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Tack thieves get away with an average haul worth £30,000, according to new crime figures.

A survey by insurers NFU Mutual, based on claims at more than 300 of the company’s rural branches, suggests that tack is ninth on the top-10 list of items stolen in the countryside. Number one is quad bikes.

And 70% of agents say rural crime is on the up.

The survey was based on claims from January-June this year and agents were asked to compare claims against the same period in 2009.

“Since our last survey in 2007, horse thefts have decreased — due to a combination of microchipping, visible security markings and better traceability of horses as a result of passports. Nine were recorded last year and none so far this year,” said Nicola Whittaker from NFU Mutual.

“But tack thefts are on the rise and different people are being targeted. A couple of years ago we found most tack theft was opportunist — a bridle here, a saddle there. Now thieves are aiming for livery yards and businesses and the average theft has risen to around £30,000.

“Thieves plan very meticulously, and theft on a grand scale can ruin careers and businesses.”

Tack and rugs cleaned out

Sussex was found to be one of the worst affected counties, with over a dozen tack-theft claims in May alone. East Anglia and Wales are also recorded to have been badly hit.

West Sussex-based dressage rider Amy Stovold had her tackroom raided while she was competing in Saumur.

“We had really tight security — but they got past all the cameras and alarms. If thieves want to get in, they will,” Amy said.

All Amy’s saddles were bespoke and their loss could have made a big impact on her career.

“I had to go a week with no saddles at all and then it took a few weeks to break in the new ones — it was a complete nightmare,” she added.

But lower-value items are also vulnerable. Just after the snow this year, 46 Rambo rugs were stolen off the backs of racehorses at trainer Evan Williams’s Glamorgan yard.

“It was cold, so they had turnout rugs over their stable rugs and all the top rugs were taken. They were stabled away from the main yard but these people must have known what they were doing and have been used to handling horses — they had to go right past the stable lads’ flats.

“There must have been a fair few of them, too, as they had to carry 46 rugs across a 14-acre field.”

Mr Williams admitted the yard may have had a slightly blasé attitude about theft before, but they have now labelled all property and put security fencing and cameras around the perimeter.

Check second-hand tack before buying

Theft at horse shows is also on the rise. “If someone is carrying a saddle [at a show], no one will think twice. Don’t leave your tack unattended,” added Ms Whittaker.

NFU Mutual warns against buying tack at car boots and online auction sites and suggests checking on new website www.itsbeennicked.co.uk before buying second-hand.

“We recently had a case where a £1,000 dressage saddle was stolen and later bought at a car boot sale in a neighbouring county for just £50. Fortunately, because the saddle was marked — and the buyer was honest — the saddle was recovered,” said Ms Whittaker.

Garry Porter from Horsewatch warned: “People need to stop buying second-hand tack without knowing exactly where it has come from. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

NFU Mutual also suggests keeping tack at home rather than at a livery yard.

The survey also found trailers are at risk, as thieves will steal them to transport stolen goods. And thefts for scrap metal also appear to be on the rise, such as the theft of a lifesize bronze horse statue at Addington (news, 27 May) and the £150,000-worth of trophies from racehorse owner Raymond Mould (news, 22 July).

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (29 July, ’10)