The hurdles are up on the kennel lawn. To the educated eye, this can mean only one thing: the imminent approach of the puppy show.
There are many aspects of preparing for the puppy show, including painting the kennels and ensuring that everywhere looks at its very best with stripy lawns and hanging baskets brimming with a colourful array of flowers — not to mention the marquee, and of course the tea. However, the chief consideration for the huntsman should always be the preparation of the young hounds. Everything else is just table decoration.
It is a common misconception that hounds naturally just wander out into a ring, among a throng of flowery dresses, bowler hats and, well, we are in England, umbrellas, and stand to attention. They then gallop up and down joyously and catch biscuits like leaping salmon.
The reality is, of course, that the 40 minutes most people see is the fruition of weeks of preparation. I like to approach it in building blocks. This will be my ninth puppy show at the Pytchley and I now have a recipe which, if followed, should produce happy and confident hounds on the day, although there can be the odd exception and animals have a habit of reminding us of the proverb “pride comes before a fall”.
The first step is to bring the puppies out en masse and just throw biscuits around. This is to familiarise them with the ring, give them confidence and teach them that biscuits come from a huntsman’s pocket and don’t just rain down from heaven — a concept that can take some young hounds a surprisingly long time to grasp. I usually leave several days between sessions for the hounds to digest what they have learnt.
The next stage will be to come out in pairs and have a little more individual attention, and hopefully at this point they’ll learn to catch. I will be constantly considering which hounds match quite nicely in pairs and this will help to form the order of draw. Then a crowd will be added to the mix, and this can be a big setback in their confidence, but over time they usually come out of their shell. Then judges are thrown in as well. This has no practical benefit to the young hounds, but certainly makes it more interesting for the onlookers.
The formality will increase slightly with time, starting with brown kennel coats and flat caps for hunt staff and progressing to white coats and even bowler hats for a final dress rehearsal. After that, you have only to book the judges and pray for sunshine. If your young entry are not quite to the standard you had hoped, a liberal liquid lunch is recommended for the judges.
Thank you, masters
At our point-to-point, we waved farewell to three Pytchley masters — Stuart Morris, Rowan Cope and Henrietta McCall.
All three have completed 10 years as joint-masters. The time and effort put in during that period is unquantifiable and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. In an era in which three seasons is considered a long-standing mastership, their dedication and commitment is to be commended.
Although we are sad to have lost their valuable knowledge and experience, none of them are physically moving away — although Mr Cope has joined the Quorn mastership — and therefore they will be on hand to offer advice and moral support, which is great for the continuity of the hunt.
Ref: Horse & Hound magazine; 30 May 2019
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