Women ahead of the field

  • Since hunting was banned a year ago, the number of women out hunting has increased and there are now more female masters than ever before. According to the Masters of Fox Hounds Association (MFHA) 26% of Masters are now women – and 21 of them were inaugurated over the last year. Out of Britain’s 183 hunts, 32 now have a female Master.

    “Undoubtedly over the last five or six years there has been a trend towards lady masters,’ says Brian Fanshawe from the Council of Hunting Associations. “In the old days hunts were all about the dominant male.” According to Fanshawe, the need to divide the position of master between two people accounts, in part, for this rise. “I think ladies are better at dividing responsibilities,” he says, adding that most hunts are now being run by joint masters.

    Master of the Dulverton West, Lucy Barlow was inaugurated as Master last May. Having previously been a director of a pharmaceutical company, Barlow was determined to apply sound business ethics to the hunt. “In my opinion, a hunt like any modern, up to the minute organisation should recognise the skills women have to offer.”

    Barlow is at ease working with both men and women. “As long as responsibilties are very carefully defined, dividing responsibilities works brilliantly,” she says, adding that the Hunting Act has required hunts to deploy a great deal of organisation in order to work within the strict legislation. “I am 101% committed,” she maintains, “I feel it is my duty to put back in what I enjoyed.”

    Subsequently, no jobs have been lost within the Dulverton West and more people are out hunting than before.

    But Fanshawe also compliments women on their horsemanship: “Ladies are often far better with horses – more sympathetic,” he says, adding that the rise in the female field could be because young girls are much more willing to look after ponies than boys.

    Barlow is convinced that hunting must be promoted to the younger generation. Children enjoyed a cream tea at the first meet of the season and join Lucy on their bicycles when she exercises the hounds.

    But Barlow is keen to point out that the inspiration comes from the great, resiliant women masters that came before her. Pat Smythe was Master of the Dulverton West from 1940-1976. “She is a good icon,” says Barlow.

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