Eve of Christmas Eve: the tactic of trying not to visit farmers when it’s raining stair-rods has been flawed this season. I spent much of the week negotiating country for tomorrow and after two months of rain, even I have to admit it is a little damp in places now.
All but two out of 30 farmers are happy — well, graciously prepared to grant access at least to hounds and hunt staff. Now it’s up to the trail-layer and the field master to craft a top day.
Christmas Eve: I received a post-hunting appraisal from field master. “Went much better than I thought it would and think everyone had fun.” I agree, rather relieved — thanks to the farmers. Workable scent; hounds had sharp hunt with drive and the field had a reasonable ride.
Christmas Day: the phone has been ominously quiet after hunting yesterday. Neighbours and local farmers came round for drinks and yet more mince pies, much to our children’s chagrin: “Another hunt meeting, Daddy; it’s Christmas Day!” — only appeased by the ridiculous avalanche of presents.
Boxing Day: my fear that the rain may dampen the locals’ enthusiasm for attending today’s meet was unfounded. Thousands lined the road, plus the obligatory huddle of balaclava-clad uninvited guests. If I went to a football match dressed like that, I’d be arrested.
On our arrival they displayed their finest concern for animal welfare by waving their flags and placards at Michael, my kennel-huntsman’s horse. They had already screamed “child abuser” at my wife Eleasha.
Michael, a gentle steed, took exception to their lack of manners and bolted down the road, eventually to glance off a car and launch Ben, my kennel huntsman, into the air. Like too many of us, pride came after this fall. He remounted only to leave after the meet for hospital where an X-ray revealed a broken leg. Nightmare.
Tensions rose post-accident between the police and a previously passive crowd and a chaotic scene was averted. On the plus side, the support was tremendous and it was good to see lots of new faces out hunting.
Saturday: drew hounds for the day’s hunting, was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme about the hunting horn and music, ate porridge, then left for hunting. Hounds ran all day, trail-layer got lost and Freddie had a blast on his pony. Beaming son, proud Mummy and Daddy.
New Year: the chimneys were low and the hedges looked black; all good signs for scent. Expansive country didn’t fail to deliver; on the move all day. Nearly let the hounds down with a poor decision; luckily they know best and redeemed the situation for me. Great hound work and a decent ride, too.
Post-New Year’s Day: the human spirit can surprise one at any time. We meet tomorrow in a rarely visited part of our country, so I went and saw a new farmer to increase tomorrow’s area: not holding out for our chances.
“That’ll be fine, what on earth could be the problem? Just make sure you tell my neighbours!”
Let’s hope he still thinks that tomorrow evening, but his unconditional welcome left us with a spring in our step.
Scent has definitely improved recently, but a few frosts to clean the ground would be perfect. Many packs are in a rich seam of sport, so here’s to happy hunting in 2020.
Ref Horse & Hound; 2 January 2020