THOUSANDS of people turned out on Boxing Day to support meets.

Among those defying the weather was the South Durham Hunt, which met at the Talbot Inn in Bishopton, near Sedgefield.

About 30 riders and 28 hounds gathered at about 11am and set out to hunt in the surrounding area.

Secretary Judith Shield said: “The weather was quite dicey, so I don’t think there were many hunts out at all, but we braved the weather. It was crisp and refreshing to get out and the sun was shining.”

The Hurworth Hunt met outside the Golden Lion Hotel, Northallerton, watched by a crowd of spectators.

Snow and ice in fields meant it would have been too dangerous for horses to gallop across country, but the meet went ahead to avoid disappointment.

Joint master Ken Fox said: “A lot of people would have been let down if we hadn’t turned out and many of them gave us their vocal support.”

The Zetland Hunt met at Aldbrough St John.

Hunts are hopeful that the controversial Hunting Act, which limited their activities five years ago, could be repealed following a change in Government after the General Election.

Conservative leader David Cameron has promised a free vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act, saying he believes it does not work and does not make sense.

Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said there was real optimism among the hunting community.

“The momentum for repeal is unstoppable and that simply would not have happened if the law was justified, proportionate and workable,” he said.

Opponents include the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, who has started a campaign in support of the ban.

Robbie Marsland, UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said hunts must act within the law or face the consequences.

“We have no problem at all with hunts meeting to enjoy a gallop through the countryside over Christmas, or at any other time, as long as this does not involve wild animals being cruelly chased and killed,”

he said.