John Holliday: Surely not at Peterborough? [H&H VIP]

  • The puppy show season has peaked and the hunt horses have returned from their summer sojourn to the kennels. Mounted hound exercise has begun, bringing, as always, an air of excitement of the season to come.

    The Duke of Rutland’s puppy show ran smoothly, with an agreed good doghound entry although, I think it would be fair to say, the bitches did not quite reach the same standard.

    They were judged by Dominic Jones MFH from the South Dorset and Joe Townsend, huntsman for the Hurworth.

    I have enjoyed the pleasure of a number of judging engagements this summer. The first was the Essex and with it, my first visit to that county. Prior to my departure, I was issued dire warnings by Peter Collins, the Quorn huntsman, as to what to expect from the locals. He is an avid fan of a television program called TOWIE, so I traversed the M11 with some trepidation.

    I was greeted by a fine cross-section of the rural Essex community and a fine pack of hounds. Their coats shone like guardsman’s toecaps, difficult to achieve so early in the summer. They looked as well if not better than any I have seen this year.

    The welcoming and attentive audience was, as far as a naive northern lad can tell (without closer inspection) free of breast enhancements and spray-on tan.

    My co-judge was James Barclay, whom it was my pleasure to assist. Mr Barclay comes from the area and was a swift and confident appraiser, as one would expect from someone whose family is as steeped in hunting lore as they.

    Being a large-framed fellow he also provided, on what was a sunny day, a liberal amount of welcome shade.

    From the rolling wheat fields and hair extensions of Essex, my next engagement was the domicile of footballers and white Range Rovers: the apparently endless grassland of Cheshire.

    Again, the guests didn’t fit with the modern-day caricature of that fair county — no tattoos that I noticed, nobody proclaiming undying love to bygone girlfriends, and nobody dripping with gold and diamonds.

    The only concession to the modern parody was the prizes. Never have I seen, outside Garrard’s, such an array of silverware in one place — it would warrant high-level security. The cups and mementos laid out on the table would have rivalled the trophy room at Old Trafford. Small wonder one sensed an air of competition among the puppy walkers.

    The 126th Royal Peterborough Foxhound show has just been held. In the doghound championship, it would have been nice to see Patrick Martin finish his distinguished hunting career with a Bicester champion, but it was not to be, pipped as they were at the post by VWH Steptoe 13.

    Access to the finest stallion hounds, for even the smallest kennel, is given freely and generously and this has resulted in the very high standards now attained in the modern foxhound.

    Many of the smaller hunts can now compete very well with the larger and more established showing packs. I doubt this munificence is equalled in any other field of animal breeding.

    Drama overtook proceedings during the harrier judging after what can only be described as a fracas reminiscent of the football terraces, in the collecting ring. Yes, at Peterborough — is nowhere sacred?

    A group of school children from Nottingham recently enjoyed a tour of the Belvoir kennels, escorted by Sarah McCorquodale MFH. In the Duke’s room, which functions as a mini museum, a rather moth-eaten and greying fox mask always gives rise to much debate.

    One diligent youth took time to read the small print about the exceptional hunt during which the Dukes hounds were joined by the Quorn, before overtaking their fox at Welby Holt. Duly impressed, a serious young face turned to Lady Sarah and asked: “It must have been tiring, were you on that hunt?” The date was 22 December, 1884.

    John’s column was first published in Horse & Hound (24 July, 2014)