THE horses, hounds, red coats and cute ponies of the hunting field are as much a part of a traditional English Christmas as Santa Claus.

This year more than a dozen packs of foxhounds, beagles, basset hounds and harriers will be meeting at venues across Worcestershire and Herefordshire on Boxing Day, with the best attended being in the centre of Ledbury, where several thousand spectators turn out each year to support the local hunt.

These days of course a trail is laid for hounds to chase down, but the spectacle remains the same with galloping and jumping over some of the hunt's best country.

Many long hours will have gone into washing horses and riding kit, polishing boots and plaiting manes to make the turnout as smart as possible. Probably only to be undone by the first canter across a muddy field and while knowledgeable foot followers will drive on to secure the best viewing points, many will make attending the meet and renewing old friendships, the limit of their physical endeavours.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "The Boxing Day meets are always and important part of Christmas, whether you are from a town, village or rural community. This year we hope the support will ensure the day is bigger and better than ever."

The meets include:

Albrighton and Woodland Hunt, Hagley Hall, Hagley, Stourbridge

Clifton-on-Teme Hunt, The Hope Pole, Bromyard.

North Cotswold Hunt, High Street, Broadway,

Croome and West Warwickshire Hunt, Broad Street, Pershore,

North Herefordshire Hunt, Corn Square, Leominster.

Ledbury Hunt, Feathers Hotel, Ledbury (at 10.45am)

North Ledbury Hunt, The Bell, Bosbury.

Worcestershire Hunt, Lilo car park, Droitwich