While languishing in lockdown, consider how you can lend support – and make a bucket-list for brighter days, says Sarah Kate Byrne in her guide to the next hunting season
Now is the time to plan a bucket-list season for brighter days ahead, says Sarah Kate Byrne, in her guide to the next hunting season.
THE FIELD’S GUIDE TO THE NEXT HUNTING SEASON
Some believe the phrase ‘best foot forward’ originated when ladies looked for a well-turned leg in a man. Or that it signified the most elegant way to make a curtsey. In 1595, Shakespeare wrote in King John: ‘Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.’ Whatever the etymological origins, we’re firmly planting our best foot forward when it comes to planning for a sensational next season in the saddle, thoughts turned from the frustrating nature of the past. Here are the men and women to follow, and the places and packs to plan for, along with some inspiration from this season’s indomitable spirit.
The predecessors to our contemporary Nimrods have for centuries set hearts aflutter. The Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, had as her pilot the gallant Captain William George ‘Bay’ Middleton, who steered her through the best hunting country England and Ireland had to offer. Were I in need of a pilot in the Duke of Beaufort’s enviable country I would surely swoon at the prospect of not one, not two, but three handsome Lewis chaps riding alongside. Patriarch Tristram is a talented equestrian sculptor and painter, and I await with anticipation the release of his biography of Sir Alfred Munnings. His equally dashing sons, Wilfred and Gabriel, look as though they have ridden straight out of a Munnings scene, decked out in proper breeches and with natty pocket-squares when spotted on the hunting field. Their brotherly hunting ambition is to one day share the mastership of a pack.
Ralph Richardson, huntsman and Master of the Middleton, has turned his polo skills to hunting an 80-strong pack over the finest Yorkshire country, at the age of 26. This past season was his second at the helm. Those in the know rate him as a fine huntsman, as was his father, Kim. To follow him over some of Leppington’s famous hedges will deliver a red-letter day.
Tony Leahy, Master and huntsman of the Massbach and Fox River Valley Hounds, contends with a fixture list that runs from August to mid-December in Illinois, USA, before moving south to Georgia for January to mid-April. A true Nimrod, Leahy was at one point MFH of two more packs and is noted for his talent and skill when mounted, as well as his charisma.
DIANAS OF THE CHASE
Lucy Holland, Master of the Bicester Hunt with Whaddon Chase, can hunt from dawn ’til dusk, astride or side-saddle, and then host a bevy of Spanish aristocrats for a 24-strong partridge feast after a quick opera recital next door. Her enthusiasm for her role was very much evident when she Field Mastered for 167 on an October day last year – “organised chaos” she later recalled.
Bryony Daniels’ undertakings to keep the show on the road for the East Essex Hunt deserve a mention. Daniels’ skills on the hill, honed at her family’s Strathvaich estate, came to the fore when it fell to her to feed hounds. When asked what she longed for most, it was “hunting alongside friends, no matter the pack”. Her pilot of choice? Rosy-cheeked godson Merlin Coles.
Merlin is a hunting blueblood, the offspring of huntsman and Master of the South Dorset Toby Coles and his wife, Callie, whose grandfather and great-uncle mastered packs in Devon and Cornwall. Callie rides like an angel, hunts like the devil and brings her bowler-hatted, traditional hunting world to avid followers on Instagram. When she’s Field Master you can be confident your path will be safe, though your heart may be in your mouth. Their patch offers “gaping hedges across wild country, often not hunted for close to 40 years”. Many days spent walking country with Toby means Callie leaves nothing to chance when hounds are running.
Pytchley with Woodland Hunt Master Bo Wilson looks like she was born on a horse, totally at odds with her claim that she was never actually taught how to ride. In her own words she “learnt on the hoof”. There is hope to revive a plan to hunt fresh territory at Deene Park, the home of the Earls of Cardigan, preferably with a black-tie party at Rockingham to finish us all off. It will surely be the Charge of the Light(weight) Brigade for want of practice.
Everyone has done their best to fill the fundraising coffers this season, so take inspiration. The simplest endeavours often prove most satisfying. Why not sponsor a hound or two? It will bring joy in the knowledge of doing your bit for the hunting cause and a smashing photo of your bitch or dog will perch neatly on mantelpiece or your working-from-home background. Hound sponsorship funds go straight to the welfare and upkeep of the hounds, and come with the advantage of not putting manners on the wily canine oneself. If you are feeling braver, then consider walking some puppies; The Field’s Editor took on the aptly named Wisdom and Wishful last season, who lived up to their names. Wishful was found dreaming by the drawing-room fire, while Wisdom worked out how to open the front door and navigate to the bedrooms.
The Middleton has a long-standing Boxing Day tradition. The pack is divided, the kennel huntsman goes east with his half while the huntsman goes west. The latter’s quarry is, however, unusual: the local nursing homes. He said that this year’s visit felt even more necessary and rewarding as the residents of the Malton nursing homes clapped at the sight of huntsman and hounds.
Camilla Swift MFH did her bit for the Surrey Union Hunt fundraiser with an initiative based on a series of hair-raising antics – as the donations rolled in so too did the forfeits. First up were Andy Byatt’s eyebrows. Natalia Thorpe shaved her head. Then Swift sacrificed her enviable tresses by dyeing them a vivid shade of pink. Andrew Hazeltine raised the bar by broadening the palette to rainbow hues. At the £3,000 point, Russell Ingram shaved his head, too.
Those who haven’t yet produced a hunt cookbook can take inspiration from the South Dorset, Essex & Suffolk and the Quorn. The latter’s Supporters Club raised £750 with an eclectic mix of Master’s main courses, perfect puddings and some decent stirrup cup ideas.
As ever, the fundamental good spirit of those who take to the hunting field and welcome hounds is edifying. The mounted field of the Bicester Hunt with Whaddon Chase sent a rallying video message to poorly John and Janet North from the meet at the North’s farm in Hellidon. Out of respect the hunt stayed off the family farm until a message was received from John on his hospital bed: “The show must go on.”
The Duke of Beaufort’s pack benefitted from the generosity of Tristram Lewis, who asked that a Beaufort subscriber donate to the hunt rather than pay for the portrait he had commissioned of his hunter. Whether recipes, zany fundraising, auctions of promises, hound sponsorship or personal bequests, those keen to support the cause will always rally round.
Plan with purpose and gusto but with the caveat that the jollity might have to remain on ice for a while yet, even if one does want to burst out of hibernation and gallivant to foreign lands for crazy capers. My Grand Tour starts in Spain, taking up the lance once again alongside the Duque de Maura, Jaime Patiño and Jaime Espinosa. The post-hunt reward of finest jamon and icy fino is incomparable. Then to hunt alongside Antoinette de la Bouilliere in pursuit of the French variant of the wiley Sus scrofa in the Charente, followed by a trip to the USA. In 2019, it was five days out of seven across three American states; perhaps next season it’s time to push it to seven out of seven.
At home it will be to the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale with Bo Wilson, on one of its famous hedge days, with a warm-up run over Lucy and Mike Felton’s Locketts Farm, which boasts “a variety of natural obstacles to test both horse and rider, including lots of hedges”. Perfect in order to know how to ride those famous, bottomless hedges.
David Redvers, Master of the Ledbury, takes the lead over some of their finest hedge country, and the prospect of a trip to Ledbury country is tantalising for any thruster. In the spirit of quid pro quo, I suggested taking him and his stylish wife, Laura, to Ireland. “Not been for years but after this year we will never turn another invitation down,” he said.
Hunting in Ireland is an ambition Christopher Lawrence-Price (a former Master of the New Forest) is keen to renew. His riding career started on one of his father’s pit ponies, from which he promptly broke his collarbone. Undeterred, he has gone on to visit extensively, although every plan to cross Irish country has been thwarted.
Laura Medley of the Massbach and Fox River Valley Hounds, who escorted me on three of my USA days, longs to turn out on Dartmoor with Martin and Philippa Whitley and their Dartmoor falcons. For her, the idea of galloping across ancient moorland in hot pursuit of a bird of prey and its target is next level Diana. For Rosie van Cutsem, a subscriber to the West Norfolk Foxhounds, fulfilling a twice-frustrated attempt to compete in the Courtfield Cup is top of her bucket list. This seven-mile cross-country race, which follows the River Wye across the Courtfield Estate, is not for the faint-hearted.
Of course, this past year has left us starved of decent opportunities to showcase our finery. The solution is to pencil in some hunt-balling, preferably with the most raucous of packs. Not only can we raid the cupboards where all our top kit has been hiding, but we may be able to dance once again. For a real adventure, I think crossing the Irish Sea is a must for the craic. A day with the Blazers in the Gwyn-Jones party is a guaranteed rollercoaster of a ride. While the Fermanagh Hunt Ball is worth the trip to appreciate the spectacle of the whole salmon on its bed of blue jelly, the prawn pyramid and the white-glazed, upended turkey.
For a rather more selfless endeavour, emulate Martha Sitwell’s 500-mile ride across Mongolia to raise funds for the mental health charity Mind, or the Blackmore Vale’s Ewen Cameron’s 415-mile to ride Edinburgh for the veterans’ charity, Combat Stress.
And so, to sound the horn; we will pursue with purpose and gusto those tasks in support of our hunts, make plans to hunt again, and return to adventures, on and off the field. Forrard on.