A record crowd turned out for the Pendle Forest and Craven Hunt Boxing Day meet in Gargrave.

Hunt officials, who normally predict around 3,000 people at the traditional annual meet, believe this year’s numbers exceeded 4,000, with more than 100 riders taking part in the hunt itself.

A cold but bright and clear day meant riders came from Harrogate, Bradford and Barnoldswick for the fourth Boxing Day hunt since hunting wild animals with dogs was banned.

Tom Bannister, joint master of the hunt, said it had been the best turn-out for several years.

“I think it shows that people just don’t like being told what to do,” he said.

Mr Bannister said he believed as many as 5,000 people could have turned out to the hunt, which circled the village green before setting off at the traditional time of 11am.

“We had more than 100 horses and certainly the biggest crowd that I’ve ever seen. There was a great atmosphere and everyone seemed happy to see us,” he said.

Mr Bannister said he believed the hunt was a good diversion in the current difficult times.

“People need a break at the moment. It was the best atmosphere we’ve had for some time. People were coming up and shaking my hand, it was unreal,” he said.

It was estimated that around 300,000 people had turned out to hunts across the country on Boxing Day.

The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance claims that the numbers show the increasing support for a repeal of the hunting ban, whereas anti-hunting groups say support is due to a ban on the hunting of foxes.

The hunting of foxes with dogs became illegal in February 2005, although exercising hounds, chasing a scent trail and flushing out foxes to be shot are all still legal.

Mr Bannister said: “I know there’s been a lot in the papers about the repeal of the hunting ban, but I think our turn-out was more about people having enough of being told what to do.”