The Wendron-based company behind a controversial horse display at this year's Royal Cornwall Show has spoken out to defend its actions and the care of its animals.

The tug of war challenge between 18.1 hands high George, a premium shire stallion from Lizard Stallions, and the mighty Cornish Pirates had been billed as one of the highlights of the show and prompted a large crowd in the Countryside area.

However, complaints from the public following the first demonstration last Thursday meant that the subsequent planned tests of strength were scrapped.

Instead, the programme was altered to feature a display using the company's Victorian double storey horse drawn Omnibus.

Events manager Nicky Mendham told the Packet this week: “The event was meant to be light hearted and is a popular contest on the continent, where horses are still extensively engaged alongside man to carry out work. “However, after complaints to the show and a poorly angled picture was released, we agreed with the showground that it would be in the public's best interest to altered the programme to a demonstration with our Victorian double storey horse drawn Omnibus.”

Among the critics was Marie Hart, who took to Facebook to write: “Disgusting what you have allowed to happen to those beautiful animals at the RCS! You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Liggy Warriner said: “I watched this. I was absolutely disgusted with it. Brutal and cruel. Owners should be ashamed. As a horse owner myself, I could of cried. Absolutely should be stopped for the next two days.”

And Gem Turner said: “Pulling heavy loads, yes, but being forced to play tug of war with burly men is a different story all together. Ropes slack or not I personally think this is cruel. Pirates you just lost a fan.”

Since then, however, others have come out in support of the company, with Christina Pugly Williams writing: “People have forgotten what these horses were bred for and in years gone by worked all day ploughing so I'm sure having a tug of war with a few meat heads wouldn't even bother them.”

Mandy Bennie agreed: “It's so sad that there are ignorant people out there that don't understand the breed and that they are a work horse and can pull five ton plus. You and Pete do a great job promoting the breed and working them George and Ringo are beautiful, well looked after boys whose welfare you put above and behind [sic]. Hope you can ignore the horrid people, keep smiling and see you soon, love to you all.”

Others used a radio phone in on Monday to offer their backing, with one man saying at no time was George in any distress or discomfort, based on his own experience of working shire horses for 50 years.

Nicky said “the majority” of comments received by the company had been of support and understanding, with people keen to help promote the breed and working events further.

“Some of the criticism received after the event has highlighted to us the overwhelming decline in the general public's understanding of working horses,” she added.

“The horse was first domesticated some 6,000 years ago as a working animal, and it is only in recent times that he has found his role in being used for pleasure, with the first international show jumping event being held at Olympia in 1907.”

She described the furore as “healthy debate” that had given the company an opportunity to discuss the working horse with many thousands of people “whom for the majority have changed their perception once being presented with the facts and not simply the minority's untrained viewpoints.”

But she added: “Facebook accusations such as George being lame and having chains attached to his mouth were completely untrue and spiteful, and in our opinion it has simply highlighted the lack of respect and understanding some people have for others, plus a unwillingness to engage in truthful and educated conversation.”

The company has already released a statement on Facebook stressing that “at no point was George in distress” and adding: “He weighs just over a ton and believe me when I say, if he didn't want to do it he wouldn't. We care considerably for our horses and would never put them in any danger. We are surrounded by very experienced animal professionals and no concerns have been raised by them.”

George has received around 2,000 hours of training, including high profile events such as steam rally's, carnivals, shows, music festivals and in densely populated and noisy situations.

Nicky concluded: “One positive achievement gained by this whole experience is that hundreds of thousands of people now are talking about the great magnificent Shire horses.”