Steven Ashworth: A declining breed of hound *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    As the end of the season approaches, a move to the Derwent is on the cards for me and my family. But what a debt of gratitude I owe to the studbook harrier. I have had the pleasure of hunting these hounds for 11 seasons.

    Standing 21-22 inches tall, I class them as the Porsches of the hunting world. They’re bred half-wired, bouncy, busy, but ultimately eager to please. They work relentlessly on the most difficult of days, but suffer no fools and cheekily test the boundaries; they have little time for relaxing, but all the time in the world for fun and hard graft.

    They were developed in England as far back as 1260 and were followed on foot to hunt the hare. When foxhunting became fashionable, harriers were adapted to provide faster days following on horseback, and to hunt both the hare and the fox. With the start of the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles in 1891, the studbook records 107 registered packs of harriers, far more popular then than the beagle. In contrast, in 2019 there are just nine registered packs of studbook harriers, and six West Country packs.

    I could argue it’s a case of quality over quantity, but it is sad to see such a wonderful type of hound becoming a rare breed. The nine remaining packs hold an average of 25 couple per kennel, and each pack plays an important role in keeping the breed going. Fortunately, the harrier seems to have maintained its popularity in both New Zealand, with 26 mounted packs, and Ireland, with 46 harrier packs.

    Oozing quality

    With a pack so full of character it’s hard to have a favourite, but we puppy-walked Domino 07 and on entering that litter also noted a stand-out bitch, Diamond.

    Both siblings are working hard in to their 10th season with me, and Domino won plenty of rosettes as he remained youthful to take the stallion then veteran titles at Great Yorkshire and Peterborough. Diamond proved a perfect foundation on which to breed some quality into the pack, and has had both daughter (Diva 10) and granddaughter (Disco 15) crowned supreme champions at Peterborough, among other titles.

    Another hound I admired was Batman 10, a 12-week old draft from the High Peak, sired by Holcombe Badger 04 and with High Peak and Waveney blood on his dam’s side. He was a more athletic stamp and as he matured, he oozed quality — not only in stature, but also in his work. Accurate with a deep voice, he was a trusted hound in the pack for many years.

    His legacy is unquestionable with his offspring following in his footsteps; Barrister 12 and Daystar 15 both picked up a “clean sweep” of doghound championships at all four shows we attend a season, both boasting a Peterborough supreme to top it off.

    A hound who has played “bridesmaid” to these boys for many years is our Charger 11; both he and his sister, Cheerful, are outstanding members of the pack. They are our hardest workers, and often put the pack right on a difficult scenting day.

    Drive you bonkers

    To sum up the harrier, they’re not unlike my two-year-old son; pure maniac and attention-seeking comedians, who will test your patience and drive you bonkers. But when they’re good, they’re brilliant.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 7 February 2019