Robert McCarthy: Welfare is always our top priority *H&H Plus*

  • H&H’s hunting columnist on pandemic pressures, and horse and hound wellbeing

    The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have been felt far and wide across all job roles and walks of life. Just as a lot of hunt staff were looking forward to winding down after a busy and long winter, finishing off a wet and at times unpredictable season, the lockdown was announced. My thoughts are with the many staghound and minkhound packs whose seasons have been more or less completely wiped out.

    Like many other small businesses, hunts across the country have had to furlough or make more permanent changes to staffing numbers. While sad, this has unfortunately made sense and has been the right thing to do. However, it has put further pressure on remaining staff to fill in the gaps.

    It goes without saying that all hunt kennels still have to be run properly. The welfare of our hounds and horses is always the top priority and flesh rounds have still continued as a key service to our farmers.

    Missing the social side

    Obviously, there will be no hound shows this summer, which is a shame as not only is it good to see all hounds and what offspring stallion hounds are leaving, but it’s also a good time for hunting people to meet and catch up with others they might only see once or twice a year. We’ve found it strange going about our daily business in such unusual, quiet times, hardly seeing anyone.

    Similarly, most puppy shows have been cancelled this year, which is sad for the puppy walkers who do such a cracking job. However, we’re hoping to run something resembling a puppy show in September, restrictions allowing.

    A lot of hunts have to rely heavily on fundraising throughout the summer. Given a fairly significant change to the original plan and help from very generous supporters, we held a duck race for the first time, which made a considerable amount of money, along with a sweepstake for the virtual Grand National. These events have helped us to try to keep up the social aspect that the hunt brings for so many of our followers.

    Electric isn’t always best

    Here at the Percy, we’ve been out on exercise on bikes for quite a while, keeping the hounds ticking over and also keeping them cool with regular dips in the river. For once, in preparation for our bike riding, the whipper-in and I decided to treat ourselves and get our old bikes serviced and done up properly this year.

    However, our posh bikes somehow lost their appeal on the day (when social distancing rules allowed) the amateur whipper-in, hunt chairman and vice-chairman all turned up on electric bikes.

    They found it very amusing to watch us having to get off and struggle to push our bikes up a steep hill, asking us if we could not go a bit faster. However, having decided to stop for a breather on said hill, we later discovered that electric bikes do not start very well on this type of terrain…

    To my great delight, our amateur whipper-in’s bike rolled back down the hill, he fell off the back and it rolled over the top of him. Just another situation proving that sometimes the old ways are still the best.

    Now, as we are “exiting lockdown”, I’d like to wish all hunts and hunt staff the very best and hope that we can all get back to doing what we love as part of the “new normal”.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 9 July 2020