When the Directors of the All England Jumping Course at Hickstead opened their new all-weather cross-country schooling facility exactly one year ago, they couldn’t have foreseen just what an important role it would play in this most unusual of years.
Like many businesses in the sporting and event sectors, Hickstead faced a difficult year when the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of its two international horse shows. The new cross-country facilities had been launched as a supplementary income for the showground, running from October through to May in the ‘off season’.
But with neither of Hickstead’s flagship shows able to run, the training facilities have stayed open for most of this year, aside from the weeks of full lockdown, and during September’s Science Supplements All England Jumping Championships, which was the only Hickstead-run event to take place this season.
In its first year the facilities have proved very popular, with thousands of riders heading to West Sussex to train over the variety of cross-country obstacles. The course is set across two vast all-weather surfaces – the Equine America Arena and adjoining Airowear Arena, along with the large Equine America Water Complex – with jumps ranging from 60cm to 1.10m in height. It offers year-round foot-perfect going, which has been particularly beneficial during the wet winter and prolonged dry .
Among those to train at Hickstead include Olympic event riders Pippa Funnell, Tina Cook and Gemma Tattersall, while plenty of leading trainers have also held training clinics at the facility.
Another opportunity that has proved popular has been the showjumping hire in the 2plan Wealth Arena, featuring a professionally-built course designed by international course builder Ben Townley. The jumps include fillers, planks, water trays and combinations, and the course is regularly refreshed to keep it varied and challenging.
This winter showjumping hire will continue until the end of November, with floodlit sessions available on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings. Arena Polo at Hickstead will return for December and January, before the showjumping hire resumes from February until late spring.
Arena hire runs under strict Covid regulations, and all bookings must be made online at hicksteadschooling.co.uk.