“How are you fixed on Tuesday?” asked the broad Irish voice at the other end of the phone. Anticipating what was to follow, I said: “I can make myself available!”
It was the right answer. The voice belonged to Quorn huntsman Ollie Finnegan, who explained his first whipper-in had had a nasty fall on the Friday and was temporarily off games, and he was therefore looking for somebody to stand in for the day.
And so it was that at 11am on a Tuesday morning in November I sat, as I had done many times before, beside the Quorn hounds and many friendly and familiar faces. Familiar that is, because I spent seven very happy seasons as first whipper-in to the Quorn before coming to the Pytchley as huntsman, with a season at the Glamorgan between the two.
I looked forward to the day with childish excitement, despite hunting my own hounds four times that week as well. I felt I owed it to Ollie who whipped-in for me on so many occasions over the past couple of years when my own whipper-in broke his back.
In addition to that, there was a sense of winding the clock back 10 years and going home. This got me reminiscing about days gone by. I had the privilege of whipping-in to Peter Collins, who hunted the Quorn hounds for 17 seasons before retiring at the end of last season.
Peter and his brother Bob have been hunting heroes of mine since an early age, and I owe them a great deal of gratitude for introducing me to the sport in such an enthusiastic and infectious way. I can remember on many occasions galloping across the cream of Leicestershire’s grass with hounds running well, looking across to Peter who, beaming, would say, “And we’re getting paid for this!” or, “This is the best job in the world.”
Casting my mind back further still, I recall happy teenage days in the Portman kennels where he instilled in me the professional basics of hunt service. The correct way to wear spurs, where your buckle should sit on your garter straps, and how to handle your hunting whip. Simple things, but once you know how they’re done correctly you’ll always spot it when wrong.
He passed on many of the old traditions that I’m sure he learnt working under some of the great huntsman of the previous century like Tony Collins and Bruce Durno.
Neither Bob nor Peter are hunting hounds anymore, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a bank full of happy memories of time spent in their company with a pack of hounds.
Back to the present and the day passed successfully. Despite my initial count of hounds being wrong — I put it down to a little rust creeping in, I don’t think I can blame age just yet — all went smoothly and we finished the day in fading light by that famous Quorn covert Herricks Thorns, with all hounds on.
It’s back to the Pytchley day job for me, but I’ll raise a glass to the Quorn, past and present.
Ref Horse & Hound; 12 December 2019