RYEDALE hunts gathered for their traditional Boxing Day meetings yesterday.

Kirkbymoorside, Pickering and Malton market places were a throng of riders, foxhounds and foot-followers before the hunts set off on the festive trail.

In spite of a ban on hunting with dogs, officials say this has only strengthened support for the sport and they have pledged to act 'within the law'.

Joanna Newitt, secretary of the Middleton Hunt, which meets every year in Malton, said the ban would not kill centuries of rural tradition.

She said: "This is my second season as secretary of the hunt and there have obviously been many changes in this time.

"Riders are happy following a trail and we are bowled over by the level of support we get from farmers and landowners. We will continue to hunt within the law and keep hunting alive."

Kirkbymoorside was packed with 60 riders from the Sinnington Hunt plus hundreds of onlookers and supporters.

Huntmaster, Roddy Ando was encouraged by the number of young riders. He said: "It's wonderful to see so many people here and especially the younger ones.

"The hounds will get a good trial today and it demonstrates the Government cannot kill a tradition that goes back centuries. Looking at the youngsters on their horses it makes me very positive for the future of hunting."

Also making an appearance was Farndale farmer Dave Setterington, with his four black stallions and elegant sharabang.

Followers of Farndale Hunt met outside the Lion Inn at Blakey to cheer them off on a ride across the moorland.