John Holliday: women in hunt service — why the old guard shouldn’t raise their eyebrows *H&H Plus*

  • Thank heavens for the loyal and steadfast subscribers, says John Holliday

    In 1962 hunting ceased in mid-December due to the freezing conditions and deep snow. It resumed three months later for some, but for most northern packs, hunting was finished for the season. In 1967–68, foot-and-mouth disease put paid to most of the season, as it did again in 2001. At the moment life is difficult, but missing large parts of the season is not unprecedented.

    One thing highlighted by the present turmoil is that subscriptions surely need to make up the largest financial percentage of running a hunt; too much reliance on fundraising has left many establishments this season in parlous financial straits.

    Loyal subscribers who have proved dependable and remained steadfast, even facing what has been from the beginning of last year an uncertain future, are hereby elevated to “demigod” status in the eyes of secretaries and treasurers across the land.

    Women at Belvoir

    Women in sport have been in the headlines recently; I refer, of course, to Bryony Frost. A skin like a rhino is a prerequisite for any jockey, especially a female one. The fact that Bryony is not only an accomplished jockey but also an eloquent one has not gone unnoticed by ITV Racing.

    I mention this because after advertising for the position of second whipper-in recently, several of the applicants were women, something which would have been most unusual only a few years ago. During her interview, the ultimately successful candidate – Poppy Tutcher – I suspect raised a few eyebrows among the old guard, who were disconcerted at the thought of a woman on the front line, so to speak.

    There have of course been many female hunt servants, but it has to be said very few seem to have risen through the ranks. It may, however, surprise many to know that Poppy will not be the first female second whipper-in at Belvoir.

    In 1945 the master, Lord Daresbury, was required to hunt hounds. George Tongue had had the misfortune to suffer a broken leg during summer hound exercise, leaving an already depleted staff at the kennels further stretched.

    Step forward Meriel (Merry) Atkinson, daughter of the well-respected doctor from Long Clawson, who fitted the bill perfectly, giving all-round satisfaction. When Lord Daresbury decided to take the mastership of the Co Limerick she went with him and spent many enjoyable years in the Emerald Isle.

    “Corporate poppycock”

    It is a mystifying decision by Cheltenham Racecourse to create controversy where hitherto there was none by dropping the word “Fox” from the Foxhunter Chase, the amateur rider’s Gold Cup.

    Where to start? It is almost laughable to think that the race sponsors St James’s Place, a Cirencester-based wealth management company, were in any way concerned by the traditional name of the race, or why would they sponsor an event with such a demographic in the first instance?

    Racing and hunting are inextricably linked, both culturally and historically, and the opponents of legal hunting are the same people that oppose horse racing. To think otherwise is delusional. Are we to next expect the lucrative Countryside Day during the November meeting to be dropped? No, I thought not. It all smacks to me of corporate management focus group poppycock.

    Ref: 4 February 2021

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