Rory Knight Bruce finds out how some of hunting’s leading lights learnt their skills in the saddle
IT was over supper in Herefordshire with former Four Burrow master and amateur huntsman John Williams when he said, with his customary modesty: “I had a famous father and a famous daughter; whatever happened to me?”
He was referring respectively to Percival Williams (legendary Four Burrow master and huntsman from 1921–64) and the successful National Hunt trainer, Venetia Williams. The answer, of course, quite apart from his own Four Burrow mastership (1955–77) is that, in 1988, he wrote Riding to Hounds. In short he offers the following advice: pay attention, walk rather than canter when you can, have “an eye for the country”, and the courage to jump what has to be jumped.
That is the theory, but in practice, how did so many who hunt actually learn to ride to hounds? For myself, it started when I won the Derby. It does not matter that this was a Donkey Derby at Belstone on Dartmoor, where you encouraged your mount with a carrot on a long bamboo cane and kicked him, legs flapping like a tadpole. I wish I had read then another essential book, Riding from Scratch by Martin Diggle, published in 1987 and full of practical advice for achievable improvement.
“It is physically and mentally impossible to ‘learn to ride’ overnight,” Martin wrote. “Indeed, if one were to ask top horsemen from any sphere, ‘Are you still learning to ride?’ It is likely that they would all have the honesty to answer in the affirmative.”.
This exclusive feature is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, 18 March 2021 issue
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