RIVINGTON Pike’s traditional Boxing Day hunt was marred with drama after one of the spectators had to be airlifted to hospital.

The 64-year-old woman suffered a head injury when one of the horses knocked her over and stepped on her head.

The incident took place just moments before the Holcolmbe Hunt members and hounds were due to parade in front of hundreds of spectators.

Most of the crowd were unaware of what had happened.

Paramedics tended to the woman, who was face-down in the grass at one end of the field, while waiting for the air ambulance, which arrived at noon.

Master of the Hunt Sue Simmons announced to the crowds that the annual parade around the field would not go ahead, before she started the hunt minutes before the helicopter arrived.

The woman was taken to the Royal Preston Hospital and was said to be conscious and stable.

The rider of the horse said she was “devastated”.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said: “The horse just sort of exploded because of the excitement and there was not a lot I could do.

“Unfortunately, she knocked the lady because she was spinning around. She knocked her off her feet and she stood on the back of her head.

“My concern is that this lady is okay.”

About 70 riders took part in hunt, and hundreds of families came to watch.

The Holcombe Hunt is one of the oldest in the country, dating back to about 1086. Its hounds are believed to be direct descendants of the Blue Gascoignes, which were brought to England by the Normans. The hunt began to shouts of “Merry Christmas”

from the crowd and the riders, and a round of applause.

The fox hunting ban came in seven years ago and hunts can now only hunt to artificially laid trails.

One million people are thought to have taken part in about 300 hunts across the country yesterday.

It comes as the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told a national newspaper there were no imminent plans to repeal the 2005 hunting ban.

The hunt included 11-yearold Sophie Bowen-Howard, who rode alongside her mother and grandmother, and has taken part in the annual event since she was aged five.

Her mother Sarah Bowen, aged 38, said: “It is a tradition and you get to gallop across a field, which you don’t get to do every day.”

Lucy Stinchcombe was part of a group of 25, from Ormskirk.

The 40-year-old, who has watched the hunt every year since she was aged four, took her two young daughters to watch and said it was a family tradition. She added: “We would support the lifting of the ban on hunting.”

But spectator Kerry Bradshaw, from Hindley Green, said she had only started coming to watch the hunt after the ban was enforced.

She said: “I love it, you have the tradition, but without the cruelty.”