A stalwart of the Pytchley and accomplished team chaser, Lydia Cope leads an equestrian life to the full – with nothing keeping her from the saddle
From early hunting memories aboard a Shetland to working for top showjumpers in Europe and white-knuckle rides following hounds, horses are in the blood for Lydia Cope.
For more sporting Dianas, seriously sporting ladies offering advice and encouragement, find out what life is like for hunting photographer Sarah Farnsworth and why Callie Coles is keen to pass her love of hunting onto the next generation.
Growing up in Guernsey we always had ponies but hunting was limited to the annual Boxing Day and New Year’s Day meets. My earliest hunting memory was on my Shetland pony, Pickles. I was on the lead rein, Pickles trod on Mummy’s toe and we had to go home. I cried all the way, and from that day I have never been one to want to leave a day’s hunting – or a party, for that matter – before the end.
My mother and father moved to Guernsey in 1973 after my father [Tim Hollowell] gave up his flat training career, which had taken him to Newmarket, Lambourn and the Curragh. Previously to that my mother [Julia Hollowell, née Wilcox], who sadly passed away in 1983 when I was four, hunted regularly with the Pytchley. You could say horses were in my blood.
After leaving school on the mainland and a short stint at college I persuaded my father to let me attend the then prestigious Waterstock House Training Centre, owned and run by Lars Sederholm.
I spent months being trained by him and Yogi Breisner. I spent the following five years in Europe, working for top showjumping riders Christian Alhmann and Lesley McNaught – some of the most influential years of my life. This set me firmly on the path of an equestrian career.
America was my next step, again working for some of the best in the world. But I was deported back to the UK having overstayed my visa by just one day! On returning to my godmother’s home in Northamptonshire, I started to realise my love for the English countryside and everything it had to offer. Coming to terms with the fact that I was not returning to the USA anytime soon, I spent every Saturday hunting and qualifying Bill and Chris Warner’s point-to-pointers. The hunting bug got me.
Weekends couldn’t come soon enough. From the start of September to the end of March Saturdays were spent hunting and Sundays team chasing.
Soon after my return I was reintroduced to my now husband, Rowan Cope, a massive influence on my sporting life. For those who don’t know Rowan, he has earned a fantastic reputation as one of the top fieldmasters to follow. We have had many days when we have both pushed our hats down and kicked on to keep up with hounds. For me, this emphasises the importance of being well mounted. One particular Pytchley day stands out in my memory: a bye day from a village called Sibbertoft, with Rowan in charge. The first part of the hunt I had to play catch up after a rabbit hole brought me to grief. With the benefit of being well horsed and knowing the country I enjoyed a white-knuckle ride following hounds.
In 2006, Rowan and I married…. just! A week before the wedding I had a rotational fall team chasing and ended up in Banbury hospital with no recollection that I was due to be walking down the aisle the next week. I was lucky that I had no broken bones – and that my wedding dress had long sleeves as I had a black elbow. It remains a joke that Rowan basically had to knock me out to get me down the aisle.
One of my personal hunting highlights came with mixed feelings, as it was off the back of Rowan having a nasty accident at the start of 2020 and fracturing his skull. I was lucky enough to be asked to take on his day’s fieldmastering around Muxloe Hill, cream of the Quorn’s Monday country. I duly took up the challenge with amazing support from the Mastership and friends. It gave me first-hand insight to the hard work and time any Master has to dedicate to their hunt to be able to put on these or any days – I shall never take a day for granted again. I took the opportunity to steal two of my husband’s horses, which made leading the field one of the most memorable experiences I have had to date.
During the season, it is not uncommon for Rowan and I to hunt four or five times a week, often more during autumn hunting. We are lucky enough to share a wonderful horse, Arthur, who has given us both winners in five hunt rides, including the Melton and Harborough along with other close finishes. Our son, Oscar, has inherited the hunting bug, which gives us both a huge amount of pleasure. He has the most phenomenal 13.2hh, and we’re hoping that his sister, Edie, will follow suit.
If time allowed, I would love to take up my father’s passion for shooting. And being competitive, I would want to emulate my father and make it to the Commonwealth Games. I guess I had better stick with hunting.