As a campaign manager at the Countryside Alliance, this former Master and hunting editor can lend even greater support to the sport she loves
A former Master and hunting editor, Polly Portwin started campaigning when the right to hunt was being threatened. Now as the Countryside Alliance’s campaign manager, she is encouraging and helping others to stand up and make their voices heard.
For more sporting Dianas, seriously sporting ladies offering advice and encouragement, Désirée Lantz is following in the footsteps of her late father and is a qualified Professional Hunter, impressive shot and dog handler. And Dani Morey launched Ladyfisher to encourage more women to fish.
Coming from a farming background the die was cast early on but it was perhaps when, at my first mounted Boxing Day meet at four years old, I was told I couldn’t be let off the lead-rein to just follow the hounds alone that my real passion for hunting was borne.
A couple of wonderful – if not a little enthusiastic at times and rather ’andsome is as ’andsome does – ponies followed that had to double-up as Pony Club allrounders to compete in Area teams as well as taking on whatever fences were put before them following the Vale of Aylesbury hounds.
Having a supportive district commissioner (also hunt secretary) meant that many fellow Pony Club members hunted regularly. A number of lifelong friendships were forged watching hounds work while devouring cherry brandy from the dinkiest of hip-flasks. We must all continue to encourage communication between hunts and their associated Pony Clubs to ensure a healthy relationship between the two remains.
Being actively involved in a variety of sports suits my competitive nature, which tends not to show until put to the test in a match situation. A spell on the county hockey squad was short-lived when a decision had to be made between training and matches on Saturdays or hunting. Hunting won and hockey went onto the back burner, although I continue to play netball regularly at club level and am enjoying dabbling with triathlons during the summer months.
It was while supporting my husband, Guy, during his mastership of the Bicester with Whaddon Chase and latterly the Vale of Aylesbury that I really got involved in any form of campaigning for hunting. Like all those whose right to hunt was being threatened, I attended any rally, protest or gathering where numbers were required to show our strength of feeling, having organised many a coach-load to visit various places around the country full of like-minded people who also wanted to express their views.
At the age of 25 I joined the Bicester with Whaddon Chase mastership. It was a four-day-a-week pack but it only felt right to hunt as many days as I could find horses for – a mantra I continue to stand by and recommend to anybody. I soon learnt that whatever I thought I knew about hunting was only a patch on what I was about to learn over the next 11 seasons during my spell in the mastership, and will hopefully continue to learn until I can no longer follow hounds.
It was during my first season, shadowing our Thursday country Field Master, Derek Ricketts, with Ian McKie MFH hunting hounds, that I jumped the biggest hedge I’ve ever faced, on a neighbour’s 15hh working hunter. Quite how he grew wings in mid-air to clear the barbed-wire fence several feet out on the landing side I shall never know, but it was the downfall of many others that day.
Organising hunting days with huntsman Patrick Martin, a consummate professional who was hunting hounds four days a week after McKie moved north – was an absolute pleasure, despite having to endure the dark days leading up to, and after, the enforcement of the Hunting Act in February 2005.
During the campaign to save hunting, as we knew it, it was a surprise to be invited to Chequers alongside a Joint Master from the Vale of Aylesbury to have a meeting with Tony Blair over a drink following a rather successful last-minute protest on the night of Cherie Blair’s 50th birthday party. With hunt-supporter’s vehicles blocking all routes to the Prime Minister’s residence, many of their famous guests were redirected to the local supermarket car park until our discussions were completed. We agreed to call off the demonstration, having made our point quite clearly, however, I’m still not sure my comment to Blair, that I was surprised his handshake was quite as firm as it was, was entirely appropriate.
This particular demonstration and subsequent meeting was well-reported in the national press and after that I began to work more closely with the Countryside Alliance and the Masters of Foxhounds Association in order to help promote hunting wherever possible, both locally and nationally.
After retiring from the mastership in 2013, and with the death of my father to whom I was incredibly close, I found myself wanting a new challenge that enabled me to continue to campaign for a future for hunting and help fill the gap that being heavily involved in all aspects of organising a four-day-a-week pack involved. Horse & Hound was recruiting a hunting editor at this time and having been offered the position I was delighted to take it on. For three years I enjoyed visiting hunts as a hunting correspondent before I was approached to join the Countryside Alliance team in 2016.
TOP TIP: Get involved, make your voice heard and stand up for what you believe in.