The Festival of Hunting at Peterborough is the highlight of the summer calendar. It is an opportunity for all the hunts and hunting people to get together, show their hounds and talk hunting. The new format, with the different types of hounds being shown simultaneously, has revolutionised the day. It has made it so much more inclusive and more of a family day.
Of course, standards are standards. Masters wear suits and bowlers, ladies wear hats and the hunt staff continue to show in their livery, despite the continuation of the hottest summer since 1976. Incidentally, I can’t remember that summer as I was still in the creation stage, but my mother did say that the whole thing was truly unpleasant — I think she meant the heat.
Peterborough is the grand finale of the showing season. To judge in the main ring is a huge privilege and needs taking seriously. Judges are chosen a year in advance and will have been to the earlier shows to see what hounds are being produced. They need to get their eye in and numerous visits to kennels and puppy shows will have them performing like tuned athletes… The senior judge runs the ring while the junior judge is given the important task of checking “toes and balls”.
The lack of a ball was once spotted and pointed out by a female American judge, rather embarrassingly, as it was in the stallion hound class.
The build up for the hard-working hunt staff started months ago, with numerous hound previews and “away trips” to socialise the young hounds. This is no mean feat and takes hours of time, but is essential in the preparation of the young entry if you want them to show well.
The big day arrives and the final part of the jigsaw is getting there in one piece. A disagreement in the kennels the night before or a thorn picked up on hound exercise could so easily destroy all the hopes and dreams.
Our day didn’t start too well. Our whipper-in’s well-polished boots fell apart as he put them on, so a rush to find a generous stallholder for some sort of a replacement was the first priority. The only ones that fitted had six patches and had not been polished in the past decade.
One of our doghounds then thought it was a great idea to catch his foot in the kennel bars, resulting in a three-legged hound.
Luckily, he had walked it off before the class began and, alongside three others, managed to clinch the coveted two-couple class.
After lunch, the judging of the bitches was swift. After securing the couples class and the two-couple class, the championship was in our sights. The announcement came, the cheer went up and we had won. For anybody breeding his or her hounds, this is a truly special moment.
Breeding a pack of hounds takes a lifetime. Choosing your best hunting bitches and finding dogs that are not related and conformationally an improvement on your hounds, as well as certified hunters, is not easy. The gene pool is narrow and getting narrower, so the search for new stallion hounds is becoming a full-time occupation.
A championship deserves a celebration and drinks in the wonderfully generous Lycetts’ tent preceded a return to the lorry.
The day finished as it had started; a slip on the lorry ramp as we were loading resulted in a collision with some (untouched) glass bottles of water. My kennel-huntsman kindly offered to stitch the gaping wound to my hand, but this was declined and Peterborough’s finest A&E required a kennel inspection.
All that remains to say is what a wonderful occasion it is. Hunting has survived so many things and will continue to do so.
The next generation are there, ready and waiting; the hunting world must embrace this and the changes we need to make for the long-term future of our sport.
Ref Horse & Hound; 26 July 2018