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// Leading jockey says proposed ban on stag-hunting 'has to be stopped'
ON THE eve of the Cheltenham Festival, one of Ireland's leading jockeys, Ruby Walsh has said the proposed ban on stag-hunting "has to be stopped".
He has sharply criticised the Government's proposed new law - expected to be published next month - as "just the tip of the iceberg" of an anti field-sports agenda.
Before leaving for Cheltenham, Walsh (31) expressed his concern to The Irish Times that the ban could lead to other rural pursuits such as "fox-hunting, shooting, angling and point-to-point" racing being outlawed. "This is a bigger issue than stag-hunting and has to be stopped before it gathers momentum."
The seven-time Irish jump jockey champion, twice winner of both the English and Irish Grand Nationals, said hunting was part of the culture in Ireland, was the best way to learn to ride and was very important in developing a jockey's skills. "Hunting is the best way to learn to ride at a competitive level and every national hunt jockey would have hunted."
Jockeys liked hunting, he added, because the galloping and jumping helped them to develop their riding skills unlike "learning to ride at a riding school". He "used to hunt regularly as a kid" which was "an important part" of his grounding.
Walsh, who lives in Co Kildare, said he did not have much time these days but still occasionally rode out with the Ward Union Hunt in Co Meath (Ireland's only licensed stag-hunt) and went fox-hunting in Limerick and Wexford.
Walsh said he was supporting RISE! (Rural Ireland Says Enough!) - a coalition of field-sports organisations - which is campaigning against proposed new animal welfare legislation included, at the insistence of the Green Party, in the Renewed Programme for Government. He has signed a RISE! petition opposing the proposed new laws as had "the majority of the national hunt guys" [jockeys].
The Bill to ban stag-hunting is expected to be published shortly by Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment John Gormley, who said it was necessary to prevent "animal cruelty" and for " safety in an increasingly urbanised environment".
The Irish Council Against Blood Sports has welcomed plans to ban what it described as " barbarism which surely should have no place in a civilised society".
Walsh pointed out that hunting and its ancillary activities employed many people in rural areas and "anything which does away with jobs is not in the interests of the country". The RISE! campaign claims that a hunting ban threatens "thousands of jobs".
The jockey, who is "not a member of any political party", said: "Whoever is in government, and whatever their beliefs, should be concerned about jobs."
Walsh was speaking during last-minute preparations ahead of the Cheltenham Festival which begins tomorrow. Last year he rode a record-breaking seven horses to victory - among them Kauto Star in the Gold Cup.
With 24 wins, he is the second most successful jockey in the history of the festival. The overall record - of 25 wins - was achieved by fellow Irishman Pat Taaffe.
(c) Irish Times 15.03.10