Horses injured at riding centre for disabled children
A riding charity for disabled children in County Londonderry is being put at risk by attacks on its horses and ponies, one of its volunteers has said.
Four animals were beaten by youths who broke in to a field at the Fort Centre in Maghera, it reported.
The incident happened on Saturday night, and the horses were found traumatised on Sunday morning.
The horses are considered "priceless" for their work with disabled children, instructor Martin O'Hagan told the BBC.
On Sunday morning, he found the lock on a gate where the horses were kept had been broken and the horses were visibly upset.
"We noticed these big marks all over the horses where they'd been hit with something and one of the horse's noses was cut," said Mr O'Hagan.
"They would normally come over and eat out of your hand but they wouldn't come anywhere near us - they were spooked as much as could be."
The Fort Centre offers free horse and pony rides for up to 80 children and young people with disabilities.
Its horses had been attacked before, and one had to be taken out of action after it was stabbed with with a bottle, said Mr O'Hagan.
He believes young people who drink in an area close to the centre are responsible.
"This has been going on a right while now and it seems to flare up at holiday time," he added.
"If the horses got a good enough chasing and scaring we would probably have to close the place for a couple of weeks to let them settle.
"I couldn't put a price on the horses because of what they do.
"You could spend two or three years searching for the right horse for this kind of activity."
The attacks on the horses and ponies were not only putting the animals at risk, but could lead to dangers for riders, according to Mr O'Hagan.
He said he was not yet sure if the horses will be safe for use for rides this week.
"If you have a autistic child coming to the centre every week at a certain time, try telling him or her that the horse is not there to ride that night - it's nearly impossible," he added.
"Some of the children wouldn't understand they're even on a horse; others come every week and are able to ride on their own and have a certain horse to ride.
"When that horse is not there it's very hard to explain to them why it's not there.
"We don't want to be turning young people away; sometimes they don't understand why they can't go riding - it's heartbreaking."