When fully booked, Thornhill Stables can accommodate 30 horses, although it is rare to find a vacancy at the Ayrshire livery. Elaine Macdonald, the facility’s director, says that can be traced back to the year-round equestrian arena and its special sand-based surface.
May is busy for everyone. What happens at your stables at this time of the year?
“A lot of our clients are looking to bring their horses back into work for the show and eventing seasons, so it’s important to ensure the horses’ fitness levels start to rise. So we spend a lot of time in the arena where we exercise the horses.”
You said you’ve made some changes to the arena. What prompted that?
“We replaced the surface five years ago. The previous owner had built the arena using builders’ sand, and there were a lot of issues with it. For instance, it was very uneven, it didn’t drain correctly and the sand migrated around a lot. The best material to use for equestrian surfaces is a sub-angular silica-grade sand. You don’t want it to be too round because it moves around when you’re working the horses. If it’s too angular, the sand will bind together and you’ll have drainage issues. I know this only too well because my husband runs an arena construction firm; IG Contracts.”
How did you go about changing it?
“We researched which sand would be suitable for us and found we required a fine sand that was also sub-angular. We received samples from 15 quarries and only Hugh King and one other could produce the grade of sand we needed. Hugh King also sent us three different samples, so we knew the consistency was there.”
After applying 350 tonnes of equestrian sand, how would you describe the surface now?
“It’s night and day. Now we don’t have any drainage issues, we use 100% of the school 98% of the time – it does freeze when you get to -100C! Prior to that, only 60% of the school was useable after rain because of pooling and puddling, it wasn’t level and it didn’t give you a true ride. On the new surface, the performance levels of the horses have improved because they are working on a consistent base. It has also reduced lameness because it is a cushioned surface that has a good return.”
What do you mean by that?
“If you have a course of show jumps and have 20 horses over those jumps, you tend to find a track will form. You often have to stop to rake and level the sand. Because of the sub-angular nature of Hugh King’s sand and the mixed fibre that sits on top of it, the surface very rarely gets disturbed. You ride on top of it rather than through it.”
What have these changes meant for your business?
“It has been instrumental in keeping us at the forefront of our local market. There is a lot of competition in the area in terms of other livery yards. The area has quite a lot of competitive riders who are seriously into horse riding and pay a premium for a good service. I don’t think we would have been able to catch that niche in the market if we didn’t have the facilities and the school we have. Our clients need a consistent surface so they can exercise year-round. That’s what Hugh King’s sand has given us. It’s been instrumental in our business.”