Robert McCarthy: It’s been a strange summer in kennels *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s hunting columnist reflects on lockdown, and looks to the season ahead

    When we finished trail-hunting last season as the first news and repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic were starting to set in, I rather foolishly and selfishly thought, “Well, at least by the start of next season, we’ll all be back to normal…” How wrong was I?

    It’s been a very strange summer in kennels. Like many hunts, we had to furlough our groom for three months. Our voluntary, unpaid kennelman also had to self-isolate since he’s not 21 any more.

    We went from three-and-a-half staff to two in one swift move. All holidays that had been booked well in advance disappeared before our eyes, along with much of the rest of normality.

    As key workers, we kept the fallen stock round going throughout. It was surreal going out seven days a week and driving along completely deserted roads through very quiet towns and villages.

    For me, the highlight of lockdown was a chance to spend some more time with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. With my wife also working from home, I ended up taking my young helper with me most days to see the sights. To say she loved it was an understatement and I think she already knows almost every farm in Percy country as a result.

    As in all kennels, the animal welfare remained paramount despite the lockdown restrictions. As we never quite knew what was going to happen next, we didn’t start on bikes for hound exercise as early as normal this summer. Instead, we took to walking the hounds out twice a day for further and longer, most days changing the route, so the young hounds were still seeing as much as possible.

    The more the young hounds are out and about seeing things, the better their education will be. We’re very lucky here to have so much space to exercise the hounds, including the River Aln, where they enjoyed regular opportunities to play and swim on the hot days.

    Challenges ahead

    One of the major challenges that hunting will inevitably face in the short term is fundraising, or the lack of it. All hunts big and small rely so heavily on various events that have unfortunately just not been able to happen this time around. Any donation that you can make to your local hunt will be very much appreciated.

    We have also noticed a huge impact on our followers and local people for which these events provide opportunities to catch-up with others, particularly during the summer months. Without these, in addition to the absence of the usual summer showing season, we’ve very much missed the social aspect that being part of the trail-hunting countryside community brings.

    Stick to the rules

    Since the easing of the first lockdown, I have never seen Northumberland so busy in my 20 years here. The last couple of weeks have also seen us move into a local lockdown with further restrictions in place.

    No matter how frustrating any local or national lockdowns may seem, I think it is vitally important that all hunting packs stick strictly to any guidelines recommended, whether from Government, local authorities or the Masters of Foxhounds Association.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 8 October 2020