Opinion

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Anybody who knows me will be surprised to hear that I’ve been asked to write any sort of column on anything. A text message is normally as far as

I get, but with a little help from my wife, I hope I’ve pulled it off.

This is my 28th season in hunt service and 14th season hunting the Percy hounds. Before that, I hunted the Essex and Suffolk, whipped-in at the Percy and the Suffolk and was also kennelman at the Suffolk.

Set in Northumberland, the Percy Hunt is lucky to have very open and largely unspoilt country. During a week or even one big day, we can hunt the east coast, which is predominantly flat and arable; lowland grass in the south-west; moorland and grass in the north and very nearly hill country in the far west. Our old English hounds suit this country very well.

Although the 10th Duke of Northumberland passed away nearly 30 years ago, we still rely very much on the goodwill that he generated. Hunt jumps and wicket gates gifted by the tenants, farmers and landowners for the 10th

Duke and Duchess’ wedding present are still maintained presently by their son, the 12th Duke, making our country easily accessible.

Our last season was a good one and, for the first time, our Most Spectacular Fall trophy was won by someone not on a horse! Despite best efforts from the “Beast from the East” and his mates, we lost only one day completely, although we did have several foot days.

Hunting on foot isn’t for everyone but I would much rather go out on foot than not all. I also find it helps to keep the edge on the hounds rather than having them laid off for a few weeks.

A mixed bag on show

Now that we are into June, we have a lot of local hound shows coming up, run by nearly every local pack and as part of some country shows. These can take a bit of judging as it’s not unusual to have a high-quality mixed bag of Welsh, Fell, hill, modern and old English hounds all in the same class. Showing is without doubt a very good PR exercise, despite it not being everyone’s cup of tea. It also showcases the very high animal welfare and kennel management standards that hunting provides.

Showing helps us to introduce a lot of people to hounds, encouraging them to walk pups, which is a massive part of the hounds’ upbringing in preparation for hunting. You only have to look at the number of people around the Yorkshire Show hound ring or in attendance at the Festival of Hunting to see how popular it is, and our local shows give us great opportunity to practise with our hounds and get them out and about.

I always look at showing as a way of fine-tuning and improving the hounds you have. No mastership in the country is going to employ a huntsman just to win some red rosettes three days a year and the priority has to be the hunting.

Our hounds will always look slightly smaller than a lot of others but with the varied country we hunt and the amount of wire in it, they suit our needs. Our three recently best stallion hounds — Woolem, Spitfire and Alnwick — would all hunt easily more than 90 days a season.

Good luck to all those heading out showing this year and very well done for supporting the cause — before we know it trail hunting will be starting again.

Ref Horse & Hound; 7 June 2018