‘The Olympics of hunting’: why you should visit the Festival of Hunting

  • It’s the Festival of Hunting at Peterborough tomorrow (21 July). Catherine Austen looks forward to a celebration of the hound and all things hunting-related

    There might be a small sporting event in Tokyo about to take place, but before the Olympics get underway, there’ll be seriously hot competition in the British hound showing world tomorrow (Wednesday, 21 July).

    The Festival of Hunting, known colloquially as “Peterborough” because it takes place just outside that East Anglian cathedral city on the East of England Showground, is a championship event. The winners of the various regional hound shows come together for the season’s most important and significant contests and – once you understand a little about what you are looking at in a hound – it is a surprisingly exciting spectator sport which involves passionate rivalries.

    The Festival is built around the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show, which is in its 132nd year. The modern English foxhounds are shown inside, while the old English foxhounds, harriers, beagles, bassets and bloodhounds are shown in outside rings.

    There are tons of country sports-related tradestands, and plenty of food concessions and bars. The inter-hunt relay is always entertaining, with dozens of both senior and junior teams waiting their turn to race around the ring over a variety of fences.

    It’s hunting’s big day out of the summer, as Tom Arthey, joint-master of the Pytchley with Woodland, explains.

    “It’s so rare to get people and hounds from packs the length and breadth of the country together in one place; such a concentrated mix of different types of hounds, hunt staff in their coloured liveries, masters and supporters,” he says.

    “For hunt staff and masters, especially given the 18 months we’ve had, it is a fantastic opportunity to see their colleagues and compare notes on hound breeding, which stallion hounds they’ve used and what type of hounds those are producing. And in showing terms it’s the Olympics – the best of the best.”

    What goes into getting a hound to show well at Peterborough?

    “Practise, practise, practise,” Tom says. “The more that hunt staff can get the hounds out, the more they learn not to be distracted by what’s going on around them and to pay attention to the person showing them. They become used to an audience, to noise, and learn to focus on the task in hand.”

    In the same way that show horses are taught to carry themselves and stand well to show themselves off to the best advantage, hunt staff spend a great deal of time doing the same with hounds.

    “Hours and hours go into getting a hound confident enough in a ring to show themselves well,” Tom says. “Like horses, they will be washed and groomed the day before so that their coats are clean and shiny.”

    The weather at Peterborough is likely to be hot, and hounds’ welfare is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Cold water galore will be available, and ample kennel space in the shade is provided for hounds to be able to rest. Possibly we should worry more about the hunt staff in their thick hunting coats than the hounds – but generally those showing the hounds are insistent that they must wear their hunt’s livery and look as smart as possible.

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    The Young Handlers’ class has become a major part of the show – do go and watch these hound- and hunting-mad youngsters display their showing and handling skills.

    The show starts at around 10am – please visit www.festivalofhunting.com for more information, and to buy tickets online for this superb celebration of hunting. Tickets may be bought online until the day itself (Wednesday, 21 July).

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