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Growing fears of sabotage sparked several showing competitors at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) to mount round-the-clock watches on their horses.

Owners and producers have become increasingly wary this year following allegations of an acid attack on coloured pony Kellys Dream (news, 13 August) at the Royal International Horse Show in July and the slashing of supreme hunter Woodfield Indo at Dublin Horse Show in August (showing, 13 August).

Rosemary Hetherington, owner of winning lightweight and reserve cob champion Hallmark IX, was so worried she paid for two security guards to watch her horse 24 hours a day at HOYS — at a rumoured cost of more than £1,000.

“Given what happened at Dublin, and knowing I had a horse in form, I thought it was better to be safe than sorry,” she told H&H.

Jayne Webber, who clinched the supreme horse title with The Philanderer, said: “Threats are certainly on the increase. I received an anonymous call at the British Show Horse Association [BSHA] National Championships last month.”

She added she has been “very, very vigilant” since 1994, after receiving death threats to her lightweight hunter Sudden Flight.

Producer Julian Quiney concurred that added security is something that must be considered now.

“Security is a constant worry when you produce a successful animal that you consider to be in with a real chance,” he said.

Although he did not place extra watch on his horses at HOYS, showman Robert Walker told H&H he strongly maintains one of his rides was doped several years ago.

“It’s a great shame for showing if we have to start going to these lengths to protect our horses,” he said.

BSHA chairman and showing producer Nigel Hollings also mounted watch on “Team Hollings” horses and ponies.

“It was more of a precaution than a necessity, but we were all happier having done it,” he said.

H&H showing reporter Margaret Shaw said threats of sabotage are not new — but explained that many competitors believe internet chatrooms fuel anxiety.

Managing director of HOYS Helena Pettit said that although no extra staff were taken on in light of the growing concerns, security at the show is always “very stringent”.

“We put up perimeter fencing and have 24-hour security, CCTV and dedicated stable security,” she said, adding that HOYS was only aware of one competitor receiving death threats to their cob, but security was an ongoing issue this season.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (15 October, ’09)