Building Autumn Hill: The Ring

EN guest blogger Katie Murphy and her husband, Roger, are building their dream farm in New Hampshire, and we’ve invited her to blog about the adventure. This first installment details Kate and Roger’s year-long quest to buy the right property, and today’s post is all about putting in the ring. Ask Katie questions about the process at [email protected]. Visit her website at

The finished product

From Katie:

Roger and I operate at different speeds. I am a high-energy, calculative, on-the-go type. Roger is compulsive, meticulous and prefers a well-organized plan. Often, I’m telling him to hurry up, and he’s telling me to slow down. Together, we have made one another more flexible, and we have been able to strike a happy medium.

When purchasing this property, we had an agreement: I oversaw the equestrian projects, and Roger spearheaded the house projects. Once we legally owned Autumn Hill Farm, I hit the ground running with all things horses. In my mind, I thought, “It all has to get done, so let’s do it all at once and have it finished faster!” Roger was left in the dust wondering why things had to move so fast. Welcome to our first year of marriage.

First up: the riding ring. Positioned out of view from the house and at the dream size of 200-by-150, we were budget conscious regarding materials. Fortunately, the farm is a feasible distance to the same quarry where I bought my footing for the ring at my parent’s farm — stone dust, or as I like to call it, “miracle on a budget.”

This material does not get dusty, it remains moist and buoyant, there are no rocks and you can ride on it during a deluge. It also provides the option to add something else atop, such as rubber, if we chose to in the future. I love it. And, it’s cheap.

Enter Russel Jeffers of Jeffers Excavation. I had called the dirt guy who did my Hopkinton ring. He referred me to his friend who works in our area. I love dirt guys. They handle projects that dwarf riding rings. They understand land, material, drainage and ledge. And, they do it at fair prices without the equestrian mark up.

Russell was great: He viewed the site, discussed drainage options, researched riding rings and, most importantly, he listened. Within days of property ownership, the back field was inundated with bulldozers, massive trucks and other equipment.

Russell was efficient: clearing the loam and placing it in nice piles. We had to dig into one side of the field due to the slope to level the area. It all seemed so easy, and things were moving forward beautifully. Then I got the call, and Russell uttered the three words you never want to hear when you are building a riding arena: We. Hit. Ledge.

He called a friend who has a blasting company. They met us at the property the next day. We discussed the ledge location (smack in the middle), pricing, the effects on the land and the ring. Roger and I gulped. We alerted our neighbor with cattle, and over the next few days, the earth shook, neighbors called the police and we had a few visitors.

When you blast, you end up with roughly three times the amount of material from the area. Interpretation: That’s a lot of rock. Over the next week, Russell moved the rock and leveled out the ring. He and his crew worked their magic to raise the ring and provide better drainage than we originally expected. He left for two weeks on another job, allowing our sub-base to settle and compact before installing the drainage and stone dust.

We chose to have the center as the highest section of the ring, allowing for even drainage of surface water to both sides. The Hopkinton ring drained to one side, allowing for damaging run-off during storms. This larger area would have created the perfect opportunity for a nightmare.

The finishing touch was when Russell positioned the massive boulders along the ridge, providing the perfect view and convenient seating for visitors — a brilliant idea on his part! I have spread winter rye on the soil, and in the spring, we will spread more grass seed. We are eagerly awaiting a price quote from Crowe Fence and Deck Supply for a barrier around the perimeter of the ring.

You may ask why I chose to do the ring first. It was a combination of weather, availability and preserving our property. Russell is busy, and we were fortunate to slip in during an opening. Winter can move in fast in New Hampshire, and that can compromise the earth. To access the space, you need to drive around the antique barn, alongside the hayfield and up a hill.

A freeze, snow, and then a sudden thaw results in mud. In order for the big equipment to safely get to the site, we would have had to lay down large gravel in the driving path. I didn’t want rock in our fields. We were able to avoid all of that. I am excited for the christening of the ring when the barn is done and the horses are home!

Next up: Adventures around the home: heat (or lack thereof), visitors, and mystery. 


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