There is normally no love lost between Britain’s traditional fox hunting community and “hunt saboteurs” bent on banning and disrupting hunts, sometimes resulting in violent clashes.
But in an incident captured on video, the two factions put aside their passions about foxes, briefly united by love for a different animal.
A horse had become trapped in a bog during the hunt in the county of Surrey in the south of England on Sunday, Jan. 14.
The dramatic moment on Hankley Common was captured by the local “hunt saboteurs” who posted it to Facebook where one video has been seen over 100,000 times in five days.
As the name suggests, these groups typically aim to disrupt hunts, sometimes sparking confrontation and even violence.
When the Guildford Hunt Saboteurs realised what had happened to the horse, they offered to help.
In the video clips several of the hunting party can be seen trying to free the trapped horse. In one extended clip, after about 10 minutes the horse is finally freed, after a little help from the “hunt sabs” as they are often known.
Jeremy Gumbley of the Surry Hunt Union told the Daily Mail that the horse was fine.
“The horses are part of the team and we care for them just as much as anyone else. To have that happen is a potential disaster.”
He thanked the sabs for their help.
“In the past, we have come to blows over different opinions on various things, but we all love animals.
‘They helped us and the huntsman get the horse into a safer position where the horse could stand up to its tummy in water.”
A member of the saboteurs told the Daily Mail that initially the hunt had refused his offer of help.
“I observed at the side and carried on taking footage,” said the saboteur, who did not give his name.
Eventually, as more saboteurs arrived on the scene, the members of the hunt let them help.
“I jumped in after about five minutes and said to them ‘look, the only thing that’s important at this point in time is the horse, I don’t care about anything else.”
The hunters and the sabs are at odds not simply over the matter of the morality of chasing foxes. For the last 12 years they have been caught in a tussle of the interpretation of a very fuzzy law on fox hunting.
The Hunting Act was originally intended to outlaw dog pack hunting of foxes. By the time it cleared the lawmaking chambers in 2004, however, it had been watered down.
Much to the anger of the anti-hunt lobby, traditional hunts continued after the ban in 2004, following scent trails instead of a live fox.
If hunters happen to flush out a real fox, as sometimes happens, the law gets complex and a little fuzzy, both sides complain.
For example, if a fox is caught up in a fake trail hunt by a pack of dogs, then the prosecution has to prove intent on the part of the hunters. Two dogs, not three, can be used to deliberately flush out a fox toward a waiting shotgun in some situations.
Many in the hunting community say the ban was never about animal welfare—which they argue is little helped by the law—but class war on countryside “toffs.” For many, fox hunting is synonymous with stuffy countryside aristocracy in riding finery.