The Modern English Foxhound wasn’t developed to be followed on foot in lowland Britain.
Lying in a restorative bath last Saturday evening I reflected on this fact and the humour of our trail layer who, as we stood at the meet prior to hunting on foot, whispered, “This week we are on even terms!”
I am happy to report that seven miles later Dr Eric was looking almost as crimson as me.
Hounds had hunted beautifully with great cry and necessarily unaided. They obviously share the good doctor’s humour, as they hardly respected the huntsman’s limitations either.
The monsoon conditions and a settled barometer have brought decent scent and most packs have been flying. The only issue has been how to stay with them.
During snow, frost or extreme wet or floods, if hounds are to keep hunting there may be no option other than to hunt on foot.
In times past, a mid-season break for snow used to be the norm, giving horses and hounds a mini-break to catch their breath. When conditions dramatically deteriorate, masters are often faced with difficult decisions.
Three factors should be considered in the following order: 1, Farmer/landowner concerns; 2, The need to keep hounds in a hunting rhythm;
3, The sensibilities and expectations of the subscribers — in hope that they are a rational body and that if, as a last resort, hunting has to be cancelled, they should understand.
A biblical amount of water has fallen on our corner of “this sceptred isle” in the past couple of months.
As recently as November horses were kicking up dust, yet now we are scrabbling for the high ground.
I like to think that hounds can keep hunting in most conditions. When careful arrangements are made with farmers (and with a little luck), a way round can normally be found for the mounted field.
Thankfully hunt staff are generally given free range to stay close to hounds.
Our farmers are most generous and want to see the show stay on the road.
The East Sussex and Romney Marsh is largely a wet hunt country — the clue is in the name — but as a predominantly sheep country our farmers have stock out all year round and care must be taken of their land.
The glorious irony is that hounds often fly in such conditions — the wetter, the better.End of day visits or calls to farmers are never more important.
Co-ordinating the January meet card is a challenge in all but the luckiest of hunt countries and this year the final day of the shooting season — when nearly every shoot will either be having a beaters day or a final walk round — falls on a Saturday.
The post-shooting elbow room and new country available in February and March are very welcome.
Hunts should not exist in isolation and firm friendships between hunts — helping each other out or simply welcoming a visiting pack — are a positive feature of modern hunting.
It can be fascinating to hunt a different country and indeed see how visiting hounds hunt in your country.
As some hunts leave their vale country at this time of the year, we leave our marshes and head for the rolling countryside in the Weald.
The beginning of February almost feels like the dawn of another season with new exciting country to hunt.
Plans for arrangements for next season’s mastership should now be underway. The continuation of a successful mastership is always desirable and, importantly, hunt staff need to be confirmed very shortly too.
Changes are sometimes welcome and masters and hunt staff are understandably ambitious.
Over the past few seasons it has been of concern to hear of chairmen, and in some cases masters, not offering the courtesy of a reply or proper treatment when potential masters or professional hunt staff apply for positions.
I hope your hounds are showing good sport and please remember to thank your farmers who welcome hounds so generously.