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6 wonderful hunting tales of Christmas past…

We asked our H&H hunting writers and columnists for their best memories of hunting over Christmas. Here are our favourites...

Frank Houghton Brown, former master and huntsman of the Tynedale and Middleton

The Middleton would always send out two packs on Boxing Day, and in the late 1990s I went to Malton market place with the doghounds while kennel-huntsman Anthony Nicholson took the bitches to Driffield town centre. The ground was hardly huntable, frosted and crisp, and we had a sequence of stops with the hounds after the meet, notably the old people’s home.

We eventually found a fox in Amotherby Ings, some rough ground that was part submerged in icy flood water. Hounds almost immediately crossed the river Rye in exactly the same place as they had in October when the river was low, but now it was brim full.

In my haste to keep up with hounds I pushed my horse in to the water at the same point where I had forded it in the autumn but was swept downstream, parted company with my mount and swam to the far bank. I was reunited with my horse 100 yards downstream and then was the only one in touch as hounds ran across the Sinnington and Derwent hunt countries.

We finished in the dusk in Brian Raines’ farm yard and as we waited for the hunt lorry, the white frost was growing out of my saturated red coat. Brian’s wife Rosemary ordered me in to the house, stripped me naked and pushed me in to a hot bath: a demeaning end to a memorable day.

Event rider and Beaufort field master Beanie Sturgis

On Christmas Eve last season our nine-year-old son Sid and I went for a day on a Wednesday, which we don’t normally hunt on. The field master kindly gave me a pink ticket to ride wide. The hounds hunted really, really well and we had one of those special, stroke-of-luck days when every turn and decision was the right one. All we could see was hounds disappearing over the next brow only to gallop and jump like mad and see the same. Poor Sid had to jump couple of hairy places to keep up.

At one stage I jumped a very decent drop hedge and his pony stopped. There was no way on earth I could get back uphill over it and I had no idea which way to send him round, AND hounds were still screaming. Luckily he got over at the second attempt and we finished in a valley just above Bath, having negotiated some hairy places with just the first whipper-in, our master and his father, who was visiting from up north, and one totally and utterly addicted son.  His grin hacking back to the rest of the field and all the kind words of encouragement from others for “getting the hunt” was magical and one of my best Christmas presents.

Former Quorn field master Will Cursham

As a child my Christmas holidays were always defined by hunting. One of my earliest Christmas hunting memories was a day with the South Notts on Christmas Eve. The meet was at Colston Bassett. I remember for some reason I was reluctant, because my Dad had to wrench me out of bed and march me down to the stables. Once I was out, however, it was a different story. I had never jumped so many fences, and my pony, a 14.2hh skewbald called Henry who was inclined to run off with me if he got bored, was an absolute star. We even jumped a five-bar gate on to a canal. I came back buzzing and it was the perfect Christmas Eve.

My best Christmas hunting memory is from a few years later. I was 15 and had just graduated on to my first horse, a lovely 15.2hh skewbald called Apache. For the first time ever, I was allowed out on a Quorn Monday; in those days, if you were riding a pony, you were only really allowed out on Tuesdays and Saturdays, which were the quieter days when the doghounds were hunting.

The meet was just down the road from where I lived, at Hickling Manor. It was the bitch pack and Michael Farrin was hunting them. I had never seen such a quiet, consummate horseman, but had heard a lot about him from my Dad. Captain Fred Barker was field mastering and he gave the huge field a wonderful ride. It was the cream of Quorn Monday country and we jumped hedge after hedge after hedge. I couldn’t believe my little horse could jump such big obstacles, but he absolutely loved it. We even managed to jump a hedge with a proper brook behind it.

It was magical, and Muxlow Hill and the Hickling Standard were etched on my memory forever as hunting paradises. That was the first time I properly caught the hunting bug. I remember going back home afterwards and talking about it to my father for hours. I told him that I didn’t need any Christmas presents after that!

Andrew Sallis, master and huntsman of the Kimblewick

When hunting hounds pre-ban, we took all hounds and horses on a Christmas Day morning exercise. Across the downs and on car-less roads, it seemed like a fun way to start the festivities. After an hour or so our thirst needed quenching so we cold-called in on a hunt supporter for liquid sustenance. The whiskey was flowing, served by newly awoken friends in their dressing gowns, when “booo” chimed Barmston from a gorse bank behind the garden. Forty couple of hounds pricked their ears and dashed to his clarion call.

After a mile we were eventually on terms with hounds and it was time to pick them up. My kennel-huntsman gamely tried cheering them on further but we were about to enter the scene of a large Boxing Day shoot whose birds, let alone the keeper might have been surprised to see us on Christmas morning. We returned to kennels, buzzing like naughty school children and no one else ever knew a thing.

Pytchley huntsman Daniel Cherriman

There are certain days during the season when you really hope for a good day. Christmas Eve is one such day for me. I find it sets you up perfectly for Christmas and leaves you with a lingering feeling of warm satisfaction which wells up when ever you have time to sit and reflect on Christmas Day and there after.

Last year was one of my favourites. We’d met at Charwelton and had a busy enough morning. The majority of people went home at second horses, no doubt off to make their Christmas preparations, but it wasn’t until about 3pm that the best of the hunting began. We hit off a line near Preston Capes and the hounds fairly set sail. It was one of those lovely scenting days for a huntsman where you could keep up with hounds but didn’t really have to do much; they would check, have a quick cast, regather the line and surge forward with renewed vigour.

They hunted on into fading light and it was almost complete darkness when the hunt concluded. There were just four of us present for the duration of the hunt, my whipper-in Paul Davis, joint-master Rowan Cope, doctor Katy Clarke and me. It was bitterly cold as we hacked home but the glow on our faces was warmer then the chimneys in the village. Days like that are the sort of Christmas present money can’t buy.

H&H hunting reporter Rebecca Jordan

When my father hunted the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale in the late 1970s, my parents’ pre-Christmas routine was a flurry of festive parties. I had no problem with this. Tony and Helen Herring probably did. They had to put up with an annoying and spoilt nine-year old until the early hours.

It was bliss: Tony, my father’s kennel-huntsman, ex-Army and a professional showjumper, wasn’t going to let me disturb him watching the showjumping at Olympia on TV. Rugged up in one of the armchairs, he kept me topped up with some sort of creamy whisky liqueur (well before the days of Baileys) and I watched the electrifying and magical world of Olympia unfold in front of me.

All of a sudden I would find myself stumbling out to the car swaddled from the sharp frost. Hounds were singing their hearts out — they always struck up as soon as they heard Dad’s car drive into kennels. The memory of their music at this time of year still beats any Christmas carol for bringing out the festive spirit.

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