On a recent Saturday, I took a point-to-pointer out with hounds 5 days before he was due to run in a hunter chase.
I expected to be on his back for a couple of hours, but it transpired the trail-layer’s concoction must have smelt like a sack of well-garnished steaks, for the pack left the meet and flew.
Across rolling countryside we galloped, eventually halting after some 15min of action undertaken in deep ground, during which I admit having let the handbrake off my willing partner. Foam hung around his neck like a laurel wreath and his flanks heaved.
After this burst of action — and with the race in mind — I jogged him home, but he kept his date with the starter. Since I do not want to appear as a tub-thumping parent, I’ll use the words of commentator Stewart Machin to describe the victory.
“Qrackers has dotted up,” he said — or, to put it another way, he won and trainer Victoria Collins finished clear of the rest in second, sprinting along the course to greet her initial winner under Rules.
As this victory took place at our local racecourse, a number of Ludlow followers were by the winner’s enclosure to greet us. I felt honoured when Steve Flook, twice Britain’s champion hunter chase trainer, stepped forward from the runner-up spot and offered his congratulations. It meant so much, as did all the messages that flooded in subsequently.
No end of times this season, members of the hunt have expressed surprise and shown appreciation that “Trainer” hunts her point-to-pointers with vigour. She does not ask them to jump wire or hanging gates, since they have never been schooled in the art. And, on a busy day, she does not hack home after dark, but otherwise they hunt like hunters.
Her point-to-pointers therefore comply with the requirement that states they should be “properly and fairly hunted” in order to gain a hunters’ certificate to run in races.
In my memory, properly and fairly hunted meant attending at least 7 meets and staying out for a meaningful period of time — usually until second horses. It was said some masters monitored pointers to ensure they were not loitering out the back. They would reprimand riders if they did not take a meaningful part in proceedings.
Such enforcement would be unheard of now. And while pointers are still expected to attend 4 meets, many never see hounds, let alone follow them.
The horses have become too valuable and, no less importantly, the bills too high to risk injury in the hunting field — although we all know thoroughbreds can crock themselves in their sleep. These days, some owners merely pay a subscription to a hunt and the certificate is signed.
Mike Felton, who is the Masters of Foxhounds Association [MFHA] representative on the Point-to-Point Authority board, accepts that enforcement of the “4 hunts” obligation would alienate some people. Not every trainer is handily placed to take their charges out with hounds, others are too busy or risk averse, and some thoroughbreds are just not suited to hunting.
Most trainers agree hunting is beneficial to pointers — it can provide various lessons for youngsters, and often reinvigorates ex-chasers and hurdlers — but they prefer to qualify during the autumn, when the pace is gentler.
Hunts benefit from pointer subscriptions, not to mention the profit they can make by staging a point-to-point, but pointers benefit from hunting, too. Many of the volunteers who give their time to stage meetings are foot-followers, who take an interest in the pointers that go out with hounds.
It has been a wet and difficult season for hunts, but if owners and trainers of pointers buy into the whole hunting set-up, and go hunting occasionally, it is more likely those volunteers will keep giving their time.