John Holliday: ‘Should it be ratcatcher or red for hunting during the pandemic?’ *H&H Plus*

  • John Holliday, professional huntsman of the Belvoir, reflects on the financial implications of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and why tradition is important

    LAST season was brought to an abrupt halt by the unprecedented wet weather. With barely a field drilled in the country, it is hoped it will be many years before we experience the like again. It did mean good scenting conditions for hounds and they had an outstanding season, even if the ride was somewhat curtailed by the impossibly deep going.

    This year’s offering thereafter has been Covid-19. No sooner was the season ended than I was laid low by the virus. After a pretty miserable month, I was thankful to find myself back in the glories of Belvoir Park basking in the spring sunshine, making recuperation that much speedier.

    The ensuing lockdown has, of course, brought serious financial implications for everyone. Hunts are no exception; virtually every fundraising event has been cancelled. No summer ball, no point-to-point or open day. It was something of a relief to get the young hounds judged when restrictions were eased, but the fiscal implications remain serious.

    The only possible form of income are donations and subscriptions. Many have paid early, for which hunt treasurers will be grateful. For those who have yet to pay, may I remind you that for masters and hunt staff, the season is already half over. Horses and hounds have to be fed whatever the remainder of the season entails.

    A low profile?

    THE subject of wearing red coats has been raised again, following the suggestion from the Hunting Office that we should remain in ratcatcher for the open season to keep a low profile during a pandemic that has placed many other restrictions on much of the rest of the population. Whoever came up with the idea must be a fair-weather hunter, or retired. I don’t fancy facing the depths of winter in a summer coat!

    To clear matters up, it is red. “Hunt in red, dance in pink, fight in scarlet.” So spoke legendary showjumper and huntsman David Barker, who told me this many years ago. He was from Yorkshire and therefore always right.

    There are those who think that red coats are a bit outdated and some who think we should ditch them forever. It has been put to me that the colour encourages anger and resentment among folk, even invoking latent memories of British soldiers in tricorn hats advancing over the moor, musket in hand.

    However, with the exception of that pound shop William Wallace, Nicola Sturgeon, I cannot think this is true. In fact, do not our North American brothers, who embrace the look wholeheartedly, entirely disprove this theory?

    It has hitherto been a subject upon which I have had no strong opinion, but I am coming to the conclusion we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Is it not the case that many with no connection and no strong opinion on hunting are delighted by the pageantry of the event? Trooping the Colour would hardly hold the same appeal were troops wearing fatigues and berets.

    I am reminded of Nelson who, when it was suggested he cover his raiment for fear his decorations should attract the sharp eye of a French musketeer, replied, “In honour I gained them; with honour I will wear them.”

    So far this year, we have had two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Flood and Pestilence. Famine and Fire to look forward to!

    H&H 29 October 2020


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