Daniel Cherriman discusses the impacts of an unpredictable season
Along with the majority of the rest of England, Northamptonshire moved into tier four at midnight on 30 December. We were out hunting when the news filtered through and it didn’t take long for the inevitable consequences to sink in. No more hunting until further notice.
The management of hounds has been very much more complicated this season due to the uncertainty and the stop-start nature. We had a relatively good and uninterrupted autumn hunting season here, but our opening meet, my last as Pytchley huntsman, was a strange affair, low-key almost, without the formalities of a meet.
We unboxed and swiftly moved off to begin our activities. As a huntsman, the effect of this is that you actually have no idea who is out, as it is at the meet where everyone says “Good morning” and you take a moment to cast your eye around and pick out various faces, both familiar and visitor quickly identified. The current policy of hunting in blue or black also has the added effect of blurring the field and making it much less easy to identify various notable characters.
No sooner was the opening meet done than news was received that a month’s lockdown was imminent. We were fortunate with some quick-thinking and accommodating farmers to hunt three consecutive days pre-lockdown.
A number of whippers-in
I have had a number of different people whip-in for me this season. This has its pros and cons. Visiting whippers-in may not be familiar with the hounds or the vagaries of the country, and the lack of continuity can make things more challenging as a huntsman.
On the plus side, we’ve benefited from various people generously stepping into the breach, many of whom are current or former professionals who have given up their time to help out. It has also given me the opportunity to see different people in action and assess some of the stars of the future.
On the last day before lockdown, I had Oliver Beazley, currently at the Dulverton West, whipping-in. It was timely that he was able to snatch a day before the enforced break, and I was subsequently delighted to offer him the position of kennel-huntsman for me at the South Shropshire next season.
Freezing to the handlebars
During the first week off, I reverted to a gentle walk with hounds as they were tired after a busy autumn and welcomed a short respite. Thereafter I exercised them on bicycles, as we do in summer.
Winter bicycle exercise holds none of the appeal of the summer. For one thing, it’s dark when you’d like to set off. By the time it’s light, the roads are busier than you would desire, and it’s cold and wet. November here was particularly cold; one morning I nearly froze to the handlebars and had to go straight into the warm sanctuary of the valeting room upon our return to thaw out.
Hunting recommenced on 2 December and hounds hit a good vein of form immediately. Less than a month later and we are “off games” again, this time for an undetermined period of time, which makes it much harder to plan a schedule for exercise.
At the time of writing, I intend to do the same as in November; whether this is sustainable beyond a certain period or whether hounds will begin to either lose fitness or, on the other hand, become overly fresh and keen, remains to be seen. In the meantime, let’s hope and pray for a swift decline in this horrible virus and a brighter and more stable future in 2021.
Ref: 14 January 2021
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