Organisers of and participants in a fundraising pleasure ride have criticised the behaviour of hunt saboteurs who were demonstrating during the event.
The Barlow’s “Challenge Smeekley” ride on 6 June was supposed to be a “really lovely experience”, master Joanne Riley told H&H — but it did not work out that way.
Joanne said the hunt has held a number of rides, in a Covid-safe manner, with optional jumps and no need for any riders to go on the road.
“I was the main organiser and I’d put signs out, on the 10km course, flagged the jumps, decided where the steward would be and made sure everything was safe,” she said. “But [one member of campaign group Derbyshire Against Blood Sports] was taking groups round and dropping them off at certain points. They had bike security chains, and they used them to lock gates.
“But these weren’t just private land, they were access to public bridleways. We had stewards at the gates but some were elderly and you can’t expect them to tackle a group of five to seven saboteurs.”
Joanne said she was called to one altercation, involving one such steward and a group of about six adult saboteurs, and two children.
“I asked the steward if he wanted to leave and he said they were trying to lock the gate,” she said. “He said I should call the police, they were yelling at him.”
Joanne managed to get the next group of riders through the gate; she said others had been locked by the sabs and the chains cut by stewards. Two groups of riders were sent the wrong way, ending up on roads, when they should not have had to do so. Directional signs had also been removed.
“That was bad enough as it compromises people’s safety,” she said. “But when the riders got on the roads, that’s when the sabs appeared, with their banners and things. What they’d done would mean people went on the lanes, so they marched down and held them up. The large banners frightened the horses — luckily some of the girls had cameras on them, and we were really lucky no one was injured.”
Rider Emily Moyle and a friend were among those on the ride, which they were unaware was organised by a hunt.
“We were about halfway through, going down a track, when Hope, Charlotte’s horse, stopped as she could see something,” Emily told H&H.
“My horse, Harlie, is a bit braver so he went past but then a group of people appeared out of nowhere. They were wearing balaclavas and had two big flags. They walked towards us and we asked them to put the flags down as they were scaring the horses, but they completely ignored us.
“As we got closer, we asked again and they started shouting at us, calling us vile scum and supporting foxhunting, and waving the flags in the horses’ faces. We were trying to tell them we were just out on a pleasure ride, to enjoy our horses, but they took no notice.”
Emily said Charlotte’s horse reared and spun away, and Harlie followed suit a moment later.
Emily explained that Harlie has polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) – a disease that can cause tying up. Harlie is well managed and under veterinary and a physio’s care, and cleared for the amount of work he does.
“He’s fine but he got so frightened because he thought they were trying to hit him in the face with their flags, he started tying up and his back legs went from under him,” she said.
“He went down on one side and scrambled back up. We were shouting at them ‘please stop, you’re going to hurt our horses, please let us past’, but they just didn’t.
“My horse kicks and it’s lucky he didn’t; I was trying to hold him back as they had kids with them.”
The riders had to let their horses turn back, and they met a steward who directed them back to where they had parked the trailer, where they discovered another group of sabs with flags.
“We’re so lucky there were no serious injuries,” said Emily. “What they were doing was likely to make the horses rear, and we could have come off. I understand most of them are well-meaning people who want to protest against hunting but some of them took it too far, and I wonder if they’re informed enough to know what they’re talking about, or know the different between hunting and a fun ride.
“This isn’t something we’re comfortable talking about as it’s so upsetting but people need to know.”
Joanne said the hunt is now “having a complete rethink”, adding: “But we won’t stop.
“Their big thing is that it was a peaceful protest, but it wasn’t. Locking gates so people get lost, frightening horses and being verbally abusive; that’s not peaceful. I saw them verbally abusing a 69- or 70-year-old man, who went white, my heart went out to him.
“And although the ride raises funds for the hunt, we also do things like maintaining the hunter trials course, which we use for lots of things; we do fallen stock collection, a real community service. They want things to be black and white and they’re not.
“They think their tactics will force us into a corner but that’s not going to happen; the fun rides will go on.”
’The chairman is to make formal complaints against the police and prosecutors’
In response to H&H’s approach to Derbyshire Against Blood Sports for comment, Derby Hunt Saboteurs said: “We are aware of posts on social media that claim hunt saboteurs attacked a horse and rider who were on a pleasure ride. On 5 June, Challenge Smeekley, an event organised as fundraiser for the Barlow Hunt was held. Ever since published leaked documents have revealed the hunt are trying to disassociate from the event, it has attracted regular protest. On the same day some protestors walked part of the event’s route that was on public bridleways: something which they are legally allowed to do. Most of the day passed without incident.
“However, one rider shouted at the protestors, turned around and rode the opposite way. A red ribbon was observed tied to the tail of the horse, one protestor informed the others what this meant, and protestors stayed back before continuing their walk along the route. We are shocked to learn of the accusations. It was unfortunate that a rider was not prepared to share the bridleway with ‘antis’.”
In response to some of the other claims made, the group replied: “We strongly deny the false and malicious allegations.”
Derby Hunt Saboteurs said they had evidence that “proved [their] version of events” but added: “As there is an apparent police investigation video footage would best be served on the police rather than the media.”
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade to access our H&H Plus online service which brings you breaking news as it happens as well as other benefits.