After recent high-profile equestrian break-ins — including at Olympic eventer Vittoria Panizzon’s yard — riders and yard owners are urged to be extra vigilant.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual told H&H claims for major thefts are on the rise.

“We have seen a number of large tack theft claims up to £30,000 recently. These tend to be at professional or large livery yards,” said NFU’s Nicki Whittaker.

“The last time we saw large claims like this was in 2011. While tack theft is always a problem for horse owners it is normally just a few items stolen — now it is big hauls.”

In March, H&H reported that equine-related crime was at its highest level for the past decade.

Italian rider Vittoria’s yard in Moreton-in-Marsh, Glos, was broken into earlier this month (4 June). Thousands of pounds worth of tack — including 16 saddles, 25 bridles and 20 bits — were stolen. Most of it was made by Italian manufacturer Pariani. Nothing as yet has been recovered although Vittoria has listed serial numbers of all items on her Facebook page.

“They bust a door to get in and took everything of value,” said Vittoria. “Every bit of leather work they could find has gone.”

Last month (21 May), dressage rider and trainer Sarah Turner had more than £10,000 worth of tack — including saddles, bridles and headcollars — stolen from her yard in Essex.

She is “almost certain” the thieves had  “some knowledge of the yard” as they came across two fields to reach the yard — before smashing through two doors with an empty gas bottle and a crow bar.

“It makes me sick to the stomach as to how anyone could do this,” she said.

“I have tried to help warn others by using social networks and we are currently considering ways of enhancing security in order to restore peace of mind.”

On 19 May, burglars took at least £7,000 worth of stock from a Yorkshire equestrian business, Hoofies Equestrian and Pet Supplies.

Owner Lauren Houfe said: “They took pretty much everything. I was left with
a few rugs, lead ropes and horse treats.”

Keighley Neighbourhood Watch is urging buyers to keep an eye out for “reduced price equestrian equipment”.

But why now?

“Over the past 10 years, crime in the countryside has become more organised and sophisticated,” said Ms Whittaker.

“Thieves are very aware of the value of items on or around livery yards.

“As the economic climate improves, it is possible that people are looking to invest in new tack and equipment. Where there is demand, thieves will be quick to fill this gap.”

She said this type of crime is highly organised and will involve criminals visiting a yard — sometimes on the pretence that they are lost.

Vittoria believes she was targeted as thieves knew she was away competing at Bramham.

“They must have had local knowledge,” she said. “They waited until I had gone.”

On the other hand, H&H knows of big yards that have not suffered a single theft in 15 years. But they tend to have strong, bolted doors, an alarmed tackroom and office, closed circuit TV and someone living on site.

Report it

David Collings of Hampshire Police warned that equine-related crime is never going to be high on the police priority list.

“Equine crime is not a ‘sexy subject’. The onus is on horse owners to act, to prevent as much as possible — by marking — but also to report if things are stolen,” he told H&H.

“Ask yourself where it goes. It must reappear somewhere — at tack sales, car boot sales or eBay — where it is bought by other horse owners,” he added. “Victims must equally become investigators in their own right. If they want to try and recover their property they must spend time researching all potential outlets where property could be disposed.

“Thieves will undoubtedly work on the theory that the public are not inquisitive enough or concerned about buying stolen goods or that their chances of getting caught in possession  of stolen property are limited.”

H&H reader Daryl Freeman said he has beefed up security measures.

“In the first three years I lived in Norfolk, I had rugs, equipment, jumps stolen every year,” he said. “I have stock fenced my yard as a result and I keep two dogs out with the horses as a deterrent.”

Vittoria admitted her security was “not as high as it could have been”, but that police told her “if thieves want to get in they will”.

H&H reader Rhona Glynn agreed. “I don’t think anybody is immune to tack theft regardless of how much security they have. These people are professionals,” she said.

H&H has in the past couple of years reported on two cases in which thieves were captured on CCTV camera, and still not caught.

Goods shipped abroad?

Big hauls could end up anywhere —with professional criminals often shipping the goods to Ireland or the Continent within hours.

Buyers should always check for markings if buying at tack sales or car boot sales and report anything suspicious.

“Pariani is an uncommon brand to find in Britain and Ireland, so I’d urge anyone to keep a look out at sales or online,” said Vittoria.

“I’m not sure how they plan to sell them on, as they will stand out like a sore thumb.”

In April, £15,000 of equipment was taken from a riding centre on the Hampshire-Surrey border. Owner Caroline Ewen said that information about burglaries needs to be shared between owners.

“Somewhere somebody is buying a saddle that cost £1,500 for virtually nothing. They should realise this might be stolen and report it,” she said.

And with eBay and similar sites growing in popularity, buyers are warned to take extra care.

H&H reader Phillippa Granger said she’d be suspicious of buying goods online.

“I would be aware if they were selling it really cheap or didn’t know what size it was,” she added.

As an owner, you need to be able to identify your belongings should they end up online.

“A clear picture will help the police identify your property and allow you to prove ownership if you see it offered for sale,” said Alison Cox from NFU.