A family affair
Jo Bell interviews Huntsman Harvey Wilson, whose life is centred around hounds, the hunt field and home It was always something special to go to a hunt on someone’s place and to ride around with all your mates’
As the hunting season draws to a close and hunters are turned out for their annual spell, spare a thought for the huntsman whose work carries on.
For Taupo Huntsman Harvey Wilson, the year-round commitment to his hounds and the hunt is all worth it for the lifestyle it provides to his family.
Harvey’s wife, Lisa, says their three daughters, Georgie (11), Libby (9), and Vienna (6), are incredibly lucky as they get to go to work with Dad and he IS around a lot more than with a nine-tofive job.
“Now the girls are older they are often down at the kennels helping Harvey with the hounds and mucking about with the horses.”
Coming through the Mahia Hunt ‘apprenticeship’ Harvey has now been a huntsman for more than 20 years and says it’s the thrill of the chase that keeps him interested.
Growing up on a farm in Wairoa, he started hunting with his mother, Marion, with Mahia Hunt, aged about 11.
“It was always something special to go to a hunt on someone’s place and to ride around with all your mates.”
Harvey says there was a good bunch of people in Mahia who were very enthusiastic about hunting and used to collect a group of kids and their ponies from town and take them to hunts in a big, open-top cattle truck.
“Graham Williamson was the Master and they would line us all up and get us jumping the spars – it was great!”
Harvey must have showed his flair with the hounds from a young age as he was a regular whip from the age of 14.
It was during his six months at the Taratahi training farm in Masterton that Harvey was offered the huntsman job at Mahia, and he turned up to start work just before his 18th birthday.
“I was lucky to have some good people helping me – Bruce Goldstone, Peter Bennett and John Von Pein all gave me good advice and tips.”
For nine years Harvey lived out of his suitcase during the hunt season, as with no kennel base and the large hunt boundary, the Mahia Huntsman moves between
the different hunt wards, being billeted along with his hounds.
When Harvey decided to call it a day on Mahia, he headed to Waipukurau to work on a farm. He joined Dannevirke Hunt and says Barry Beatson, Dannevirke Master, ‘cracked the whip’ to encourage Harvey to conform to better Hunt etiquette.
Harvey met Lisa hunting with Dannevirke and the couple moved to Taupo in 2001 when he was appointed Taupo Huntsman.
It was interesting time for Harvey in terms of hound management as he was now working with a permanent kennel set-up, and managing a hunt farm.
It didn’t take too long before Harvey had the pack hunting his way.
“Hounds aren’t like domestic dogs; they have a real pack mentality and you have to be the boss. Their noses really rule their brains. Some can be easily stopped but others are very determined and totally focused on the scent so you have to get to know them.”
Harvey likes his hounds to be happy as he says it makes it easier to work with them.
“Our girls play with the pups all the time, dragging them around on the lead. It really de-sensitises them and makes them friendly. I think this is positive as they will come to people and are happy to follow.”
Each year Harvey breeds from two or three selected bitches and he says there is quite a lot of discussion amongst huntsman from the different hunts about the breeding side of the sport.
“We will often get a new bitch from another hunt or use someone else’s good dog to breed from – we are always trying to improve the bloodlines and get a better hunting hound.”
On the hunt field Harvey says his focus is always with the hounds.
“I generally switch off from the field but when you’ve got the bigger fields, like Taupo Hunt Week, I do have to be mindful of them.
“I always go out there to provide the best possible day. Some days it just doesn’t happen the way you want it to and this can be difficult, but people still may have had a fantastic day, especially if we have jumped some interesting fences.”
Like most hunting people, Harvey is pretty fanatical about the sport and says even if he wasn’t a huntsman he would definitely hunt.
“The girls will come out with us now, and Georgie especially will often come and ride in with me which is a good thing to share. They are also getting pretty quick at telling me what I’ve done wrong!”
In the summer, Lisa and the girls are successful in the showing discipline with a number of National and Horse of the Year titles to their credit. And with three young riders, Harvey has needed to get involved as the lead rein handler for youngest daughter, Vienna.
Outside the hunt season, Harvey works as an agricultural contractor for a local farmer and prepares his young horses.
The hounds have a rest from their busy winter months but they still require daily management and care before the preseason working up time begins in the New Year, to be ready for another hunt season.