11 April 1997



TO ISOLATE hunting and allow it to be picked off by those who would have field sports banned will leave all countryside activities vulnerable, warned Sir David Steel MP, summing up the countryside seminar, one of the major events in National Riding Week.

"Stand up and be counted," he urged all who have the interests of the countryside at heart.

Michael Clayton, editor-in-chief of Horse and Hound pointed out that hunting was the strongest riding sport in the UK involving 60,000 horses and providing 9000 jobs, all of which were at risk. Drag hunting was no answer, he said.

The need to speak with one voice was stressed by several speakers at the Countryside Movement run seminar. Professor Graham Suggett, former principal of Warwickshire Agricultural College, spoke of the horses economic importance. He listed the threats to the horse industry as the "antis", who were already directing their attention to horse racing and eventing, politicians and the industry itself. It was too fragmented, he said, and lacked a responsible body to lobby on its behalf.

Sir David announced an amalgamation which could help fill the void. The Countryside Movement was about to amalgamate with the Countryside Business Group and the British Field Sports Society, he said, and this would give "one single, loud and effective voice in these matters …able to speak to government, to the public and to the media."


The horse industry contributes more than £1bn to the economy of this country, said Professor Suggett, and employs 125,000 people, equivalent to one worker in every 200.

It offers more work for young people in the countryside than agriculture, he said, and 13,000 people were in training for it at the moment either in colleges or training yards.

Professor Suggett has made a study of the horses economic role and his extensive list of businesses that benefit from the industry, either directly or indirectly, runs alphabetically from abattoirs to vets and takes in such diverse ones as BT and cellular phone companies, paper mills and importers and surface, track and menage construction companies.

Straw is one of the many agricultural products consumed by the horse industry. "Surveys show that bedding is purchased by the industry to a retail value of £60m, a significant proportion of which would be straw purchased from UK farmers," he pointed out.

Hunt stables and kennels had a £103m turnover attributable to hunting and provided assistance to farmers in the disposal of fallen stock (0.4m carcasses in 1995), he said.

"What is undoubtably true is that the horse touches upon the professional and recreational aspects of many peoples lives," he said. "Without the horse not only would a significant proportion of the rural working population be unemployed and many firms put out of business, but many ancillary industries would have considerably less work available.

"Because of its disparate and dispersed nature, the economic contribution of the horse-related industries is often ignored and unrecognised and we need to make more effort to educate the general public and the decision makers as to the importance of the industry," he said.

Genetic improvement

An overseas practice of not using mares for breeding without first proving them as useful working animals was one of the points raised by the Princess Royal, who presided over National Riding Week and opened its countryside seminar.

The importance of improving UK horse breeding was a matter of concern to several of the speakers. Michael Clayton pointed out that it was the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, in whose premises the seminar was held, who had put up the initial funding for the British Horse Database, now run by Wetherbys. By recording not only the breeding but the performance of all British horses and ponies, the BHD was helping to bring about an improvement in that breeders could be more selective, he said.

The importance of recording geldings was also stressed as their performances help prove the value of their sires, dams, brothers and sisters.

Ann Rogers

Sir David Steel: Support hunting for the sake of the countryside, he says.