Andrew Sallis: Puppies and planning [H&H VIP]

  • Hound puppies have buckets full of mischief and rarely a grain of malice, but I have never considered their telepathic talents until recently. Save for the odd weekend break (probably to regain some of the puppy walkers’ sanity or re-landscape the garden), kennels had been free of hound puppies for several months. Yet within a couple of hours on Monday morning the whole of one litter of puppies, neatly spaced around our hunt country, were coming back to kennels.

    Our long-suffering puppy walkers have been joined by several new recruits this year, so, not wishing to seem ungrateful, I fixed a smile and welcomed them home. As ever the walkers have done a fantastic job and all of the young hounds bounded into kennels, looking a million dollars. Once properly settled they will be walking out and eager to begin the next stage of their education.

    Planning ahead

    Hunt committees should be addressing their mastership arrangements for next season shortly. They will need to confirm whether the incumbent team (or a variation thereof) will remain in office, or if a completely new team is required. The committee needs to consider carefully what sort of arrangement best suits the country, its finances and expectations in order to produce top quality sport and a happy ship — not just whether to have an amateur or professional huntsman.

    Avid H&H readers will know that the opening meet normally heralds the first wave of adverts for next season’s masterships. The next wave is generally in January — the traditional month for any job-related blues — and there are usually a few last-minute affairs just before Hunting’s Advent on 1 May.

    Due to hunting’s seasonal nature, it is surely the only area of life which demands such a long “play-out” after notice is given — no City-style “gardening leave” here. Indeed for most professional hunt staff and masters, the majority of the actual hunting season is normally post-notice.

    This can produce all manner of scenarios — an awkward few months, a never-ending testimonial, a wonderful last hurrah, prolonged tears and laughter. In any event, as it is necessary for new masters and staff to bed in before the season starts, it is still probably the best system.

    With the pressures of a modern life and a 21st century mastership, the Hunting Act notwithstanding, the average mastership length is thought to be three seasons. Much is made about short terms in office. However, any glance through Baily’s Hunting Directory shows that brief masterships are nothing new. At least packs of hounds aren’t bought and sold with every change of master any more.

    Long, successful masterships are of course highly preferable for the happiness of a hunt country, and still exist today in many parts.

    When I took office I recall being told in no uncertain terms by a highly respected hunt chairman, now a Peer of the Realm, that I was about to take on the most important responsibility of my life, namely the guardianship of a pack of hounds and a hunt country.

    As I had only had a couple of jobs previously, was unmarried and had no known dependents, save for Poppy, my faithful terrier, I thought it was worth the risk. Fourteen years, a family and a receding hairline later, I think both the noble Lord and I were (almost) right.

    Fact or fiction?

    Hunting’s bush telegraph buzzes at this time of year with news of who is moving where, sometimes even before the protagonists know about it. Last summer I learnt with amusement that I was not only moving to a particular vale country 200 miles from Sussex, but also that I had recently met with the chairman and the committee, who were equally delighted.

    It took some time to convince the various newshounds that I wouldn’t know the aforementioned chairman if he walked in the room.

    When looking to move it is important to remember that the grass is not always greener on the other side, although the view may be more appealing. Hunts tend to fall into two categories — those with a generally positive, friendly outlook on events and, sadly, those who stumble gratuitously from one hunt row to another. Careful research is essential.

    Now the temperature has dropped and once again we have suffered a biblical amount of rain, hounds have found their top gear and our maximum sized mounted fields are enjoying the good going. “Where do they all come from?” my much-missed late joint- master used to bellow in puzzled amazement. As long as the farmers can take it, I think it is rather good.

    Ref: H&H 11 December, 2014