Andrew Sallis: A busy time of year *H&H VIP*

  • Crouching by the ladies’ lingerie section in Sainsbury’s to study the denier quality of opaque knee highs isn’t, perhaps, the most glamorous image of a Master of Foxhounds (MFH) going about his preparation for the season ahead… and without a single MP in sight. However, for anyone who has panicked with the agony of calf cramp when putting on or removing their hunting boots, talcum powder and smooth lower leg tights are life-savers.

    Hounds and horses aren’t packed away in the spring while the masters and staff go to Barbados for the summer, returning for the puppy show and occasional hound parade. Financial and organisational arrangements for the new season should have been confirmed months ago. After all, the autumn is the busiest time of year for masters and staff and it all needs to click into gear. Every aspect of hunting needs to be addressed prior to the season starting. Hounds and horses need to be suitably exercised. New farmers must be visited and all of the country covered to ensure that farmers are happy. Any broken fences need repairing and new ones built. Tack and all equipment — including the hunt vehicles — must be in good order.

    Before hunting starts, the older hunt coats receive their annual makeover with my inexpert needle and thread. Any new kit needs breaking in and fitting properly to avoid an early morning crisis. Importantly, does that new “beginning of term” haircut mean your hat wobbles?

    Hound lists are printed for kennels, to ensure that accurate records are kept of who hunted and when. Today’s masters should check that the trail-laying equipment — including camera — is all up together along with the Daily Record Sheets that must be completed after each day’s hunting to aid our proof of legal compliance.

    A good start

    The last few weeks of hound exercise, in particular, demand careful management. In our busy, well-used countryside, hound education is as important as fitness. Hounds must become neither bored and sour, nor like a rattling tin of jumping beans, ready to fire off in every direction. Boxing up to exercise around the hunt country gets the hounds used to the lorry and different places. It is good for the hounds to be seen, “off games”, by farmers, supporters and the general public away from kennels.

    New hunt horses may have been introduced to hounds and of course, young hounds have to become confident with horses. Only a handful of the larger establishments (and some of the smaller ones) stable their hunt horses away from the actual kennels, so most young hounds do get to see horses every day, either in the yard or walking out in the fields during the afternoon.

    It is a constant and necessary challenge to open new country each summer. My professor of composition at university used to say that if a composer’s music isn’t regularly performed, then there’s usually a good reason: it isn’t any good. If you have a well-run country, then it follows that there are unlikely to be too many large, huntable areas not already open. That said, it is nearly always possible to improve and add to existing country.

    The apocryphal tale that Captain Wallace never hunted a piece of country more than once in the same way is probably a little farfetched, given his length of remarkable masterships, however it is vital to give the punters a fresh approach and ring the changes.

    Thanks to our summer arriving better late than never and increasingly large, efficient machinery, the harvest has been relatively prompt. Most hunts have been out autumn hunting for several weeks trying to catch the best of the early morning conditions before they are burnt off by the sun. Once the first hound spoke on a crisp morn, the hound shows were but a distant memory. Hounds now have a serious job of work to do, which fortunately, they adore.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 22 September 2016