A horsebox carrying Olympic gold medal-winning dressage star Valegro has become the latest to be targeted by illegal migrants desperate to board trains and ferries headed for Britain.

Calais’ migrant crisis is posing increasing problems for horseboxes returning from France.

The dressage star was preparing to board a train at the terminal on his return from a demo in Norway last week (Wednesday, 22 October) when a stowaway was discovered clinging on under the chassis.

“We had queued at a manned booth to check in for the train, with just a couple of cars in front of us, and after checking in we were told to pull over once we’d gone through the barrier,” travelling groom Alan Davies told H&H.

“I thought they just wanted to check the gas was off, as they do that on the trains, but security came over and looked under the lorry.

“They then said: ‘There’s someone under there.’ They’d seen him on CCTV waiting around and when he’d disappeared they became suspicious.”

With the threat of a £2,000 fine if caught with a stowaway on board, Alan had taken sensible precautions and not stopped or refuelled near Calais. But as the largest vehicle in the queue, Valegro’s transport offered the most accessible target for a clandestine passenger.

“I told them I hadn’t stopped since Belgium but they told me not to panic,” said Alan.

The police arrived with a sniffer dog and took the man away.

“We were allowed to go — but if I’d gone through any further then I would’ve been fined. I’ve seen migrants hanging around in groups but I’ve never had any worries before, it was a big shock,” he added.

Migrants have been reported to target openly slow-moving traffic as it queues to board at the port and have sometimes launched aggressive attacks on vehicles.

‘Hundreds waiting to pounce’

British Driving Society (BDS) competitor Charlie Bailey was returning at night from a buying trip to Holland earlier this year when he witnessed crowds of migrants trying to board lorries as they queued for the train.

“There were hundreds of faces appearing out of the bushes waiting to pounce on the next lorry that passed,” he said. “Three or four people ran up to the lorry next to us and started undoing the back doors and one crawled underneath. The lorry drove off and he was left lying in the middle of the road. Others were just walking down the middle of the traffic.”

Freelance groom Alex van Tuyll told H&H she had seen “a lot of migrants” when passing through Calais when returning from Pau (26 October) but “thankfully had no problems.”

John Parker of John Parker International horse transport, which is based in Dover, said migrants have always been an issue at the port, but told H&H that the problem had escalated recently.

“We’ve had several incidents over the years and last week we found someone under the chassis and had to drag them back out,” he said.

“They can be aggressive. One of my drivers was driving outside Calais slowly and they surrounded him and threatened him but you just keep your head down and carry on,” he said. “We have CCTV in the cab to keep an eye on the horse compartment and we tell the drivers to be careful, but we’ve just got to live with it.”

Thousands of migrants in Calais

Figures released last week suggest there are more than 2,300 migrants roaming the streets of Calais — up from 1,500 in August — prompting the French government to consider building a refuge at the port.

With ferries leaving for Britain every half an hour or so, the port is an attractive place for migrants.

Riot police last week used tear gas to ward off hundreds of migrants attempting to board lorries. An extra 100 policemen have also been sent to the town.

A Home Office spokesman said border security was a “priority” and that they were working “to address the wider problem of illegal migration”.

“We have increased joint intelligence work with the French to target the organised crime gangs behind smuggling and people trafficking,” the spokesman added.

“These criminals are constantly modifying their tactics in an attempt to evade strengthened border controls and we are seeing increasingly dangerous methods being used.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (30 October 2014).