Since telling the shoot we won’t let them use the land we rent, we have been beset by a series of unfortunate events.
It began more than a year ago now, when we first dug in our heels and said there were to be no standing guns in the fields where we keep our horses.
The lady who owns the land backed us. They didn’t help themselves by demanding to use it for free. The idea was, we pay the rent and move our horses somewhere else during the shooting season so they can shoot pheasants in it. I don’t think so.
They argued that they had established a recent history of using the land, albeit unbeknown to the owner. When we took it over, we found a hole in her back fence line and a makeshift stile on to her land across a ditch from a neighbouring field.
The land had been very badly run down by the tenants who had struggled with the small amount of grazing left them in the winter once the shoot had commandeered their biggest field, which was padlocked.
The couple told us they had no idea the shoot weren’t allowed on the land, and never thought to ask their landlady why they were shut out.
After signing the lease, we soon encountered locals walking through our horse paddocks who shouted at us to get out of their way because ‘the shoot let us walk in here and this is their land’.
We nursed the little smallholding back to health, rested it, refenced it, and the landlady was delighted. But the anger of the shoot boys has been a constant refrain in the background.
‘We’ll see how you get on without us,’ said one of them to the builder boyfriend. But the worst thing was the thought of falling out with the keeper, an old friend of mine.
I explained to him that I had to say no on this issue, because we cannot let men with guns near our horses and we cannot afford to rent a separate place for the shooting season. He said he understood. And I believe him.
But someone is upset, is my feeling. We have not had a month at this place without trouble. Our fences have been down almost more than they’ve been up. A friend of ours who has horses nearby found our piebald pony Duey at 6 a.m. one morning outside the gate trying to get back into his field where his companion Jim was standing alone and bemused.
She was holding the pony with a rope when we got there. She looked as freaked out as Duey. ‘How did he get out?’ she demanded, surveying the seemingly impenetrable layers of post and rail and electric fencing running all the way around the fields and stable yard.
Later, we found a small section of severed wire where, of course, the pony had to have pushed through after the electric must have failed. Right? ‘I would have let you know your horse was out but…’ said the keeper, when he pulled up in his off-roader, a faraway look in his eyes. ‘…I can’t get involved now.’
‘Keep your cameras on,’ he said, before driving away.
A few weeks ago, we arrived to total chaos. The fences between the paddocks had been stampeded down and the builder boyfriend’s two geldings had broken in with my two mares. The four of them were covered in sweat. They had stampeded through two lines of electric fencing in the night.
We are baffled. It’s the same when we go for a ride down the deserted farm track, and dusty 4x4s seem to come out of nowhere, hemming us in on all sides.
‘Am I getting paranoid, or is something happening to us?’ I shouted to the BB from my leaping horse during one particularly interesting ride in which we had to dodge half a dozen 4x4s, a tractor with a bucket head full of gravel, a man waving a long stick, a woman in a pink Lycra catsuit, a cyclist who turned a bike upside down to fix a wheel and a photographer who set up a camera on a tripod.
This week, I was walking the dogs up the track and I found the public footpath through the woods had been padlocked shut with a huge iron bar across the entire width of the right of way. As I was photographing it, one of the shoot boys walked round the corner with a large dog.
He told me that my taking photos on their land was harassment and he was calling the police.
‘This bar should not be here,’ I complained. ‘I’m sending the photos to the council.’
‘What bar? There is no bar,’ he said laughing, as his dog strained at the leash.