For me, the hound parade at Blenheim Palace Horse Trials signifies the beginning of the autumn. The Duke loves to see the hounds and welcomes us all with a little light refreshment, although whiskey and milk does seem stranger than normal in the blazing sunshine! All the children pile into the ring to make friends with the hounds, who adore the attention.
This year the gate-jumping competition was a real highlight of the Sunday afternoon. Five brave contestants, including our Tuesday field master Tom Gittins, took up the challenge. All five managed to get to the dizzy height of 1.50m. The eventual winner was 13-year-old Charlie Ford from the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale, who cleared 1.60m on his wonderful grey horse.
When I was fresh on to Exmoor, working for Capt Wallace on my gap year, I asked him if we were to jump the gates. He replied: “You stupid boy, gates have hinges and catches. Hurry up and open it.”
Exciting times afoot
This is an exciting time for hunt staff. For some this will be their first time hunting a pack of hounds; for others a new country. Their challenge will be a greater one than that of the seasoned huntsman as they settle into their new roles.
Meeting their farmers and walking the country will have been a priority, but at home learning all the hounds and their characters will be equally important. It will be now that they really get to know them as the season starts.
It is during these early mornings that I enjoy seeing the young hounds start to integrate with the old ones as they learn their job. Some are fast learners and some are not; patience is the key. I find that often those hounds that take the longest to get going end up being the best when the penny finally drops.
The dry conditions are not normally conducive to a good scenting time on and we will all have to wait for the rain for things to improve. Both hounds and horses will be feeling the ground after the driest time that I can remember.
Hope for a seasoned pro
For many, this will be an opportunity to get their young or new horse out into the hunting field. What fun that can be! Only this morning I saw a loose horse galloping into the distance.
Young horses normally behave really well on the first morning. I suppose they have no idea as to the fun that they are about to have. By day three they are getting the hang of it, and then it goes one of two ways. They are either so excited that the backwards, forwards or any-which-way manoeuvre takes place, followed by the bucking or rearing — or they simply relax into their new role like a seasoned pro.
Of course, these young things will be wearing a green ribbon to warn all around them of their age and that anything could happen. Please remember to turn your horse’s head towards the hounds as they pass as there’s nothing worse than a hound being kicked, let alone one on its first day out.
The opening meet is in our sights already. The early mornings will soon be a distant memory and the anticipation for a wonderful season will be in everyone’s minds.
We will have great days and not so great days, but remember all those people who work so hard to make it all as fun as they possibly can. Keep smiling and kick on.
Ref Horse & Hound; 27 September 2018