Robert McCarthy: I smile to myself when people ask ‘what will you do when hunting finishes?’ *H&H VIP*

  • When you see lambs out in the fields and tractors out spraying or fertilising, it normally means that the trail-hunting season is nearing its end. I smile to myself when people ask, “What will you do when hunting finishes?”

    The truth is that there’s always plenty to do. No matter how well a season’s gone, we can always improve.

    During the hunting season we obviously concentrate on hunting three days a week alongside keeping up with our flesh round. These two tasks combined fill the whole week.

    As soon as our season ends, the tack and horse rugs need to be sorted for repairs. The stables and kennels need to be emptied, steam-cleaned and painted from top to bottom. The dreaded lawn mower and strimmer go all summer and my gardening skills have to make an appearance! We’re lucky to have such a lovely set-up at the Percy, but it takes a lot of hard work to keep on top of everything.

    The most important job throughout the summer is the preparation of young hounds.

    I like to start all of ours on couples as soon as possible. We get out on hound exercise every morning and walk out every afternoon. The more time you spend out with the hounds and the more they see, the easier and more effectively they will settle when the season begins.

    Breeding priorities

    The other big job in the summer is the breeding and rearing of the hound pups. Anyone who’s ever had a litter of any breed at home will know how much time and effort goes into it. Most hunts will rear two to eight litters a year and pups generally stay at kennels until they are around 12 weeks old, when they go out to walk.

    Every country is different and I’m a great believer of breeding a range of hounds to suit your patch. Our hounds are old English, which means our options of stallion hounds are more limited. I like to keep three of the old female lines going that served the 10th Duke of Northumberland and huntsman Don Claxton so very well for so many years.

    However, with this in mind, we also need to prioritise breeding a particular type of hound that suits our country — those who are athletic, light in the shoulder and have good feet and voice are ideal. They work best if not too small, but not so big that they struggle with the wire and crossing the country.

    Well wishes

    Northumberland loses one of its longest-serving staff this year. Sandy Wilson has consistently bred top-class hounds and shown good sport during his time at the Morpeth. Mr Tyacke from the Wynnstay, who has so often beaten us in the ring, is also moving on. We wish them both well.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 14 March 2019