The Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show – now part of the Festival of Hunting – is the pinnacle of the hound show world. Alastair Jackson, who has judged foxhounds there seven times, explains the intricacies of how the judges are chosen
THE date of the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show, usually in mid-July, has been the highlight of the summer for lovers of hounds since 1878.
It is the “shop window” for the foxhound, attracting the best-looking hounds from the United Kingdom – and occasionally Ireland – and sets the standard for other hound breeders.
A new era in the history of hound shows at Peterborough was born in 2005, when the formerly select foxhound show became part of the Festival of Hunting. It was a defiant answer to the iniquitous hunting ban, which had become law in February that year. With rings for all other major breeds of hounds, a horse show with inter-hunt jumping and a plethora of tradestands, the festival has enabled the general public to enjoy the foxhound show.
There are only five formally recognised hound shows, of which Peterborough is the senior. The South of England at Ardingly, the Wales and Border Counties at Builth Wells, and the Great Yorkshire at Harrogate will – in normal years – all have taken place before Peterborough, leaving only the West of England at Honiton as an end-of-summer finale.
The results of the previous shows will have been discussed and criticised at length and nearly all the serious contenders for Peterborough will have been seen at one or the other.
A championship at a regional show is sometimes as difficult to achieve, but the fact remains that in years to come it will only be the Peterborough champions that will be remembered.
Their photographs will also be printed in the Foxhound Kennel Studbook so that they may be studied for conformation and type by generations of hound breeders to come.
However, ultimately it must be remembered that these momentous decisions were the opinions of only two men (a lady has not yet been invited to judge foxhounds at Peterborough) – the judges.
A long road
WHO are these judges, and how do they find themselves in this position of such complete authority? The answer is that their decisions, far from being automatically accepted, will be scrutinised critically and questioned freely.
Should they be rash or incompetent enough to make a decision which is widely seen as being incorrect, they will be ridiculed, ostracised, and probably seldom asked to judge again anywhere.
No wonder many judges take the safe option of choosing their champions from hounds which are fancied contenders from one of the top kennels – and indeed this is more often than not the correct decision anyway.
However, there are sometimes outsiders which merit consideration. Provided they do not make a habit of searching for such hounds just to cause a “stir”, judges must have the courage of their convictions in such cases.
The road to judging at Peterborough is a long one with many pitfalls for the unwary to fall into. It usually starts with an invitation to judge at a puppy show. The judges here are nearly always masters or former masters of hounds, with professional hunt servants also quite often asked to officiate. However, the professionals have not yet been asked to judge at one of the open foxhound shows.
Many embryo judges fall at this first hurdle, with their co-judge gleefully passing the word on of the junior judge’s lack of competence. It may well be that he has no eye for the points of a hound, or it may be something with no connection with the basics of the job in hand – such as wearing the wrong clothes, overdoing the wine at lunch, or telling a totally unsuitable story.
However, if our probationary judge successfully completes several puppy shows with reasonable reports, his name may well be mentioned at a hound show committee meeting when they are choosing their judges.
A suitable senior judge will be asked to officiate with him to guide him through the complexities of the system of judging a hound show, hopefully to teach him to judge the hounds swiftly and accurately, and to overrule him should he get too headstrong.
The number of senior judges are relatively small and, if anything, seem to be getting smaller. They will all be masters or former masters, who have bred their own hounds and who often judge at puppy shows and hound shows. In order to have a quick eye, it is vital that a judge looks at a lot of hounds regularly. As some of the older judges officiate less often, it is noticeable how they slow up and sometimes make glaring mistakes.
This of course can be due to lack of concentration and general deterioration due to age, as much as lack of practice.
Then the word gets about quickly: “Old so and so’s had it, y’know; kept us all there ’til 7pm judging the bitches last week; only put up hounds which had his breeding – terrible.”
Chairmen of hound show committees are then surreptitiously telephoned and there is soon one less senior judge on the circuit.
Some senior judges have a reputation for being good tutors and allowing their juniors to do a maximum of the judging within the restriction of time. Others are the opposite.
“Toes and testicles boy! That’s your job today,” said one senior judge of the doghound classes. “Check they’ve got the necessary in both departments and I will get on with the judging.”
Most regular hound show attendees have seen the sad spectacle of a glowering senior judge striding purposefully from entry to entry when the hounds are all in the ring, with a white-faced junior, bowler hat pushed well back, frantically turning the pages of his programme and trailing six paces behind his would-tutor.
A few of the junior judges, who continue to impress the seniors, are then upgraded; but even then a committee will be cautious.
“He must have an experienced junior judge, y’ know; it’s his first time in charge and he might lose his nerve.”
These “younger” senior judges will generally be quicker and more consistent, although there are the well-known exceptions among the very senior brigade, who judge with lightning speed and accuracy.
The youngsters also tend to be less inclined to bias when it comes to the breeding of the hounds. It surprises some that the judges are equipped with the same catalogue as the spectators, showing the breeding of each hound, but this tradition is jealously defended by those in authority.
Making the cut
THE Peterborough committee will be even more cautious in their choice of judges and it is likely that a judge will have officiated at several of the four regional shows before he is asked to act as junior at Peterborough.
There will have been several judicious telephone calls to his former co-judges before the final decision is taken. This is done immediately after the previous Peterborough show, when a small gathering of very senior foxhound men meet nearby at Milton, the home of both the present chairman of the hound show committee, Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland, and his predecessor. It will then be several months before the judge is formally invited.
Traditionally, Peterborough is the most formal of the hound shows and it was not long ago that all men attending wore pin-striped suits, bowler hats, stiff white collars and carried umbrellas.
The whole atmosphere has become much more informal since the foxhounds became part of the festival. The umbrellas and stiff, white collars have, by and large, been discarded by the men, but most of the ladies of course continue to wear hats and summer dresses.
With more female masters of foxhounds every year, and many of them making a great success of breeding their hounds, it is only right that some of them are asked to judge both puppy shows and regional hound shows.
“An eye for a hound” is not confined to the gentlemen, of course. It cannot be long before the ladies breach the bastions of the premier hound show and one of them is asked to judge foxhounds at Peterborough.
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This exclusive feature is also available to read in this Thursday’s magazine, on sale 15 July
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