Volunteers who provide horse riding lessons for young people with learning difficulties are appealing for an end to attacks on their horses.
Staff at Maghera-based Fort Centre Riding for Disabled say they are “beside ourselves with trying to cope.”
The facility has been targeted several times in the past, the most serious incident came when one of the ponies was stabbed with a broken bottle and required stitches.
But, according to a spokesperson, there has been an increase in attacks since Easter with horses being let out of the field at the Centre’s at Craigmore and beaten up and down a laneway.
The animals were left with cuts and bruises and stressed - forcing volunteers to cancel lessons until they settled.
The Fort Centre runs lessons for around 80 people a week and depend on support from the local community.
One of the volunteers, who has been working at the Centre for over 30 years, said youths gather nearby for “drinking sessions”.
He claimed that they have been abusive towards volunteers and have broken bottles on the roadway when were recently trying to move horses to the stables. The incidents have been reported to police who are understood to have sent patrols to the area in an effort to prevent attacks.
At the weekend a padlock was broken off a gate and the horses released into the laneway where they were chased around.
Commenting on the attacks, the volunteer, who asked not to be named, said: “They flare up and then stop,” he said. “Holiday times are the worse. Easter time and the May holiday and then July and August with the school holidays.”
The volunteer said he hoped those involved would see sense and stop attacking the horses which bring a little bit of happinesses into the lives of young, vulnerable adults.
“If it goes on we will have to keep closing the Centre to allow the horses to settle as there would be a safety concern,” he added.