Protestors have ridden their horses through the streets of a Northen Irish town to object to a world-class equestrian facility going to waste.

The 230-acre Necarne Estate is owned by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and leased by Ireland’s Department of Agriculture. It has been lying empty since the department moved its equine courses to Enniskillen four years ago.

The £4million facility includes cross-country, steeplechase and point-to-point courses, a 300-seat indoor arena, two outdoor arenas and stabling for 80 horses.

There are also laboratories that formed part of a sport horse breeding operation that closed in 2001.

Maintenance for the unoccupied site has cost the Department of Agriculture £400,000, and while Necarne was put up for sale or lease three years ago, no suitable takers were found.

Protests were sparked after the council recently invited proposals for the estate, saying that it was happy to consider non-equestrian uses.

“The council is failing to ensure the £5million plus of public funds invested in Necarne benefits its intended use, and benefits huge community needs,” said protesters the Ad Hoc Saving Necarne Group.

“Horse riders bravely took to the streets to protest about the council failing to protect affordable provision for equestrian and equine therapy and Riding for Disabled needs in the terms of any lease of Necarne.”

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Thirty “older, calmer” horses were ridden through the centre of Enniskillen on Saturday, 1 October where they were joined by other groups who believe they should be considered in any proposal for the site, including cyclists, runners and walkers.

The protesters say that given the considerable public investment in the site — which includes a 19th century castle — it should not be sold or leased to benefit private shareholders, but handed over to an appropriate community trust.

“The group want to involve mental health and wellbeing, equine therapy, historic building, equine, cyclist, fitness, marketing, events, renewable energy and organic gardening experts in Necarne’s future so it becomes a model of future health and wellbeing,” they added.