John Holliday: I’ve been reduced to a mere raffle prize *H&H VIP*

Opinion

So it has come to this. At the hugely successful hunt ball, held in Belvoir Castle by permission of the Duke of Rutland, I was won in the raffle. There was a time when my services were auctioned off. In fact, “A day and a night with the Ledbury huntsman” (’twas I at the time) once sold for pounds numbered in thousands.

Alas, 20 years down the line, I have dwindled to a mere raffle prize. So a ticket was drawn, and somewhere between “a leg of mutton” and a “jar of Quality Street”, “a day upfront with the Belvoir huntsman” was won — by Mrs Chloe Jonason.

A flying visit

The mysterious case of the equine flu occasioned something of an overreaction in some quarters; racing was suspended, as was hunting in some areas. Never one to miss an opportunity, a couple of hours after hunting was cancelled, I was helping Mr O’Leary pay his training fees by flying Ryanair to Ireland. I disembarked at Kerry airport and within an hour of landing, was being ushered through the welcoming portals of that most famous hunting establishment, the Dunraven Arms.

The Co. Limerick met on Monday near Croom by the cemetery: if there is one thing to concentrate a chap’s mind to the job in hand, it’s the stark outline of columns of headstones and the sight of the sexton labouring away in a distant corner. Foreboding receded as hounds found quickly, and soon banks were being scaled and rivers forded.

It was a pleasure to see hounds hunting so well, always up together as a pack and without interference. This is in no small way due to their huntsman, whose youth belies his very competent and thoughtful actions in the field. Fergus Stokes is a worthy custodian of Lord Daresbury’s legacy of old English foxhounds.

The following day, Chris Ryan’s famous Scarteen pack gathered and any hunter deserving of the name could not help but feel echoes of Somerville and Ross in the atmosphere around the village of Emly. Finding straight away, the pace was furious for the first 50 minutes until a mark to ground gave respite.

The kind people of Limerick had warned I was to see some “bigger” country, and following huntsman Raymond O’Halloran was certainly an eye-opener — or should that be eye-closer? Suffice to say, I have completely reassessed of what I previously thought a horse capable.

Back in Blighty

By the feast of St Valentine, hunting in Blighty had resumed and Mrs Jonason had chosen it for her “day up front with the huntsman”. This proved to be a good choice, including as it did a six-mile point. It’s good to have someone upsides putting the pressure on when the fences are coming thick and fast; it adds a little va-va-voom.

Later when things turned a little “Irish”, I noticed Mrs Jonason had inherited her aversion to open ditches from her father (former Belvoir master Joey Newton). And the encouraging sounds that Chloe emitted — had she been at Uttoxeter, where trainer Henry Oliver was recently fined for waving his arms at a horse to encourage it to start — would surely have landed her in trouble with the stewards.

If you want excitement over open water, you don’t have to travel to Ireland, but it helps.

Ref Horse & Hound; 7 March 2019