Sarah Henderson, the garden designer and eldest daughter of six-times National Hunt champion trainer Nicky Henderson has riding and the countryside in her blood
For Sarah Henderson, growing up as the daughter of six-times National Hunt champion trainer Nicky Henderson meant that horses were always going to be part of her life. And some of her best days have been on the hunting field.
There is more than one way to shoot a deer, says top fieldsports photographer and Sporting Diana Sarah Farnsworth, who has done much to document days in the field
Hunting may have skipped a generation for Sporting Diana Callie Coles, but now this keen hunter is delighted to be passing on her love of the sport to the next generation.
SPORTING DIANA SARAH HENDERSON
Coming from a family steeped in hunting and National Hunt racing it was impossible to imagine a life far from the one my parents and grandparents had trodden before me. My father’s mother, Sarah Henderson, whose name I carry proudly, was Master of the Craven Farmers and my mother’s father, John Thorne, finished second in the 1981 Grand National on the legendary hunter-chaser Spartan Missile, a horse he bred, owned, trained and rode. He was 54 years of age and a real legend of the Warwickshire hunting and point-to-pointing world.
Growing up in a yard full of beautiful thoroughbreds and surrounded by the bustling hubbub of stable lads, owners and jockeys, home life was never dull or quiet. Saturday mornings were spent up the gallops on my beloved pony, Chubby, alongside Dad on his hack, Muffin, awaiting the thunderous hooves of the racehorses to come rattling past as they did their work. It was then back home for a quick breakfast joined by the jockeys, a debrief on how first lot had gone and then off to the races to watch Dad’s horses run.
Until a few years ago my mother, Diana, hunted religiously with the Warwickshire. I have fond memories of joining her during school holidays and half terms on the journey from Lambourn to Warwickshire, which, as a child, seemed like hours. There was never an option of finding an open gate, and if hounds were running the encouraging words from Mum to “get in behind and kick” were said with more conviction.
The anticipation and excitement for the day’s hunting ahead remains the same today, although the journey has now taken me a little farther afield to hunt with the Tynedale, the Duke of Buccleuch’s and as far as the Hillsboro Hounds in Tennessee, USA.
When Mum was unable to take me hunting with the Old Berks as a child, she would drop me off and I would latch myself onto the coat tails of my hunting heroine, Kykie Alsopp, who became a Master of the Old Berks at 25 years old and cut a beautiful figure across country in her bowler hat. She was always very encouraging, and I will never forget how proud I was when after hounds had killed at Weald, she popped the brush into my pocket. I was beaming and couldn’t wait to get home to tell everyone of my day’s adventures. I didn’t wash my face for two days.
My father trained a wonderful horse called Hunt Ball and I am lucky enough to have him as my hunter. We have enjoyed three seasons hunting together with the VWH and there is nothing more exhilarating than the feeling of flying across the country on a thoroughbred with hounds crying and negotiating the obstacles ahead.
In my teens, I was encouraged by my parents to learn to shoot. I had my first day’s shooting with my late grandfather, Johnny Henderson, at his beautiful West Woodhay Estate. I will never forget shooting my first pheasant, although at the time I struggled to understand why he seemed to be so much more excited than I was when the enormous cock bird fell out the sky. I now have two nephews and a niece, and when I was encouraging eight-year-old Harry over a showjump on his pony recently, I realised why my grandfather was so excited. I believe it is our duty to pass on our love and knowledge of the countryside, and all that it entails, to the next generation, much like my grandfather did with me.
I am extremely fortunate that through Cirencester Agricultural College I met many lifelong friends, and it is the countryside that often pulls us back together. There, I introduced my sister, Tessa, to my now brother-in-law, Charlie Giffard, at the Christmas ball in the hope that he would invite me shooting. Fifteen years on he still invites me to shoot at their Chillington Hall Estate in Staffordshire, and it is probably one of my happiest days of the year.
No matter what sport one partakes in, it is the joint passion for the countryside that forges lifelong friendships, whether they have blossomed on the hunting or shooting field, on a moor or in a river. It is the very essence of the countryside that brings people together.