Despite hunting’s problems, we must move forwards, says Andrew Sallis
“I got 99 problems but… my hounds… ain’t one,” rapped Jay Z (sort of). After keeping a fit pack of hounds on ice for a month, last week’s release into the hunting field was glorious. On crisp mornings hounds had bounced down the road but despite their confusion at being “off games”, had kept themselves together beautifully.
Those of us who hunted hounds back in 2001 remember when hounds had to hit the ground running in mid-December, once the scourge of foot-and-mouth disease had finally been banished from the countryside, after snapping shut the previous season in February.
Hounds never cease to amaze; they have rebooted their season with a flourish. The ladies and gentlemen, just as eager to return to the hunting field in their legions, armed with fresh, giddy horses, galloped and jumped behind hounds until dark on Saturday, empty saddles and smiles aplenty; surely the best antidote to any lockdown blues.
Our hunt’s recent trail-hunting video, filmed just before lockdown 2.0 and produced with the Countryside Alliance, has just topped 30,000 views. It provides a useful educational and promotional tool for trail-hunting and another library film, showing our hounds hunting trails successfully. Such footage is vital for all hunts to help repudiate malicious allegation and submit to any licence-issuing bodies.
Conveniently timed for some with the resumption of hunting, the recent public flogging of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA), hunting’s governing body (news, 3 December), hasn’t made pleasant viewing and will inevitably result in naval-gazing, review and lessons learnt, however spurious the allegations are shown to be upon closer investigation.
Irrespective of how it grapples with the burden of being the self-regulatory body of post-ban hunting, the MFHA’s achievements of late are considerable, particularly in positioning hunts, masters and hunt staff in the modern world of business, employment and compliance.
A master’s lot has never been more complicated, but the rewards remain great. However, rank and file masters, the bedrock of masterships nationwide, which number countless successful businessmen and women among them, have pointed to well-meaning naivety in “web-gate”, but very few are looking for whole-scale revolution. That would not be at all helpful.
Splinter groups, mostly high on white noise, low on sound ideas, have been proposed and summarily spun themselves into the ether. Like hunts and their legal trail-hunting activities, the MFHA must evolve and continue to support hunts, robust in their defence, but it must necessarily be consistent in disciplining and sanction in order to have internal credibility.
Humility in leadership is not a sign of weakness. By the end of their first week in office, all masters are acutely aware of the need to shoulder responsibility for actions, not only of their own making but others’, too, even if they were oblivious or worse still, it was unsanctioned; such is the burden of office. Such an officer is not necessarily defined by the perceived “offence” but how they deal with it.
As a grumpy brigadier once balled at me, “If a fish stinks, it stinks from the head! Well done for seeing me, now have a whiskey.” The fact that it was his neighbouring farmer, acting alone, who had cut his wire fence and not me, would have only complicated matters, so remained unreported.
Hunting has always faced challenges and emerged stronger, together. Let’s
enjoy our festive hunting with pride.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 17 December 2020
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The two-time National champion seemed to be enjoying his day out