New laws have recently come into force to prevent 'fly-grazing' - that is the leaving of horses to graze on land without the landowner's permission. Commonly, horses are left on grass verges, in unsecured fields or even in people's gardens, leading to concerns about damage to property and the animals' welfare. Prompting this new legislation has been the fact that in recent years fly-grazing has become a much more blatant activity, as Keith Wopple, Manager of the Co-Op Supermarket in Shepton Bassett, knows from direct experience.
"The first time it happened was when a couple of ponies were tied up on the scrubby patch of land at the bottom of the car park," he said. "We didn't see who left them there, and we didn't see who came to collect them, but they weren't doing much harm and it seemed to be a bit of a novelty at the time."
Mr Wopple didn't give it any further thought until they turned up the following week, then again a few days after that. Gradually the visits became more frequent, their owner always taking care to remain unseen. "Whoever he was, it was at this point that he decided to get really bold ," Wopple explained. "I arrived at work one morning to find that they had been left inside the store, tied up by the fruit and veg section, casually grazing on an assortment of carrots and cauliflowers and seriously inconveniencing our customers. It's not on really, is it?"
Wopple finally conceded that something had to be done and phoned the police. "They offered to send a police marksman," he said. "They have a police marksman - Steve, I think they said his name was. Apparently Steve doesn't get much to do because it's usually quite quiet round our neck of the woods, so he was really up for taking out a couple of rogue nags.
"Much as I didn't want to disappoint him, I didn't think that it was appropriate. Seeing domesticated animals getting their brains blown out is what we term a 'negative customer experience' in the retail trade. Plus there's the problem of cleaning all the blood off the fresh salad display, so I asked if there was anything else we could do."
The police suggested that they might be able to trace the owner of the horses if they had the chassis numbers, usually to be found on a plate riveted to the left ear. But by the time Mr Wopple had put down the phone the animals had gone, never to be seen again.
"Except the one time," he told us with a wry smile. "It was late, we were just locking up. Some distance away, in the dark, I saw them messing about with the shopping trolleys round by the bins. Our shopping trolleys aren't really designed for horses - we're only a small store, see. So anyway, I shouted out and they scarpered. They haven't been back since... In a way, I kind of miss them..."