Sporting Diana and photographer Georgina Preston explains how hunting helped her to find her place and inspired a passion for capturing beauty on camera that has blossomed into a career

Growing up, I was fortunate to own a pony and have patient parents who were prepared to take me to Pony Club without burdening me by being overly competitive. While the other girls demonstrated commitment to becoming eventers, I soon discovered three other disciplines far better for a teenage girl to be focused on: drinking from hip flasks, jumping hedges, and men in fine tailoring. In short, hunting.

I certainly would never have had the self-discipline or commitment to be good at dressage or showjumping, and fortunately neither did my two-gear ex-racehorse, Dennis. At the time it was a little damaging; however, on reflection, I am so grateful that we did manage to gather a grand total of 24 faults at the local Pony Club show. It avoided a future of tight white synthetic fibres rather than cavalry twill breeches. Instead, the two of us found something we both utterly fell in love with: hunting.

Hunting was a safe space

School was hard, especially after going from a tiny village primary to a large comprehensive. My peers were smoking behind the bike sheds while I was still cantering around the garden pretending to be a pony, so fitting in was tricky. In contrast, hunting brings together a unified body of otherwise polar opposites from all walks of life and across all ages. This social group welcomed me with open arms. Hunting became a safe space, free from judgement. I could gallop and jump without being told off for seeing a long one. Great characters and jolly old men in bowler hats and bright yellow gloves were handing me flasks of whisky with a wink. It was a no brainer. 

Christine Alers Hankey, a stalwart figure of my pack the Taunton Vale Foxhounds, rode side-saddle, elegantly cutting a dash wearing vintage. I was inspired but, having well and truly ditched the Pony Club by failing my D test, my decision to attempt side-saddle raised eyebrows. This was possibly because Dennis, my fiery thoroughbred, had retired from pointing as nobody could hold him. He was quite large, and I was quite small. Yet we crossed the biggest Vale country and proudly pulled up alongside the best of the Hunt’s pilots. The surprise on their faces when they turned around and I was still there, grinning. We even had a crack at the Golden Button.

Characters in hunting make fabulous portraits

Photographing hunting got my career rolling. It is a subject that lends itself well to the camera: early-morning starts out autumn hunting to see the sunrise made me fall in love with beautiful light. The elegance of a Patey paired with a vintage frock coat and elephant-ear breeches gave me an appreciation for cut, silhouette and fashion. Some of the characters you find hunting make for fabulous portraits, from the old farmer with his flat cap covered in badges to the Major with his moustache.

The atmosphere and electricity you get from a 4pm run as the fog rolls in at dusk while the steam rises from hounds and horses is cinematic and addictive. It’s also a study into equestrian culture. This has led me to take comparative photographs of subjects such as gauchos in Argentina, Egyptians with their Arabians, and Spaniards in Andalucia. At present I am studying for my Masters in Photography at the University of the West of England, and creating a book on hunting as my project: a punchy subject at an arts campus.

Georgina Preston hunting sidesaddle with the Beaufort

Georgina and Valentine out with the Beaufort. Credit TTLVideos

Globetrotting following this intoxicating passion

I’m lucky enough to have hunted in a variety of countries with packs of very different reputations. There was a stint as the hunt groom at the Galway Blazers, where I got to live and breathe kennel life and hot port and brandies in equal measure. Thanks to the invaluable knowledge of the Fieldmasters, I survived a season on Dartmoor during which I didn’t get lost or bogged. I had the pleasure of subscribing to the Cattistock for Will Bryer’s last season and the opportunity to hunt in Canada and the USA. Tell me another sport where just being involved in it means anyone opens their doors to you.

My new trusty steed is Valentine, who I questionably bought unseen and unvetted from DoneDeal to cheer myself up on Valentine’s Day. He is lucky enough to cross the cream of Beaufort Saturday country. So I’ve seen a few contrasts but the Taunton Vale Foxhounds will always be my home pack. I am forever indebted to them for getting me hooked on this ridiculous, all-consuming and intoxicating passion.

TOP TIP: Don’t feel under pressure to conform to societal expectations and find fulfilment in whichever aspect of hunting resonates with you.

Want to learn more?

Read more from our inspirational Sporting Dianas, such as Lucinda Ticehurst, Jess Burgess and Rebecca Wilson. Don’t miss our invaluable guides to essential sporting kit: the best gilets, the best gumboots and the best shooting coats.

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