Andrew Sallis: ‘handling a biddable pack of hounds would be an easier challenge than herding some disloyal, empire-building MPs’ *H&H VIP*

  • Despite the constraints of the Hunting Act I believe it is important to keep the rich “language of the chase” alive. It would be shameful to lose it. Like any other lexicon, it is constantly developing as it reflects the changing environment and laws.

    Hunting’s language has influenced domains too. After all, members of both Houses in Westminster — the mother of Parliaments — are kept in order by the “whips”. At times, they may feel that handling a biddable pack of hounds would be an easier challenge than herding some of their disloyal, empire-building MPs.

    The last meet of the season always has a heady end-of-term feel. It was hosted by our senior joint-master in a popular piece of country and enjoyed by a large field, swelled by visitors. Hounds soon had a sharp couple of miles before checking in woodland. I swear I heard a shrill “Tally ho”, so quickly summoned my 17½ couple of hounds.

    We arrived at the point of exclamation to find a former lady master of an adjacent hunt off her horse, crouching in a bush. She maintains she cried: “Oh, no”, on stragglers approaching, not “Tally ho”, on spying the trail-layer. Off the hunting field it is at times hard to explain why, but huntsmen are known for their emotional vulnerability, particularly when things don’t go quite right, but this was not one of those moments.

    With my thoughts gathered I reverted to Plan A, a forward cast, and the hunt resumed. There followed a high-octane day with hounds hunting almost continuously, hedge hopping a-plenty for those who wished, while others cannily plotted their course across country, all in pursuit of hounds.

    When my field master rejoined hounds on his third horse, the remaining field of two plucky children — who had clearly conserved their ponies wisely — looked excited at the prospect of a private hunt until dawn. However, we were eight miles from the meet and had covered all of the country (and more besides) so it was time to conclude a brilliant day to end a challenging season.

    Much to my mother’s annoyance I rarely blow for home and once again I forgot, perhaps secretly wishing that hounds may encounter a late trail while I wasn’t concentrating on the way back to the lorry. No such luck this time, on their part.

    Looking back, the sport has been good, particularly since Christmas, if hard won. Only two days were lost and those farmers who said “No”, usually on account of the wet, numbered fewer than half a dozen. It is hard to believe that huntsmen throughout the country were cursing the balmy, arid conditions until mid-November. And then the rains and wind came.

    After the struggles of the past few seasons most masters and huntsmen appear to have moved on from believing “the wetter, the better’” necessarily provides the best sport when vast swathes of their country have been actually underwater.

    Barbados? I wish…

    It is important not to lose momentum once the season ends. Even experienced hunting folk wonder what a master or huntsman does once home is blown for the season. I’d love to sit at a bar in Barbados for the next four months and return for Peterborough and a little hound exercise before autumn hunting; but the so-called “off season” gets busier and busier in order to round off last season and prepare for the new.

    A tidal wave of hunt events now throws us towards 1 May when the merry dance begins all over again. Hark! for’ard away!

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 21 April 2016