting down concrete to make the manure heap, you may also require planning permission to do so. You also need to be aware that you cannot take other people’s horse manure and spread this on your own land. It has to be manure produced exclusively by your own horses.

Buying a bare field

You may come across property for sale which includes a field, but no stables or outbuildings. Tread carefully here, because it is not as simple as putting up stables or adding a field shelter. The main drawback of this sort of property is that you won’t necessarily be able to realise your vision of keeping horses at home. In an ideal world, you would always know that you can obtain the necessary planning consents before committing to the purchase of a property that doesn’t yet have equestrian facilities, but at which you are determined to keep horses.

You may also be wondering if you can use a bare field without stables for grazing horses, if the land was previously owned for grazing cattle. In this scenario, horses can only use agricultural land for grazing. Technically, this means that you should not be carrying out any additional activities on the land, such as stabling or riding.

For any additional activities on the land, such as constructing of stables, installing arenas and hard standings for looking after horses etc, planning permission for change of use to equestrian would need to be sought from the local authority.

Field shelters: do you need planning permission?

Some people may choose to erect a permanent field shelter or similar structure without first seeking planning permission from the local authority, but it is likely to prove an expensive mistake, especially if carried out on a property that sits within a national park, where planning rules are very restrictive.

However, if the field shelter is movable — for example, if it is possible to drag it to a new location with a four-wheel-drive vehicle — then it will probably prove unnecessary to obtain planning permission. It is best to check this with your local authority first though. Also bear in mind that this kind of structure is likely not ideal in terms of equestrian welfare. Most horse owners will want a building with a solid and permanent base, which again involves obtaining planning consent.

Can stables be built in a large garden?

Some houses have very large gardens, but it is not possible to build stables in this space, unless you have planning permission. Erecting stabling involves a change in use from a private residential house to an element of equestrian use, which requires the necessary consents from the local authority. It’s important to remember that every local authority will have different requirements for what’s suitable when it comes to using your land for equestrian use.

Turning land into an equestrian property

In theory, it is certainly possible to purchase land and turn it into an equestrian property. However, you will have to undertake a series of checks before you can proceed with this plan. There are many questions to consider, which include:

  • Do you have the necessary finances to invest in this project? Often people fall in love with the land, but the home that comes with it needs, let’s say, some TLC to get it up to par. This can be costly, so make sure that you understand your budget.

  • Is the land boggy in the winter, making it unsuitable for winter grazing, and does it therefore require drainage works to make it suitable for equestrian use? This is vital to know, as there is no point investing in land that physically becomes unusable during certain times of the year.

  • Does the land possess the necessary outbuildings to make it an equestrian property? If not, will you be able to obtain the necessary planning permission to erect a new building?

  • Does the property sit within a national park, where planning rules are also very strict? Your lawyer will help you understand these questions, and explain to you what the possibilities and solutions may be.

How was the land previously used?

It’s essential to get information about how land was previously used. A seller should disclose if they have noticed any poisonous plants in replies to rural industry standard enquires that should be raised with a seller and it’s something that your lawyer will ask for. However, virtually all well maintained fields will still contain the odd poisonous plant such as ragwort. Seasons and different years all bring new threats, so it is for the landowner to stay ever vigilant about checking their fields for poisons.

Horse owners will also want to look out for sycamore trees in the field or surrounding area when viewing the property, as these are a key cause in atypical myopathy, and find out what (if anything) has been sprayed on the fields in the past. Consider the land around it, too, and what it is used for.

When I help draft replies for my clients selling land, I always qualify it with wording that ‘we cannot confirm there are no poisonous plants on the property or hedgerows, and site inspections/surveys should be carried out by a buyer’s team to satisfy themselves of this’.

What is an overage clause?

You may have seen land advertised as being for sale with an overage clause in case of future development. Usually overage clauses are triggered for residential or commercial development, but each overage clause or agreement will need to be reviewed very carefully by a buyer’s solicitor to understand what its triggers will be. Typically, I exclude agricultural or private equestrian development from overage agreements if the intention of the agreement is to capture commercial/residential development.

If you’re looking to buy equestrian  property, don’t be put off by the challenges you could face. Having a team of experts can help you understand what the problems and solutions are. A lawyer can support you in solving practical problems when it comes to land, access, planning and property, and a financial adviser can help you navigate the financial queries that come with owning new land.

Main image: copyright Shutterstock

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