THE annual Boxing Day gathering of the Tredegar Farmers' Hunt at the Tredegar Arms in Bassaleg, Newport, has attracted crowds many hundreds strong for decades, back to times way beyond even those depicted in sepia-tinted photographs of rural life.

As with hundreds of similar gatherings across the UK, it is what is known in some quarters - primarily the hunting fraternity - as a 'tradition', increasingly buffeted by ridicule, regulation, and anti-hunt protests.

In Bassaleg, the two most recent Boxing Day gatherings in particular have involved a ratcheting up of pro- and anti-hunting sentiment. This though, isn't a column about the rights and wrongs of hunting. This is about crowd control.

Look at the photographs above. The average weight of a horse, I believe, is around 453 kilograms, or 1,000lbs in old money. There are a couple of these fine beasts here, with several others out of shot in the car park.

There is some sort of makeshift barrier to the left, but nothing to the right, of a very narrow way in and out. There are also - I've been to this gathering for the Argus before - many people on each side of the adjoining main road, particularly directly opposite the pub car park entrance.

I also know from previous attendance, that alcohol - likely whiskey, though I may be mistaken - is taken by one or more of the huntsmen and huntswomen before they set off.

It is noisy, people are waving placards. A few have obscenities daubed on them, and plenty of these are voiced too.

In such a febrile situation, involving animals that may become panicked in such an atmosphere, is it not beyond the wit of those 'policing' the event - and that is not solely the police - to a) prevent people lining the car park entrance; b) prevent them standing so close at the corners; c) ban consumption of alcohol by riders before such an event?

The latter suggestion does not imply that alcohol was a factor in the skirmish this year. But if drink-drive rules apply to motorists, why not to the riders of horses?

As it stands, this looks like barely organised chaos involving volatile ingredients

Hunt supporters may want to shout down the protestors, and vice versa, and that's all well and good. But it is time to take the drink and the proximity out of it, for everyone's sake.