Plague and pestilence aside, there are few acceptable reasons for hounds being an hour late at the meet. During World War II, not even a direct hit on part of the Essex Union hunt kennels prevented Arthur Webster (father of my childhood huntsman at the Belvoir, the genial Jim Webster) arriving at the meet on time after a long hack. My recent scrape with danger and resulting tardiness was less damaging, if not for my pride.
As is my wont, I was checking some country a decent walk from my car on the way to a meet before Christmas, held in celebration of the intrepid David Robinson’s 75th birthday. Despite my shepherding attempts, a lone sheep was insistent on repeatedly running downhill towards a stream. In the end we were playing dodgems on the high bank as I tried to save it from a watery death. Predictably the bank gave way and I plummeted 10ft, belly-flopping into the drink.
Coming up for air, in full kit under my overtrousers, coat and wellies, all I could see was the woolly creature peering over the lip of the bank, probably laughing. Stubbornness overtook and the sheep was eventually persuaded to rejoin its friends a field away.
Country preparation is crucial, but I now have armbands and snorkel in my tool rucksack.
The past couple of seasons have seen an upsurge in anti-hunt activity, on and off the hunting field. Our opponents’ tactics now reflect the opportunities of modern social media and technologies.
Prosecutions are still rare; however, the possibilities of malicious incrimination are higher than 10 years ago as camera equipment akin to that of the armed forces and the police is now used to try to convict hunts. Old-fashioned saboteurs are also clubbing together to create a greater impact on the hunting field.
The anti-hunt movement curiously mirrors the fortunes of left-wing activism. Inspired by the “new” politics, despite the polarity between Mr Corbyn’s messianic popularity within the newly constituted Labour Party and his sinking poll ratings, activists feel a sense of momentum far beyond their weight. This confidence, coupled with a corrupting use of social media, where lies and half-truths become pseudo-facts, make our opponents appear much more powerful than they are.
Yet the photos of mammoth crowds at meets on Boxing Day show that hunting still enjoys huge support across the country and many hunts, including our own, are reporting record levels of subscribers.
That is the real truth, not malicious threats and allegations from behind an anonymous keyboard.
Ref Horse & Hound; 12 January 2017