By Amber Heintzberger
May 14, 2020
As a sport uniquely connected to agriculture and the outdoors, and in a world where we are increasingly aware of the impact our decisions have on the climate and our future, sustainability and green initiatives are becoming priorities in the equestrian community. One facility leading the charge in implementing environmentally-friendly strategies is Stable View, a premier equestrian training facility located on 1,000 acres in Aiken, South Carolina.
Photo of the Stable provided by Stable View
The winter base for equestrians including Boyd and Silva Martin, steeplechase jockey Mark Beecher and dressage rider Nuno Santos, Stable View is a former hunting lodge purchased in 2010 by Barry and Cyndy Olliff. The initial property features a main barn, kennels for the hunting dogs (now converted to luxury accommodations), and several outbuildings. Over the years they’ve added indoor and outdoor arenas with Attwood Equestrian Surfaces footing, a cross country course built by ETB Equine Construction, gallops, 35 quarter-acre turnout paddocks, and various buildings including their own permanent residence.
Photo of the Pavilion provided by Stable View
Aside from the beautiful open timber Main Barn, the showpiece of Stable View is their LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certified Pavilion, located at the heart of the facility. The Pavilion is situated between the main arena and the cross country course, near the main barn, and is used not only for viewing competitions but for gatherings including wedding receptions.
Farm owner Barry Olliff, who lives at Stable View year-round with his wife Cyndy since retiring from a career in finance, described why the LEED Gold Certified Pavilion is a key feature.
“A lot of things here are done in a marketing context. If you look at the changing habits of consumers, you can respond to those needs. What do you leave behind? We had never built an environmentally friendly house, but as the centerpiece of this property we wanted an LEED certified building. We couldn’t afford platinum, but GOLD is something to be proud of, and it also costs us a lot less to run than an equivalent facility that’s not LEED certified.”
To attain certification, the building had to meet certain criteria for which it earns points. Olliff said, “I think we got 41 points and you need 40. You don’t build the building and then find out if you earned the points, you design the building around the output: we targeted 42 points and got 41. It has huge amounts of insulation, automatic blinds, low-flush toilets, lighting that turns itself on and off, LED lights, and a fancy water filtration system. Ninety per cent of the products used in its construction had to come from no more 500 miles away, so you have a very low carbon footprint. Amenities range from having a hookup for electric cars and bicycle stalls, and the wood is from sustainable forests. The thing really is, it’s about education. Wedding couples love having their weddings in the pavilion, and that’s an education in itself: people start out by asking what the certification means, and end up very intrigued.”
The Olliffs have been weathering the COVID-19 shutdown by making improvements to the property. In January the farm was hit by a tornado that wiped out one of their stabling areas, so they’ve been cleaning up the debris from fallen trees, and have also completed construction on a rider’s lounge.
They plan to open up for competitions in the near future, and have a list of precautions and guidelines for social distancing and sanitation. “We’re talking about weddings again, too. It’s good business, because we also provide accommodations. That’s really the important thing for us. We can still offer accommodations, as long as people act responsibly.”
Photo of a "controlled burn" as part of a forest management project provided by Stable View
The property, which is bisected by Little Horse Creek, is part Piedmont, featuring deciduous trees closer to the river, and part Sandhills, where the longleaf pines grow. Olliff explained, “That divide runs across this part of South Carolina, and it’s neat to have it on the property – that’s why the Native Americans liked it, for the biodiversity, which is why Cyndy has this amazing collection of arrowheads.”
In February, they conducted a controlled burn as part of their forest management project. “Controlled burns are to restore the undergrowth back to its natural habitat, to encourage flora and fauna,” said Olliff. “If you look up 200-300 years ago, South Carolina was full of longleaf pines and the natural cleansing mechanism was fire. Obviously those were natural burns; these days we tend to stop fires and keep an eye out for these things, but now the undergrowth is creating a dense, prickly undergrowth that the animals can’t survive in. So after a burn you have a massive return of rabbits and little rodents and things, which will encourage things like bobcats to return as well.”
Drone view of a "controlled burn" provided by Stable View
A Haven for Birds
Photo of some of the young bird inhabitants of the bird sanctuary provided by Stable View
Of particular pride at Stable View is the bird sanctuary. The property is a former bird hunting lodge, but these days it is a safe haven for quail, kestrel, blue birds, screech owls, killdeer, as well as the red cockaded woodpecker.
“There are hundreds of birds on the property but these are the ones that are fledging,” said Olliff. “We also have purple martin and wood duck boxes, but we haven’t seen any yet. We go around and look at them, and do ‘trail monitoring’. We have a bird box monitoring system and send the results to the South Carolina Blue Bird society. Last year, we were down to about 83 birds, but the year before we were at nearly 100. This year we’re going gangbusters. We also have bat boxes, because we’re trying to help with our fly and mosquito population.”
At any large equine facility, there’s bound to be plenty of used bedding, especially after an event. Stable View uses a composting system to turn the waste into topsoil that they use to enrich the pastures and cross country courses on the property. Used bedding is collected in trailers, then hauled to a manure area. Because runoff from manure piles can be a problem, they are located in a big, flat area with sandy soil where runoff filters into the ground rather than running off into a stream. There are currently piles for different years: 2018, 2019 and 2020. The 2018 pile has been turned six times this year.
“I’m now using it and putting it out with a big John Deer Frontier spreader,” said Olliff. “It’s about 7% nitrogen and it’s improving the quality of our very sandy soil. It’s not as liked by the Celebration Bermuda grass as it is by ordinary Coastal Bermuda, but in terms of sustainability it’s amazing, because it’s nearly free. In fact it would cost us money to get it off the property.”
He said that as long as the temperature in the pile reaches 350 degrees, it kills all the seeds and bugs and things that they don’t want to spread around. “We check the temperature regularly, like a steak on a barbie,” he said. “It’s bubbling away in the middle because it gets the rain on it, and the chemical reaction is to create heat – there’s a lot of ammonia in there. But that all goes away with composting; if you pick this stuff up in your hand it’s the most beautiful, loamy soil.”
A Vision for the Future
Photo of the Pavilion provided by Stable View
Olliff's long-term goal is to make the property available for people to use. “One of the reasons for putting in accommodation is because we thought people would like to look around and see the place. The trails will have the names of different Native tribes. Eventually, we want to add a trail riding business and a large glamping site with ten tents in a field way out the back that we call the hay field. You can see these beautiful sunsets from there. Between that and the permanent accommodations like cabins, we’d like to see this become a center for trail riding in other parts of the state, too. There are a lot of State Parks with trails in South Carolina, but no accommodations. People could stay here for five days or so, ride in Hitchcock Woods, Sumter National Park and the other parks that are around, and they could see the different environments.”
He hopes that the events of the last few months will encourage people to get outdoors. “With social distancing and people not being so comfortable around each other, this is an ideal way to get away from home because it’s not like a hotel where everyone is on top of each other. You can do things your way and enjoy a casual holiday. We’re trying to think about what it is we have here, and how what we’ve got can be sustained.”