Hunter hireling businesses are being hit hard as horsesport across the UK continues to suffer due to the effects of the bad weather.

The snow, ice and frost has made it impossible for many packs to get out, which has had a serious financial impact on both hunts and the businesses that rent horses to people wanting to ride with them.

Lesley Douglas from Roxburghshire in Scotland supplies horses for the Duke of Buccleuch’s and Jed Forest Foxhounds. For 10 days she has not been able to get the horses out of the stable, let alone to meets.

“We were riding in the snow, but this frost is impossible. We can’t risk turning them out — they are expensive horses and I worry they’ll slip and injure themselves,” she said.

Ms Douglas is losing much of her income. She usually hires out four to six horses a week at £150 each. She also employs two staff in her riding school business, which she has had to close temporarily.

“I’m halfway through selling a horse, but no one can get here to vet it, so that has stalled too. And I’ve had to cancel the farrier. It’s having a knock-on effect on everyone.”

A slip can prove fatal

Jill Carenza of Cotswold Riding in Glos, who rents horses for numerous hunts including the VWH, North Cotswold and Warwickshire, had a hunter put down after it slipped on the yard recently. She hasn’t been able to hire her horses out for two weeks.

“We’ve been hit very hard — usually we have 20-25 horses out on a Saturday at £220 for a half day. Luckily, we have insurance but smaller yards, who can’t afford this, must really feel it. It’s bound to affect the sport as a whole.”

And Sue Clarke, in West Yorkshire, who has 19 horses in work, said everything has ground to a halt for the past fortnight. She also supplies horses for films and TV and warned that you can’t rely solely on a hireling business.

“We’re keeping them fit in the indoor school, but overheads are double. Work takes twice as long, they eat more to keep warm and water is carried to the yard by hand,” she added.

The weather has also wreaked havoc on wider horse sport, causing the cancellation of 49 race meetings between 27 November and 21 December, three point-to-points and several British Dressage and British Showjumping fixtures over the past month.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (23 December 2010)