Section 335: equestrian cross-country courses
This publication is intended for Valuation Officers. It may contain links to internal resources that are not available through this version.
Equestrian Cross-Country Courses as a class are subject to co-ordination as outlined in the relevant Practice Note.
Prima facie, all equestrian cross-country courses are rateable.
Any argument that they fall within the agricultural exemption provisions of Schedule 5 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (LGFA 1988) is misplaced and should be resisted. Specifically, paragraph 2(d) of Schedule 5 to LGFA 1988 excludes “land used mainly or exclusively for sport or recreation”. A further explanation of this point can be found in Rating Manual: section 6 part 6 - Part D: para 4.4.
In the unlikely event that the ground is also used for agricultural purposes for part of the year, the case should be referred to the Technical Adviser.
Equestrian cross-country courses operated on a “pay-as-you-ride” basis have been a developing trend over recent years, particularly since the move in the late 1980s towards non-agrarian farm diversification. The objective is to provide a safe, off-road, environment where horse may be ridden and schooled (or, in some locations, driven) across country. These courses are incorporated into field boundaries, set-aside margins and headlands to provide a continuous route that may extend for several miles and will include a wide variety of obstacles to be jumped or, if driving a carriage, to be navigated.
Such courses should not be confused with those used in the cross-country phase of horse trials (see RM Section 373 Eventing Courses), although in some locations there may be a shared use. The primary distinguishing factor between these two types of occupation being the general availability of the commercial cross-country course over a twelve month period (although some may be shut during the winter months) in contrast to the much more limited duration of a horse trial competition.
Courses will differ markedly in terms of length, number of fences, quality of design, access, and ancillary facilities provided. However all will aim to supply a riding surface that is reasonably even (to prevent damage to horse and rider), whilst maximising the potential of the site. The land does not necessarily have to be flat; indeed both uphill and downhill approaches to fences will make the course more appealing, but (again for safety reasons) very steeply sloping land is best avoided.
To increase their market potential, courses tend to offer a range of jump heights and widths. They will also vary in constructional complexity. Some jumps will be as simple as a tree trunk, whilst others, such as water obstacles and terraced obstacles will be more sophisticated in their design. Fences should be designed so that the bindings can be readily slashed in the event of an accident, thereby allowing the participants to be freed more easily.
Such courses may be independently operated by a landowner or farmer, or may be run under a wider co-operative marketing venture, such as UK Chasers.
4.1 Planning Permission
At the outset, the exact planning permission under which the equestrian cross-country course has been developed should be ascertained. Consent may be deemed unnecessary; necessary, but wholly unrestricted, or have limitations set on the number of riding days; vehicular access or movements; etc.
4.2 Access & Parking
There is a need for good vehicular access both on to and within the site for horse transport (both lorries and towed trailers). The nature and condition of roads, tracks and other features that affect access to the riding course should be noted.
The parking arrangements will also need to be on a scale suitable for this type of transport. It should be borne in mind that potential customers will be prepared to travel for about an hour (perhaps 30–50 miles) in order to reach a site and that several horses and riders may well travel together.
4.3 Ancillary Buildings
Facilities will vary widely and there may not even be a building dedicated to the enterprise. Accordingly, suitable enquiries will need to be made on site and details taken as appropriate.
4.4 The Course
Details should be taken of the course length; number of fences; its availability throughout the year and any disabilities (e.g. heavy clay) which might affect its ease of use. Enquiries should also be made about the numbers of riders using the course during a year; the payments charged and, if possible, a set of accounts obtained for the enterprise.
5. Rental Evidence
For a variety of reasons, generally connected with the system of farm tenure in England and Wales, it is highly unlikely that an equestrian cross-country course will be rented, but some farm tenancies may include a ‘ top up’ element for this activity.
A quasi-receipts and expenditure approach basis, taking a percentage of gross receipts, should be used for this class. See appropriate Practice Note for further details.
The rural location of these equestrian cross-country courses should always be borne in mind and the effect that this has on broad levels of value should not be overlooked. Courses situated close to urban areas or in popular tourist areas will be more valuable than those situated further from potential clients. This type of enterprise is not necessarily highly capital intensive and can provide a useful additional source of income, but it is not always as lucrative as it may appear at first sight. Indeed, there may be motives other than money that may induce landowners to operate courses of this type. For example, the undertaking can provide a very effective controlled access to the countryside, whilst at the same time, perhaps, satisfying a family need. As a generality, such courses are often run in conjunction with other diversification enterprises in a symbiotic way.
The need for co-ordination on this class between VOA Groups cannot be over emphasised.
The contents of this Section have been discussed with, and supplied to, UK Chasers.
1. Co-ordination Arrangements:
This is a Group Class; Co-ordination responsibilities are set out in Rating Manual – section 6 part 1.
There is no specific R2005 Special Category Code and therefore Special Category Code Leisure Miscellaneous 993 should be used. As a Group Class the appropriate suffix letter should be G.
In the unlikely event that an equestrian cross-country course has a rateable value over £25000, it will fall to be dealt with by Specialist Rating Unit Team 2 (Licensed and Leisure).
2. AVD Economic Considerations:
As a generality, this type of enterprise is gaining in popularity, from both the riders’ and landowners’ perspectives. However, there is evidence developing that appears to suggest a creeping oversupply of courses in some areas. Accordingly, a wide perspective of the local conditions and competition should be taken when attempting to assess enterprises of this type, for both Rating List compilation and subsequent maintenance.
Further uncertainties were brought into this particular market by the prospect of a Hunting Bill to ban hunting going through Parliament and the dramatic rise in third party insurance cover for equestrian activities during 2002/03.
3. Valuation Guidance
As indicated in the main Section, valuations should be based on a percentage of gross receipts for the enterprise. In this respect, great care should be taken to ensure that the receipts being considered do only relate to this specific undertaking.
It is vital to ensure that accounts reflect the reality of the operations. In this respect, it is possible, for example, that timber for the construction of the jumps, together with the labour to erect them, has come from the farm and these costs may not show in the accounts.
From the evidence currently available, income levels fluctuate and are very speculative. In Farm Development Review volume 13 no 10, published in August 1999, it was reported that the 21 courses then currently operating achieved between £2,500 and £11,000 a year, although discounts can materially affect income eg members of the British Horse Society and local pony and riding clubs. Accordingly, in view of this high risk factor and likely turnover being towards the lower end of the Tourist Attractions spectrum, the percentage to be adopted should be in the 4% to 7% range. Wherever possible, comparison should be made with other similar courses when both estimating receipts and determining the percentage to be adopted.
Consideration will need to be given to the total set up costs, being mindful to obtain details of any Rural Enterprise Grants obtained.
Care is needed that a commensurate and consistent percentage is adopted, whilst also bearing in mind other local tourist attractions. Reference should be made to Rating Manual Section 6 part 3: section 1085 Tourist Attractions
It should be remembered that margins on these, and other similar rural diversification operations, tend to be variable and a rating assessment based on an unnecessarily over-optimistic financial forecast could easily turn a small profit into a substantial loss. Courses situated near large centres of population may be more profitable than those located in more remote areas, but each case will depend on its own facts. Therefore there is a real need for VOA caseworkers to adopt a realistic “stand back and look” approach before making a final decision on value.
Further guidance can be obtained from the CEO Local Taxation Technical Adviser.