Having reached 12 seasons in the mastership, completing two as field master before that, and hunted our hounds for four seasons – and with 2020 bringing the 50th anniversary of my first day out with the Old Surrey and Burstow – I feel the time has come to call it a day and will retire on 1 May.
There is a new and ambitious team waiting in the wings and they deserve their chance to take things forward. The hunting landscape in the south-east is constantly changing, as it is up and down the country, and adopting new and fresh views along with continuing the good practice already in place has to be the way to go.
They say the national average for a modern master is three seasons; that is too short and can’t possibly deliver any much-needed continuity. Equally, outstaying your welcome is also not recommended and, therefore, choosing the right time to leave can be tricky.
I believe that while you can still get on your horse without help from either a human or an alcoholic beverage, and if you do hit the deck you can get straight up and don’t ache for months afterwards, you’re probably OK to carry on. As a huntsman, if you look at a hedge on your way to the meet and hope secretly they don’t run that way, then time’s definitely up.
In my lifetime, the remit required of a master has changed beyond all belief. I can genuinely remember a local master close to me calling two landowners to put on a day that would require more than 50 calls or visits today.
The list of jobs still includes hounds, kennels, the staff, the country, puppy show, summer parades, events, recruiting, auctioneering and hosting, but you can now add to that list police liaison, attending numerous police meetings, social media and, of course, trying to please everyone all the time.
Hunting our hounds has been the greatest privilege of my life and I am extremely grateful to the committee for allowing me to do so. My former huntsman Mark Bycroft said recently, “I tell you, when you’ve gone, they will realise you were not as bad as they thought.”
Faint praise perhaps, but I couldn’t have done any of it without a huge team who have been very helpful, and Mark has been a major player in that group.
So it’s time to hand on the baton and, using a line from former prime minister David Cameron, I say to all of those involved in carrying on and adapting and improving our hunt, “Good luck, you are the future now – I was the future once.”
A well-respected deceased senior master of mine, Brian Perring, once said to me: “And if you do all that and leave the country in a better place than you found it, you would have succeeded, Rick.”
Well, I’m not sure it was possible to leave it in a better place, Brian, but I tried my hardest.
Ref Horse & Hound; 19 March 2020