Having spent the 1970s living in USA, upon my return to the UK and foxhunting I thought how best to share the excitement I enjoyed so much with visitors.
In the early 1980s you still had to be invited to “ride to hounds” before you could appear at a meet and there was the additional problem that a man would be happier to lend his wife to a friend than his best hunter!
My father, Derek Pritchard, was chairman at the time of the Pytchley. I had come up through the Pytchley Pony Club, having hunted there and with all the neighbouring packs throughout my childhood, so I had lots of contacts in the hunting fraternity. When I suggested having overseas visitors to stay and to take them hunting on horses I had trained, the idea was welcomed with caution and a certain amount of scepticism.
The main reason I was allowed to bring “foreigners” hunting — i.e. anyone who lived outside that particular hunt country — was that I always accompanied my guests and I had to be responsible for their turnout, horses, and hunting manners. That was sometimes quite a tall order.
Once with the VWH I had to ask permission from the master to hunt in my Australian floppy hat because I had lent my bowler to one of my clients from Florida.
Another time I refused to take two race-riders from Pennsylvania — who were on a whistle-stop fox-hunting tour of the UK — to a lawn meet at Guilsborough because they turned up in their kit from the day before’s particularly wet and muddy day hunting with the Quorn. We followed on after the hunt had been out and about for about 20mins, but they were still obvious from their mud-spattered clothes on immaculately clean horses. I wasn’t going to let them insult our hosts at the meet.
Once, with the Bicester, I had a collection of French hunting guests who hadn’t told me they intended to hunt complete with swords and horns. They were invited to show off their musical talents at the meet, but had to do so on their feet after my horses reversed at a rapid rate from the front of the field to the back.
Then there was the Swiss gentleman, out with the Fernie, who got off for a piddle when we were stopped in a narrow lane without bothering to find a suitable bush or tree. The conversation of the field hesitated only for a moment before everyone looked in the other direction and continued talking at a slightly increased volume.
Other memorable moments include: having a group of people from California out with the Beaufort, four of whom fell off before we got to the meet; being asked if I had a spare tampax while changing horses with the Belvoir; telling a lady from Spain she could pee in the back of the box only to have her come out some three minutes later saying she “couldn’t find it”; jumping under a JCB over a construction ditch on a closed road with the Warwickshire; and out with the Cheshire, jumping a wrought-iron gate into parkland, from a trot, off a cobbled canal bridge — all my horses did it!
I’ve jumped the central reservation fences of both the M40 and the A14 — during their construction, obviously, hunted in November over unharvested fallen wheat in Yorkshire, in March drawing flowering oil-seed rape with the Bicester and had the huntsman opening gates for my two Portuguese guests and myself as the only ones left out with the North Cotswold one day.
Wonderful people and incredible horses
My record is six consecutive days hunting with six different packs of hounds on six different horses — it wasn’t planned, it just happened that way.
Along the way I have met lots of wonderful people, hunted with more than 90 packs of hounds and had some incredible horses of whom I am tremendously proud. People ask me why I do it — it’s certainly not for the money!
After the ban, I lost my foreign clients as they all think they can drag hunt back home, so why should they travel all this way to do the same thing. However, to my great surprise there is a home market who still want to follow hounds, so I have continued after only a slight blip.
The world has changed and now hunts welcome guests to help with diminishing revenues, other people have started to hire out horses and UK clients don’t need the “nannying services” I used to provide.
My hireling horses are my friends who I allow other people to ride in return for the necessary expenses to keep them fit, well and suitably turned out.
Nowadays I try to get additional income by running cross-country clinics during the non-hunting months, and otherwise life goes on running a difficult business in difficult times. But I still meet lots of lovely people, visit some wonderful places, and ride some fabulous horses!
To find out more about running a hunter hireling service, turn to p14 of H&H magazine, 23 October 2014