A vital relationship: Why it’s important for a huntsman and field master to work well together *H&H Plus*

  • A huntsman and a field master must work closely together and communicate effectively and frequently, says Kimblewick master and huntsman Andrew Sallis

    The increasing pressures on hunting in the modern countryside throw a spotlight on the seminal relationship between field master and huntsman: their bond and trust has never been more crucial.

    Respect for the land has always been a founding principle of hunting. As farm income is increasingly derived from non-food production and away from the marketplace, those whose privilege it is to use their land are bound to obey rules and conditions their forebears would have found unfathomable. And yet, tremendous sport is still produced up and down the country under challenging conditions.

    The best field masters have a natural ease of horsemanship and diplomacy. Authority stamped with charm is far preferable to clamour. Idle threats and rudeness do not gain respect either. Young field masters are essential and often give the field a real buzz but they must learn their craft from elders in varying countries and remember that they are ambassadors too, who, particularly at a young age, cannot become aloof to everyone but their clique.

    In these times of multiple joint-masterships and area managers, most huntsmen must work with numerous field masters, each with their own style, skill and experience. Relations can be strained at times, understandably, but this is usually due to a lack of communication.

    All disputes should be kept out of sight and off the hunting field. Public displays of disloyalty gain few admirers, no matter the reason or virtue. Mutual loyalty is therefore imperative to success.

    There is a fine line between a huntsman who enjoys testing those who try to follow in his wake across fearsome country and one who purposely tries to lose the field. Such behaviour is unforgivable and ultimately apocalyptic; just as sinful as the jealous or spiteful field master who deliberately stands still, moaning about the huntsman who is trying to perform miracles, when judicious movement could keep the ladies and gentlemen entertained and in touch.

    The mounted field generally prefer to be on the move as much as possible, but it doesn’t want to be a magical mystery tour. A day’s hunting, like a good story, should have a beginning, a middle and an end, a purpose and a narrative. Pacing is crucial; the sense of anticipation covertside, before the haroush. The yo-yo method – stop, gallop, stop, gallop – can bring on nausea affecting the horse’s sensibilities, too.

    Renowned horseman Rowan Cope, now joint-master of the Quorn after a successful decade at the Pytchley, insists that both huntsman and field master “sing off the same hymn sheet.” A serial visitor and observer of hunting practitioners at work, he concedes that, “too often, the huntsman and field master seem to be out for different reasons. Communication and discussion beforehand are essential, and it can help if they are of similar age.”

    Cope’s tenure at the Pytchley with professional huntsman Daniel Cherriman was a fine example of huntsman and field master working together seamlessly to create first-class sport.

    Priorities and options

    Away from the soaring hedges in the most challenging vales, most hunting in our isles takes place in relatively uninspiring countryside for the (hedge-hopping adrenaline junkie) thrill-seeker. Here the field master cannot resort to a convenient line of hedges and the odd gate to sharpen up the field, whether hounds are running or not. A greater emphasis is made on allowing the field to see hounds work up close.

    Huntsman and field master should walk the country endlessly together to understand their priorities and options. Over time, this need not be so time-consuming, but it is nonetheless vital that they communicate before the day and both understand their constraints and concerns.

    At least one, preferably both, should visit the country the day before. Livestock moves, crops are sown, and access points change. There should always be a Plan A (and preferably a Plan B too) but should something unexpectedly wonderful happen, the field master should be able to adapt effortlessly, read the unfolding story and not “scatter their toys.”

    Many masters decide for good reasons that the mounted field is better served by a different field master, maybe someone from outside of the mastership who has the necessary “on field” skills. However, Adam Waugh, joint-master and huntsman of the College Valley and North Northumberland, bemoans the recent trend of the “celebrity” field master.

    “A well-known equestrian makes a guest appearance in a fashionable piece of country to entice visitors,” laments Adam.

    A predictable trail-hunt may satisfy this development but it is fraught with danger, not least the real possibility of under-performance and ending up in a heap of trouble if the “flying field master” hardly knows the country and goes off-piste, jumping a mighty hedge into a prize-winning vegetable patch or, worse still, a new grass lay. He continues, “It takes at least a season for a new partnership of huntsman and field master to work each other out.”

    One role is naturally more reactive than the other, but it is important for the huntsman to have complete confidence in their field master, safe in the knowledge that they are going to be in the right place, or at least not in the wrong place.

    After a season or two, the best relationships can operate by telepathy and synthesis. A hand gesture or positioning of the horse can signal a change of plan or unfolding story. The field can sense such a bond and to be half of that successful double act is no less of a thrill too.

    A working relationship

    An amateur huntsman often works with their partner as field master. The perilous road these partners tread for their loved ones is laden with potholes.

    Matrimonial familiarity must not be laid bare in the hunting field with liberties and a sharp tongue getting the better of either party. It can, however, produce an obvious and brilliant working relationship.

    When Alan Hill, renowned point-to-point trainer and former top point-to-point jockey, hunted the Vale of Aylesbury for many years, pre-ban, his wife Lawney (now a National Hunt trainer and herself an ex-champion amateur jockey) would often field master in the best of the vale.

    High-octane days followed with one piece of printable advice from husband to wife: “When I’m walking, you should be trotting, when I’m trotting, you should be cantering and when I’m cantering…”

    Richard Tyacke, erstwhile a leading amateur huntsman of his generation, recalls the recent hard-riding fields in both the Tynedale and Wynnstay countries. In Northumberland he had the good fortune of a top-class field master, Caroline Dickinson, who led the field on every day’s hunting.

    “She never missed a beat nor turned a hair. We knew our jobs and left each other alone. This continuity in a large, galloping country where the country all linked up was invaluable.

    “Once a hunt was in progress it was everyone for themselves, particularly in the Wynnstay country. There was no point in everyone losing the hounds. I was never upset if the field master got to the trail’s conclusion before me, but it rarely happened!” he says wryly.

    Such camaraderie exudes confidence which attracts followers and builds reputations.

    Hunting is about the relationships and stories: hounds and trail, huntsman and hounds, rider and horse, hounds and environment, horse and country. The relationship between huntsman and field master is no less key to the success of a day and the tales told thereafter.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 20 August 2020