The level of supervision of children at a hunt meeting where a nine year old girl died after being kicked by a horse was 'far short of what could reasonably be expected,' an inquest was told.

Health and Safety expert Philip Park, who investigated the tragic death of Bonnie Armitage, said he believes children under eleven taking part in hunts should be supervised by adults on a one to one basis.

The inquest has heard that tragic Bonnie, of Faringdon, Oxon, was one of five children all under the supervision of one adult rider, Melissa Kennedy, at the meeting of the Cotswold Hunt in Miserden, nr Stroud, Glos, on April 2nd last year.

Bonnie was a pupil at St Hugh's preparatory school in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, where her father is deputy head.

Bonnie was riding her Shetland pony, Lindsay, when she was kicked in the chest by a large horse called Harvey which was being ridden ahead of her by farmer and circus owner Toti Gifford, the inquest jury at Gloucester has been told.

The Gloucester inquest jury returned a conclusion of accidental death.

Mr Park, a manager at Stroud district council, told the inquest "It is my view that the level of supervision fell short of what could be reasonably expected.

"My conclusion was that had Bonnie been actively supervised by a responsible adult who was in close contact with her there was a possibility she would have been instructed not to get too close to the horse in front. That could have had the effect of preventing the injury. If she had not got too close to the horse in front of her it could not have kicked her."

He told the inquest he believed it would be helpful in future if Hunts set a stipulated level of competence for child participants. It would also be helpful to have guidance on the ratios of children to supervising adults, he said.

"I did not see any evidence that the Cotswold Hunt makes any enquiry about the competence of child riders. They rely in parents to make the decision themselves on the level of supervision that children should have at a hunt.

"It is important for the Hunt to make a decision about the level of supervision otherwise there will be no consistency in the way it is implemented."

Asked to expand more on his views of what should happen at hunts where young children are taking part he said "Close supervision would mean one to one - one adult supervising one child. I would expect that adult to stay with the child as much as possible during the hunt.

"I accept there is a chaotic and fast moving atmosphere but an adult could exercise more control over one child than one adult in charge of two or three children. I would suggest one to one supervision is reasonably practicable."

James Chamberlain, who was senior Master of the Hunt at the time but has now retired, told the jury agreed that the Hunt had not made any rules about children taking part.

"If poor Bonnie had been supervised one to one I fail to see how it would have made any difference," he said.

He believed that the real issue was the competence of both the young rider and the horse, he said. When he took his own children hunting in the past he had always made sure they stayed behind him, he added.

But it had to be remembered, he said, that 'horses are dangerous at both ends' and riders should all be aware from an early age of the need to keep space around them at all times.

Mr Gifford told the inquest he was cantering across a field on his horse Harvey - 'a lovely, calm, gentle giant' - when the tragedy happened as Bonnie rode up alongside him.

"My horse went irregular," he said. "He just didn't feel right. Then I heard a yell. I looked back.

"My horse is really big and there was this really little horse, the Shetland, underneath my feet almost. It went really fast, past me, and then carried on.

"Then I looked back and I saw Bonnie.

"At the time the incident happened I was going forward, looking ahead. You never think there is anything behind you because you are going forward.

"I just heard this yell. When I looked back she (Bonnie) was still landing. I pulled up. It's a bit of a blur really. I can't really remember....I just jumped off my horse. I didn't hang on to him but he followed me back.

"I went over. Then others all arrived. I can't really remember what happened, it was such a mad.....I grabbed all the horses and led them away.

"Then she was lying there. Big blue eyes...

"The emergency services and ambulance came and then we realised a helicopter was also coming."

He said his horse had been hunting for several years and is a 'fantastic animal.'

"I think it (what happened) was an instinctive thing, he was a bit shocked or frightened or spooked. I think, I don't know."

He added "At the moment it happened it felt like the horse had gone lame. I thought maybe I had gone into a hole or the horse had stumbled. I didn't think he bucked. I just thought he had put his foot down a hole or lost a shoe or something had happened or he had stumbled on something."

Joanna Ireland, who was riding with the Hunt and acting as gate shutter said she saw Mr Gifford canter off and Bonnie was behind her.

"There was nothing about the riding that worried me," she said. "We were all cantering.

"I saw Mr Gifford's horse kick or buck or whatever. Whether it kicked or bucked or whatever it definitely connected with Bonnie.

"But because I was right behind I didn't really see the kick. Bonnie was obstructing my view. I saw Bonnie fall off her horse.

"I couldn't quite ascertain if there was any contact between the horses but I saw her falling. She didn't cry out.

"After she fell off there was no movement from her. I think she was unconscious.

"I got off my horse and handed it to Mrs (Claire) Bailey and I dialled 999 and I put Bonnie into the recovery position. Mrs Bailey suggested I also ask for the air ambulance, which I did. I was present with Bonnie throughout. She didn't regain consciousness.

"The emergency services arrived at 11.49am. I had dialled them at 11.25."

Claire Bailey, who was riding with Mrs Ireland and Mr Gifford, said that prior to the incident she had not been aware of Bonnie near them.

"I didn't see any unusual movement from Mr Gifford's horse," she said. "I didn't see it kick but I realised it had obviously happened because I heard the thud of hooves on contact to Bonnie. Bonnie was directly in front of me - she had come up past me.

"She went beside Mr Gifford but I didn't see his horse buck or kick or whatever. I didn't see what happened because it was shielded by Bonnie - it was more that I heard the impact of the horse on Bonnie. I heard that noise and obviously she then fell."

Mrs Melissa Kennedy. who was riding with her three children aged 9-14 and also supervising Bonnie and another girl, aged 14, said the two eldest girls jumped a wall but she and the others rode through a gate.

"I was then riding in a group of eight people including the children, Toti, Jo and Claire," she said. "We all got to a corner of the field and everyone spread out and started to canter.

"One of my daughters passed me and said 'Mum - Bonnie!' I turned round and saw her on the floor with Jo and Claire there. I didn't see the fall itself.

"I immediately pulled up, turned around and went back again. Bonnie was not conscious or moving. She had a cut to her face and a muddy patch on her body protector.

"Bonnie was a very good little rider. She knew what to do. She knew the etiquette, she knew the form, she knew how to behave. I had never had any cause for concern about her riding."

Det Inspector Wayne Ussher of Gloucestershire police said he had investigated the tragedy and concluded that the accident 'could not have been prevented.'

"She was following the main body of riders in company with other children and under the care of a responsible adult.

"Her company approached the rear of a much larger horse which took an irregular stride and struck her.

"She died as a result of injury sustained from a kick to the chest by the horse but in the circumstances presented to me it could not have been prevented."

The inquest at Gloucester has heard Bonnie was one of about fifty riders at the last meeting of the season of the Cotswold Hunt at Miserden House..

A jury of ten people has been sworn in to hear the case.

The inquest heard a statement from Bonnie's dad, teacher Nick Armitage, formally identifying his daughter and describing her as a 'bright girl, fit and healthy, a good runner, she enjoyed everything."

She was the middle of three children with an older brother and a younger sister, he said.

"She was a bright girl, fit and healthy, a good runner - she enjoyed everything. Bonnie was a glass half full type of girl.

"She was always positive. She was very popular.

"She first sat on a pony at six weeks old. Her mum Polly is a keen rider. Bonnie could ride before she could walk. She was always riding my mother in law's Shetland ponies.

"She was a very competent rider. She could walk, trot, canter and gallop, She had been hunting many times at different hunts. She would sometimes be out for many hours."

"She had hunted off a lead rein for two years. "

He said the pony was eight years old and was 'experienced, dependable, safe and doesn't spook.'

Pathologist Dr John McCarthy said Bonnie died from a kick to the chest which burst a major blood vessel and cause it to bleed into the sac surrounding the heart. The thymus at the top of the chest had partly ruptured as a result of being squeezed, he said.

The lungs showed evidence of having been compressed and squeezed and had bled.

"The heart had been restricted in its ability to beat and ultimately that is the reason why she died from what we call a haemopericardium - that is blood accumulating in the heart sac. This was caused by impact trauma to the front lateral chest."

Lawyers representing Bonnie's family, Stroud district council, the Cotswold Hunt and Mr Gifford are all taking part in the inquest. Mr and Mrs Armitage are also present.

The jury heard that after the incident paramedics and an emergency doctor battled for 45 minutes to resuscitate Bonnie in the field before she was airlifted to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. But she was certified dead 15 minutes after arrival in the hospital.

After a retirement of one hour the jury of ten people brought in a verdict of accidental death without any further comment.

The coroner, Katy Skerrett, said she would consider over the next ten days whether to make recommendations about a minimum level of competence being required for child riders at hunts, whether safety equipment should be a requirement and whether children should be supervised.

She asked the lawyers at court to let her know their submissions on those points by 18th May.

After the inquest barrister Michael Rapp, representing Bonnie's parents, said "The Armitage family agree with the findings of accidental detah. It was a truly trahic accident.

"The Armitages would now ask for their privacy to be respected so they can continue to grieve for the loss of their precious daughter. They therefore respectfully but firmly ask for the press and those on social media to now leave them in peace. They would ask that people remember Bonnie as a very special child who touched the lives of those who knew her and tragically and unexpectedly was taken far too soon doing something she loved: riding her pony."