While Cyprus is undoubtedly beautiful, the rocky terrain is not especially suited to equestrian sports, which is why I owe it to my horses and my clients’ horses to make sure I provide not only a training area, but a training area designed to protect the future health of all of our horses.
Like any athlete involved in a high-impact sport, the quality of the surface we ride on can have major repercussions for our horse’s health in later years. Just like a runner pounding the pavement, if a horse is consistently exercised on hard ground it could lead to arthritis as well as any number of other concussion-related complications. On the other hand, if the surface is too soft it can cause tendon and ligament injuries. Therefore, any training surface cannot be too deep or two shallow – and all arenas needs constant maintenance.
At George’s Ranch, we have two arenas – a dressage arena measuring 70m x 30m and a show jumping arena measuring 90m by 40m. Both arenas have drainage systems, the finest quality sand and regular maintenance using three different rakes, not to mention a driver who knows what he’s doing because in the world of horses nothing is quite as simple as it looks, and that goes for raking too!
Of course, good raking is only part of the challenge because you have to get the arena right first. As we all know, Cyprus is a really hot country and when it rains, it rains heavy, which means a drainage system is of paramount importance when laying the foundations for an arena. A good base helps drain away the water so even if we experience a deluge of biblical proportions we usually only miss a day or two of schooling. And the fact that we miss any days at all is down to the quality of sand we use. Ironically, the most expensive sand on the island – and the best kind for our horses – is so fine it can compact when wet, which creates a barrier to the drainage system.
Unfortunately, we can’t do an awful lot about that because we don’t have the materials here to deal with the problem, such as fibre or rubber to mix with the sand, and as this is a problem that crops up rarely it’s not really worth the investment. However, through trial and error over the years we have found that by mixing two types of sand together we can lessen the disruption to our lessons. So, while the majority of the sand is a high quality, very fine grain, we add just enough coarser lower grade sand to keep the space between particles a little more open, thereby aiding the drainage system.
Of course, once you have your ideal arena surface, the work doesn’t stop there because raking is not only a necessity but an art form. The problem is, if you want a level arena it’s not quite as simple as dragging a rake behind a tractor over the sand. It is a skilled job in need of a skilled driver who is able to work the rake while driving in order to level any bumps and ridges. And it isn’t a case of one rake fits all. We actually have three different rakes for the job, all imported from England. This is how seriously we take our arenas and the safety of our horses!
At least once a week, we also hand rake the sides of the arenas, which is very labour intensive, but the only way to finish the job properly. In an ideal world, we would also find time to rake the arenas once a day, but this is not always possible. However, we try and do it at least every two or three days.
Of course, keeping our arenas in tiptop condition is just one of the many behind-the-scenes jobs that most visitors to the Ranch never get to see. And after last week’s freak storm there was a lot more behind-the-scenes activity than usual. Thankfully, on this occasion, the storm damage wasn’t too bad. There was a lot of sweeping that had to be done and one tree was felled by the strong winds. However, this was an old tree destined for removal so the storm almost did us a favour. And though the tree did fall into a paddock, it was encouraging to see that no damage was caused to our new flexi-rail fences, which just goes to show how strong this material is.
Speaking of the paddocks, we have also just about finished work on our final paddock – the foal paddock – which means the old metal fencing that our horses used to destroy on a regular basis by rubbing on them will soon be a thing of the past.
Of course, it hasn’t all been about working on the facilities this week, and my own schooling received a fantastic boost this weekend thanks to the return of trainer extraordinaire, Judy Bradwell.
Judy has not only enjoyed a fantastic riding career – including a win at Burghley – but she has earned a name for herself internationally as a superstar judge and a trainer. Judy is also on the select committee for the New Zealand eventing team.
Having originally helped me with my beautiful horse Violottie B some years ago, it is the first time that Judy has met my young horses, Butterfly and Defender, and I’m pleased to say she really liked the both of them. After a couple of flatwork lessons and an introduction to raised pole work, the change I felt in the both the boys was incredibly positive and almost immediate. I only hope it won’t be too long before we see Judy again!
And talking or returning visitors – don’t forget it’s our Trotting Toddlers Group next Sunday between 10am and 11am. So, bring your little ones to meet our ponies and horses. We’ll all be waiting to see you!