Modern life is full of “inspirational” quotes about the importance of setting goals. Irritating, but probably effective in helping you achieve more. So, what about setting some “hunting goals” this winter? Here are some to get you started.
1. Learn the names of some hounds, and what those hounds look like. This is an easy one to cheat on – listen to the huntsman talking to his hounds one day, remember a couple of names and drop them idly into conversation out hunting on a Saturday. It is highly unlikely that the person next to you will be able to correct you; they will nod fervently and agree that, indeed, Stormer does draw terribly well… But, more seriously, hounds are much the most important ingredient of a hunting day, and taking notice of what they do and when will increase your enjoyment of the day and your knowledge of what is happening.
2. Open some gates – and close them. I, like many others, am guilty of “hanging back” and not being the first person to volunteer to do a gate – mostly because my horse doesn’t make it easy and I am hopeless at getting on from the ground. But we all need to take our turn, so practice – and do the first one of the day and get it out of the way. Do this even if your hunt has a proper gate-shutting rota – one or two “official” gate-shutters can’t be everywhere, all the time.
3. Volunteer to help at a hunt event. Every hunt in the UK needs to fund-raise to keep the show on the road, and all too often it is the same small group of people, time and again, who do the work. Sign up for something – selling raffle tickets, being a fence judge at the point-to-point, parking cars at the Christmas fair, working behind the bar at the farmers’ party… It’s actually great fun, you get to know lots more people and your halo will get ever-shinier.
4. Read a new hunting book. Hunting has such a rich history and culture, and there is a wonderful, varied library to be discovered. For the uninitiated, start with Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man; the more “experienced” will love Lady of the Chase: the Life and Hunting Diaries of Daphne Moore, by Alastair Jackson. And the hardcore hunting person really ought to have read Beckford’s Thoughts on Hunting by now…
5. Make it your personal mission to smile at, wave at and thank every single person you come across on a day’s hunting who is not on a horse. They might be holding a gate open for the field, driving past you in a car or just standing by the side of the road; they might love hunting or hate it. Be friendly – show them we aren’t all the arrogant toffs they might perceive us to be. It really, really matters.
6. Fall off. If you don’t ever hit the deck out hunting, you are either Andrew Nicholson or you aren’t pushing yourself, and it’s always good to stretch the boundaries of your “comfort zone” a little. Get it out of the way early on and you can stop worrying about it. You will immediately be pounced on to pay up to the hunt tumblers’ club – not to do so with a smile is seriously bad form.
7. Be nice to newbies. If you see someone new out hunting, go and say hello and introduce yourself. Hunting is a community and we want people to join us and enjoy themselves. The very canny master of the pack I hunt with always says loudly to visitors, “Oh, this is the Blankshire, everyone is frightfully unfriendly and no one will talk to you…” Whereupon we all desperately rush forward proffering hipflasks, chatting 10 to the dozen and probably being quite annoying in our attempts not to be unfriendly.
8. Go visiting. Everybody’s hunt country, hounds and ways of doing this are different, and it really adds to your overall knowledge of hunting to experience that. We are so lucky in the UK to have an exceptionally broad variety of hunts to suit everyone’s tastes and pocket. While a “big day” with one of the first XV might have to be your Christmas present, your local beagle pack will probably ask you for a tenner – and you’ll learn more about hounds and hunting in a day than in three seasons with many mounted packs.
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