Reflecting on a wonderful sporting life, this Joint Master of the Bicester is as happy on a skeleton run or grouse moor as she is in the saddle
From Mastering the Bicester to hurtling down a skeleton run, Lucy Holland reflects on a wonderful sporting life shared with friends, family and field inspirations.
For more Sporting Dianas, seriously sporting ladies offering advice and encouragement, The Countess of Lucan’s latest sporting endeavour is a country clothing line. And Lucinda Southern founded Gundog Girls to help ladies wishing to compete.
It is quite an honour to be asked to write this and having got over the shock (have they got the right Lucy Holland?), it has given me a great opportunity to reflect.
I was very lucky growing up that I had the opportunity to ride, hunt, point-to-point and ski, and I loved them all.
Although enlightened in many ways, my father rather took the view that a girl shooting was a beater lost. So I came to shooting a little later when I met my future husband. I was working for half the year in Switzerland, trying to take my snowboarding, skiing and then telemarking seriously [Lucy represented England in half pipe and slalom]. Simon, however, mostly shot in the winter and played polo in the summer – but he was as keen to introduce to me to his sports as I was to introduce him to hunting and skiing.
He bought me a gun and some lessons when we became engaged and our first trips away were to Scotland to shoot and Argentina for the polo. I was hooked from the start and he took up hunting with equal enthusiasm. If I can give one hint about a happy sporting life it is to marry someone who shares your passions. It not only gives you lots to talk about but it makes the bills easier to swallow.
There are so many high points from my sporting life. I so love following hounds that when everything goes well, a day Mastering the Bicester is impossible to beat. I have been field mastering for five years and a Master for two, and am still amazed at the amount of organisation that goes into every day, most of it done by unsung heroes: the countrymen, the team in stables, stewards, my fantastic area secretary Susie Beecroft. I joined the Mastership because when you have had as much fun as I have it is important to give something back. We are hugely lucky to have a harmonious Mastership at the Bicester, an excellent huntsman in Guy Allman and tremendously supportive landowners. A good day makes it all worthwhile and a great day, well… Being a Master I have some on-the-job wisdom, which one should always pass on. When mastering, always face the music and apologise early. Always keep in contact with hounds and while maintaining an orderly field remember that everyone is there to have fun.
Joint Master Ben Nicholls and I thought there was a real demand for an old-fashioned steeplechase and Ben’s farm, all old turf and hedges, presented the perfect country. So we started the Silver Spur ride, which is due to run for the third time on 21 April. Laying hedges for the Silver Spur hugely improved the country for hunting, too.
I was also lucky enough to have a wonderful horse that took me round many hunt rides, following the legendary Zoe Gibson. Alice Plunkett christened me “that crazy Lucy Holland” when I rode in the Golden Button Hunt Ride (over the best of the Ledbury country) sidesaddle.
Any day shooting, skiing, hunting or playing polo with family or best mates makes a high point. Sporting adventures are never far off. My most recent was pigsticking in Spain with Martha Sitwell and the Duke of Maura’s hounds. Although it is not all fieldsports. Telemarking in deep powder when the snow breaks like waves over my head and hurtling down the skeleton run at Lillehammer with Joy Tucker (I can still hear our screams) rank as high points, too.
With shooting, nothing beats driven grouse for excitement but my husband’s motto: “A good lunch can make up for poor sport but nothing can make up for poor company”, holds true. A happy sporting life really is about the company you keep.
There are also low points, such as when my favourite horse died underneath me, and the absolute lows of sporting life are the loss of very good friends on the mountain, the polo field and, more recently, on the grouse moor and out hunting.
However, it is also where you can find great inspiration. There’s Christine Alers-Hankey, the lady who inspired me to leave the ground sideways, who I met hunting with the Taunton Vale. It was like an epiphany, I just knew that I had to ride sidesaddle like she did. Fabulous Masters such as Rosie Vestey and Heather Tylor made field mastering look easy. My Great Uncle John, still qualifying pointers into his late seventies, and Martha Sitwell and Philippa Holland for their elegance. Robert Valance for his courtesy and the exquisite Jane Northumberland effortlessly downing pheasants inspired me to try to shoot straight in a long tweed skirt.
TOP TIP: Never skin up a mountain when you can take a lift. Never hunt with an empty flask. Never shoot without a dog. Never put all your hunters in one field – as even a husband can count.