Andrew Sallis: A hunt is a club of friends *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    The annual procession of horseboxes and removal lorries criss-crossing the country, moving hunt staff and masters, has ceased. From landing in a new hunt country, there are just 16 weeks before hunting starts. If moving house is the most stressful experience, then starting a new position, often with new staff, a pack of hounds to learn and a constituency of possibly thousands of farmers, subscribers and wider supporters must be off the scale. New schools for the children must be found too. Am I alone in thinking that Ofsted should rate schools according to the proportion of parents who are happy to do the school run in hunting boots or wellies?

    There can be few roles which require so much information, some of it highly sensitive, to be absorbed almost instantly. It would be so much easier if you could plug a USB memory stick into your brain listing nearly a thousand farmers, their spouses, children, farm boundaries, and mistresses, pet likes and dislikes. From the puppy walkers to the friendly plumber, the DEFRA inspector to the amateur whipper-in, the voluminous quantity of information required can be mind-boggling. And then there is the small matter of walking and learning the country.

    Given the multi-leisure options available to families and pressures from increasing school and social commitments, probably more than ever before, hunting must be fun. This need not contain gimmicks and must not detract from the essence of good sport but as a natural, more profound result of it.

    The most successful premier hunts are consistently those with the most diverse base of subscribers and supporters which offer the best sport, generated from hounds in a well-run country, confident, even stylish, field-mastering and a positive, knowledgeable enthusiasm that permeates from the mastership and hunt staff. After all, a hunt is not a social experiment; it is a club of friends, from all walks of life, bound together by a love of hunting and the countryside.

    A chance to ‘begin the end’

    Red kites soared over head as I left kennels with my new hounds last Sunday morning on bicycle exercise with only my seven-year-old son as a whipper-in. I remarked to my kennel-huntsman that if he heard hounds in full cry, it will have gone horribly wrong and most likely be my fault.

    Today, we have the chance to “begin the end” of a great wrong afflicted upon the countryside and our children. There are many reasons to cast your vote in a general election, most of which could be considered far more important than hunting. But given the life-enhancing freedom it offers and the guardianship of land it demands, there are few better reasons.

    The Prime Minister, not a lady of the chase, made a brave early commitment to us. We have to trust her and grasp this unexpected and best chance we’ll ever have of restoring the thrilling music of hounds in legal pursuit of their quarry to our countryside.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 8 June 2017