Our long-suffering vale farmers now bid us farewell as we head for the hills and woodland for the twilight of the season. Their relief is only matched by mine at not having to ask them again until autumn.
February also means the hunt AGM and the pantomime. Contrary to rumour, these are separate events, and as I appear on stage at both, the tin hat might get two outings in a fortnight. By the time this column appears, both will be over, gloriously I hope — although with hindsight, the hundreds at the pantomime may be wishing they’d opted for last week’s AGM formality after seeing my efforts in the cancan.
Voluntary humiliation is par for the course for an MFH, but I am assured that by now the video will be locked in a secret vault, as I never want to see it.
The tally of eight field masters I have worked with this season is only beaten by the 16 whippers-in and assorted assistants who have helped me since Ben, my kennel-huntsman, suffered an accident on Boxing Day: from top-class professionals and masters of hounds, past and present, to enthusiastic amateurs and my wife who, despite counting the hounds in singles not couples, has done a very good job. After all, she has hunted with me and witnessed our hunting journey and methodology for two decades.
However, she was most surprised that I didn’t conveniently vent any frustration on her out hunting, to which I replied that it wouldn’t do me any good in the long run. And if I did, she’d probably just go home, which would hardly improve the situation.
When normal service resumes next autumn and Ben is back in action, it may have done no harm for a bunch of our subscribers to have had to step up in the meantime and help out hunting; to learn how to take hounds down the road or across a field, to go on point and “ride on” helpfully without getting in the way.
Good scenting conditions on most days since Christmas have aided my whippers-in and hounds have scored a number of super days, like many other hunts who have also hit a rich seam of good form.
Field mastering isn’t that easy
As anyone who has done it quickly realises, field mastering isn’t as easy as one might think and does require preparation as well as a hunting brain and charm to pull it off successfully with benign, quiet authority; riding ability and horsepower are a given. It is particularly encouraging to have added some younger field masters to our squad and to see the fun people have had.
Field mastering in this, the wettest of seasons, continues to be a challenge, with “house rules” changing from farm to farm, and yet the field master is required calmly to make the day appear as seamless as possible.
Thanks to our grooms, our horses have held up well in the worst of conditions, despite me forgetting that you should never (kiss a girl leaning away from you nor) jump a gate leaning towards. Stevie — the horse — and I ended up in a heap together in a bog, but none the worse.
Hounds are running hard across the country, so be sure to get in as many days as possible before the very different delights of spring hunting are upon us.
Ref Horse & Hound; 20 February 2020