Over the next few weeks hunts around the country will be finalising their mastership arrangements for next season. With the pressures upon a mastership, greater than ever, it is vital to assemble a team with the time, energy, skill, charm and respect to carry the country forward positively.
Hunts are under no legal obligation to belong to a governing organisation, such as the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA). However, the MFHA provides legal protection, structure and a massive safety net. The remit of the MFHA has grown exponentially over the past couple of decades. It works tirelessly on several levels to offer advice to hunts when it is sought or evidently needed. Its fire-fighting operations are legendary, often necessarily below the radar.
Customarily the MFHA has not been involved formally in the selection and appointment of new masters. However, now more than ever before, our individual actions vicariously affect the whole hunting community.
Hunt committees are increasingly composed of a broader selection of supporters bringing enterprising business and fundraising skills to the table. But hunting experience should not be overlooked.
Fundamentally, they are seeking to appoint a mastership to manage a financially sound organisation whose raison d’etre is to provide quality sport and manage the country, hounds, horses, staff and kennels.
It seems today that some hunt chairmen and committees do not have the hunting experience to look at their hunt in the broader context. They lack of willingness to consult wider giving rise to some strange decisions; hardly the fault of the brave appointees, but of the committees.
A joint-mastership should be a team; not necessarily all the same characters but they must be friends and have each other’s backs in any dark moments. Once in office the committee should support their appointees and not see it as a social experiment. The appointment of a good hunt secretary or two to support the mastership is essential. One retired MFH of long service described his hunt secretaries with great affection as his “s*** filters”.
In previous generations, advice and instruction was sometimes imparted by a few elder statesmen and masters were placed. Despite accusations of nepotism, this system generally worked. As times move on, a small appointments panel, could act — without prejudice — to advise hunt committees on suitable candidates. Some hunts will be fiercely protective of their autonomy; however, we are all in this together and with social media stalking everywhere, one hunt’s problem is soon a problem for all. Masters of registered hunts are subject to disciplinary action and possible expulsion, so why shouldn’t the appointments be more closely monitored?
A further consideration lies with the role and training of a modern hunt chairman. Many perform the role of a chief executive of considerable influence and with great skill, but chairmen aren’t members of the MFHA, nor have their appointments been centrally ratified. It is, after all, the hunt chairman and committee who also appoint the mastership.
Come 1 May the new masterships will embark on a most important journey: exciting, exhausting and frustrating in equal measure but rewarding in extremis.
Ref Horse & Hound; 11 January 2018