Murrumbateman’s million-dollar equestrian arenas are not fit for purpose, according to local horse riders frustrated their concerns have not been heard for two years.
The village’s pony club lost half of its members to the pony club twenty minutes away in Yass because the arenas established in 2018 caused too many injuries to the horses, said Shauna Haipola, chief instructor of the Pony Club Association of NSW’s Zone 16, which includes Murrumbateman.
The main issue is the type of sand used by Yass Valley Council in the arenas, according to Ms Haipola and several others.
“What they put down is like beach sand and too much of it. It is like walking along the top edge of the beach, the sand falls away,” Ms Haipola said.
Pony clubs often use older horses that have more riding experience to teach young people how to ride. However, that also means their joints are older and more susceptible to injuries on the wrong surface, Ms Haipola explained.
“It is like a younger or older person – a younger person could cope with running through heavy sand at the beach, but an older person could not,” Murrumbateman Adult Riding Club President Sally Jones said.
The adult riding club can use the arenas because the general age of its horses is younger. However, Ms Jones conceded the current surface was “poor” and sympathised with the pony club.
A Yass Valley Council spokesperson said it had consulted with “equestrian specialists on the type of sand used”.
However, the spokesperson admitted the depth of sand was reduced from 75 millimetres to 50mm in two of the three arenas, “after consultation with equestrian groups”.
Another issue is the base beneath the sand, which does not allow water to drain, according to Ms Haipola.
“On a wet day like we recently had, the arenas are flooded. But at the same time, it is almost better riding when it is wet because it is like running at the beach on sand closer to the water, it is firmer,” she said.
The base is also uneven, which can be dangerous, according to local horse-riding instructor Amanda Halliday.
“The base has not been prepared properly, there are a lot of divots that cause bumps under the surface. So if you have a horse coming at those at the wrong angle it is going to cause injuries,” she said.
The fencing around the arenas is also incorrect, according to Ms Halliday.
“They built the rails around the outside and used square timber posts, so when you have horses at high speed coming into that, you have a hardwood, sharp-edged timber post with nothing on the inside,” she said.
The council has, like the depth of the sand, also made changes to the fences following feedback from horse riders, the council spokesperson said.
“The fencing was designed and constructed in consultation with several equestrian specialists. Council changed the position of the fencing rails on one of the small arenas at the request of the equestrian user groups at the site. The rails are now on the inside of the post and rail fence,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said they did not think the rails that remain on the outside of the main arenas had “not been an issue”.
The arenas were built by funding from the council and NSW Government in a bid to stop horse riders from using the grassy oval at Murrumbateman Recreation Grounds, according to Ms Jones and Ms Halliday.
However, given the condition of the arenas, many would prefer to be back on the oval, Ms Jones said.
The pony club no longer uses the arenas and is using the old sand arena and cross-country course in Murrumbateman, Ms Haipola said.
“Murrumbateman Pony Club tried its best to work with the council, use the arenas as they were and try to get some changes, but the council has not been particularly interested in listening,” she said.
Horse owner Jayne Hooper said she would not use the arenas again after using them twice for show jumping.
“Both times, our horse had a shoulder problem due to the depth of the sand. It breaks my heart to see them empty all of the time. At the moment they are not a community asset, but a waste of taxpayers’ money,” she said.
Ms Halliday has spent more money building a roof over her home arena to make it suitable to provide lessons in all weather conditions.
She thought the community arenas were meant to be all-weather, which she would have preferred because they are larger than private arenas.
Another issue has been the promise of dedicated horse yards and a water station at the arenas, which were never delivered.
Murrumbateman Pony Club president Robert McLachlan is hopeful those, plus a dedicated amenity building, could still be delivered after consulting with the council.
“Our goal is to work with the council to achieve the facilities we want. The council has put in a grant application for the amenities building and secured a reasonable figure. However, the facility required is of a value greater than the grant funding,” Mr McLachlan said.
A $275,045 grant was secured under round three of the Stronger Country Communities Fund, the council spokesperson said.
Currently, horse riders walk to the amenities on the other side of the recreation grounds, which is a challenge when you have young children and horses without yards, local mother Karen O’Rourke said.
“If our child wants to go to the toilet, we have to lead them back to the yards on the other side of the oval, unsaddle the horse and get to the toilet before they wet themselves,” Ms O’Rourke said.
Horse riders are also using the moon shed on the other side of the recreation grounds to store equipment.
“The council is seeking additional funding through grants to complete the horse yards and wash area,” the council spokesperson said. “The council is investigating other stabilisation options for the sand within the arenas.”
Part of the problem of making the arenas suitable for all has been the number of stakeholders involved, according to Mr McLachlan.
“Even members of Murrumbateman Pony Club differ on their views,” he said.
The council spokesperson gave a similar reason when asked by the Yass Valley Times why these problems had occurred.
“The arenas are multipurpose, and one size does not fit all. They are designed to be as practical as can be for a variety of equestrian usages,” the spokesperson said.
Ms Haipola said the pony club had offered to raise funds for the additional infrastructure.
“The arenas have the potential to be a really big drawcard for the Yass Valley. There are so many horse owners, and it is central within the region,” she said.