Richard Gurney: 10 tips for a happy master and hunt [H&H VIP]

It is that time of year when new masters are getting their feet under the table as they nervously settle in before autumn hunting begins. Joining the mastership is a challenge in difficult times, but continuity is so important and finding good people is one of the hardest things packs of hounds have to achieve.

I can remember wondering if I was going to be up to it, but I had field-mastered on and off for the season before, and therefore was perhaps less nervous than some.

It is daunting to begin with and while many good people gave me advice, which helped hugely, it was Brian Perring — our senior master for many years — who came forward with the best suggestions.

He wrote down 10 points and said if you follow those you will not go too far wrong.

So for all you who are starting out in the job I hope they help you as much as they have me.

Brian Perring’s top 10 tips

1 Time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted — the biggest problems for me have always come from the person you thought you should have warned but didn’t. You must get round to see everyone; you will get a gut feeling and learn to know who must be contacted and warned.

2 It may be stating the obvious, but the hunt is as good as its last visit. It is easy to think you should not have jumped into that field of cows, but it is the end of the season and you will not be back for seven months, and by then the farmer will have forgotten. I can assure you categorically that he will not. In fact, he never will forget. You must see him that night.

3 Never assume, never presume — if there is somewhere you are allowed to go for the first time in a long while and the land owner says it is fine only if you make sure the gate at the bottom of the drive is closed, make sure it is closed. Even with everything else you have to do, go and make sure, or send someone you trust completely.

4 Never be afraid to grovel — this you will find is a necessary part of the job. An MFH uses four words more than any others, “please”, “thank you” and “sorry”. Out of these, and depending where you hunt, “sorry” is perhaps used most. Never be afraid to grovel, and then grovel some more.

5 Personal cards will always be remembered — we may live in the age of the email, but there is no substitute for a hand-written card or letter saying thank you or sorry. It will be remembered and, although time consuming, it is worth it.

6 Summer visits — do your summer visiting and remember to find out the name of other family members.

7 Keep a black book of all your contacts in one place — be organised: file them meet by meet ensuring you don’t forget land owners, tenants, game keepers or pony paddock owners.

8 Learn subscribers’ names — debatably more important than hound names. Hunting couldn’t survive without landowners on one side and subscribers and members on the other.

9 Ring farmers in the evening to thank them and to prevent any issues getting out of hand. Solving a problem that night will save you an awful lot of time later.

10 Always remember — you are in the entertainment business, so entertain. Smile as much as possible; I am not good at this — apparently! Look as though you are having fun and the field will think they are as well. Although it can be stressful, it is supposed to be fun, and showing good sport to the field is what it is all about. Jumping 5ft hedges with a 6ft ditch away isn’t everyone’s idea of fun; jumping five or six 2ft rails with hounds running can be just as much fun for all the field.

There is one final thing that he didn’t write down. He said “leave your country in a better state than you received it and you will have succeeded…”

I do hope this has been helpful to some of you and I wish you luck for many seasons to come. If you can stay a minimum of five seasons it will help your hunt so much.

It is hard work, with no pay and many difficulties, but I can assure you that it is both a great honour and also the best fun, and if you are field mastering then I make you this bet: you will never want to go second again.

Richard’s column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine, 7 August 2014