A se­ri­ous busi­ness, taken lightly

‘Love your hounds, look af­ter your farm­ers, don’t chase cats and sleep in your own bed’ — the words of ad­vice given to Capt Ian Far­quhar as a young mas­ter and hunts­man many years ago still ring true, as he ex­plains

Horse & Hound - - Hunting -

BE­ING asked for “ad­vice to new mas­ters and hunt staff ” when sit­ting round a din­ing room ta­ble, or even at a gath­er­ing of like-minded friends, might be a wel­come op­por­tu­nity to wax lyri­cal; some­thing that most of us with a pas­sion for their sub­ject would hap­pily launch into. How­ever, on re­flec­tion a mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle on such a com­plex sub­ject may not be so black and white.

The hunt­ing of a pack of hounds, the run­ning of a coun­try and the be­hav­iour of the dif­fer­ent strata of those in­volved in such a broad church does there­fore need to be bro­ken down some­what. I will deal with the new hunts­men first of all.

CRE­AT­ING TRUST

WHEN I first started as a sole mas­ter and hunts­man, I asked one old sage for some tips.

“Sim­ple,” he replied. “Love your hounds, look af­ter your farm­ers, don’t chase cats and sleep in your own bed!”

Not bad ad­vice. Let’s look at each point. Whether a hunts­man in those days was try­ing to hunt a fox in style or is now try­ing to be imag­i­na­tive fol­low­ing a trail, if he and his staff do not love their hounds, the hounds will not love them and the whole game will crum­ble. Like­wise, if you do not look af­ter your farm­ers, they will not look af­ter you — re­sult, no coun­try, no hunt­ing.

With a ref­er­ence to cats, what he re­ally meant was that stan­dards have to be ad­hered to and pub­lic re­la­tions are para­mount. As re­gards noc­tur­nal be­hav­iour, more hunt rows have started through a lack of pro­pri­ety than prob­a­bly any other fac­tor!

Mov­ing swiftly on, a word or two of per­sonal ad­vice as re­gards the han­dling of hounds. I my­self have found that too much noise is anath­ema — heads up, a lack of con­cen­tra­tion — but es­pe­cially nowa­days as farm­ing be­comes more di­verse, hounds do need help. They like to know where

their hunts­man is, es­pe­cially when draw­ing; it gives them con­fi­dence.

Also, when things be­come dif­fi­cult, they will look to their hunts­man for help. The knack here is to give them time when there is no ob­vi­ous an­swer, but to be quick when speed is re­quired and good in­for­ma­tion is read­ily avail­able. The cor­rect bal­ance here pro­duces trust be­tween a hunts­man and his hounds, whereas the in­cor­rect bal­ance pro­duces mis­trust, which can take a long time to re­place.

WHO IS IN CHARGE OF WHAT?

I WILL now move on to mas­ters who do not hunt hounds, and they are ob­vi­ously in the ma­jor­ity. For many years now, the Mas­ters of Fox­hounds As­so­ci­a­tion (MFHA) has run a new mas­ters’ course in April for that year’s crop, and for me it was al­ways an up­lift­ing sight to see so many friendly and at­ten­tive faces from right across the coun­try. All age groups and back­grounds are rep­re­sented with a lot of young, all as keen as mus­tard with pens poised.

Not bad when you con­sider they have taken on a dif­fi­cult role, in test­ing times with the re­stric­tions im­posed by the 2004 Hunt­ing Act, cou­pled with a down­turn in farm­ing prof­itabil­ity. How­ever, in the coun­try­side the good­will is still colos­sal.

It is a fact that most hunts now have a greater num­ber of joint­mas­ters than in the past, and one of the points strongly un­der­lined in the make-up of any new team is that there must be a clear un­der­stand­ing as to a break­down of roles. Who is in charge of the ken­nels, the sta­bles, the fi­nances, which parts of the coun­try, which days of the week? Most will be op­er­at­ing with a pro­fes­sional hunts­man and the last thing he wants is to have two or maybe more mas­ters telling him what to do be­fore and dur­ing a day’s hunt­ing.

Also be aware of “prece­dence”. Don’t start some­thing that you can­not keep up. Coun­try peo­ple and farm­ers, in par­tic­u­lar, do not like change with­out good rea­son and once you have pur­sued a par­tic­u­lar course on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, you will have set a prece­dent. A change of course can eas­ily beg the ques­tion “why”, or even the ob­ser­va­tion “can they not now be both­ered?”

As an ex­am­ple, for a num­ber of years I re­li­giously used to go and see a big farmer — an ex-mil­i­tary man — the night be­fore the first meet in his area, when we chewed the cud. One year, I got pushed for time and did not make it, only to be bearded by his son and told that I had lost my good name, as his fa­ther had lit the fire, got out the whisky and had spent a soli­tary evening wait­ing for me to turn up!

Re­turn­ing to the im­por­tance of a clear di­vi­sion of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, the run­ning of the ken­nels is a prime ex­am­ple. Most new mas­ters will have lit­tle knowl­edge of the prob­lems and in­tri­ca­cies of look­ing af­ter a pack of hounds. Hope­fully the pro­fes­sional hunts­man will have, but he will still need some­one to turn to for help over such mat­ters as the cost of prop­erty main­te­nance, gen­eral ex­penses and the em­ploy­ment of staff.

I have al­ways thought that any mas­ter tak­ing on the ken­nels, un­less they have pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, should spend at least a week work­ing full-time with the hunts­man from first thing in the morn­ing un­til he re­tires for

‘If the hunts­man does not love their hounds, the hounds will not love them and the whole game will crum­ble’

the night. I know from my own ex­pe­ri­ence that a 6am ren­dezvous with the af­ter­math of 30 cou­ple of hounds that have spent the night in a fairly con­fined space is not a task for the faint-hearted and can be fairly tax­ing on a queasy stom­ach, as can deal­ing with the col­lec­tion of fallen stock if that is still the pol­icy of that ken­nels. Th­ese are prob­lems that hunt staff deal with ev­ery day.

Con­cern­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of hound man­age­ment, I sug­gest the mas­ter in charge of the ken­nels is well versed in the MFHA book­let on hound hus­bandry. One of the points it high­lights is that ideally only one vet should be called upon to deal with a par­tic­u­lar ken­nel, thus build­ing up a rap­port with the mas­ter and staff. Ex­pe­ri­enced hunt staff will be well trained in this field but it is still an area that should not be left to chance.

In a dif­fer­ent quar­ter, many new mas­ters may well be ex­perts in the field of horses, but that does not mean that they should not lis­ten to those that they are re­spon­si­ble for mount­ing, and clearly un­der­stand the rou­tine that their par­tic­u­lar hunt ex­pects.

‘A LIT­TLE KNOWL­EDGE IS DAN­GER­OUS’

TO turn to hound breed­ing. This is a fas­ci­nat­ing and com­plex art much dis­cussed in cer­tain quar­ters and very sus­cep­ti­ble to per­sonal whims. Here a lit­tle knowl­edge is dan­ger­ous. It is much eas­ier to down­grade the stamp of a ken­nel than to up­grade it. The power of ge­net­ics is all pre­vail­ing and blood­lines will out. It is bet­ter to play safe un­til you know what you are do­ing.

Good lines will come through but, just as quickly, so will bad.

This is not an ex­act science and was brought home to me re­cently when a group of Ir­ish­men came to Bad­minton and we pulled out a num­ber of hounds that were def­i­nitely of the same type. One of the visi­tors in­ter­jected and said, “Now Cap­tain, th­ese look pretty good — af­ter all th­ese years do you still make mis­takes?”

“Mis­takes?” I said, “I put a re­ally top dog to a bril­liant bitch not long ago and ended up with a load of rab­bits.”

He grinned and said: “I am glad it hap­pens to oth­ers. I breed horses and put a win­ning stal­lion to a fab­u­lous mare and pro­duced a foal that would not even have pulled a cart. There you are — I look at it this way. Did you ever hear Elvis Pres­ley’s brother sing?”

If you don’t know, take ad­vice, and even then you will only get it right some of the time.

MOUTHS SHUT AND EYES OPEN

TURN­ING to the en­tirely dif­fer­ent ques­tion of new hunt staff and again we are talk­ing about two com­pletely dif­fer­ent en­ti­ties: the ex­pe­ri­enced and the new. We are ex­traor­di­nar­ily lucky in the Bri­tish Isles to have a vast num­ber of very ca­pa­ble se­nior hunts­men and ken­nel-hunts­men, many of whom I would like to think are my very best friends. They have of­ten been brought up the hard way and know their onions, and woe be­tide the young mas­ter who thinks he can lord it on day one. I al­ways re­mem­ber Bryan Pheasey, my ken­nel­hunts­man at the Bices­ter, on my first morn­ing, turn­ing to a new boy, very much in my hear­ing, telling him that the young should keep ev­ery door and their mouths shut. We both got the mes­sage!

Look­ing to the fu­ture, it is won­der­fully en­cour­ag­ing to see the num­ber of young peo­ple com­ing for­ward who wish to work in ken­nels with a view to mak­ing it their ca­reer. Many join the MFHA bur­sary scheme backed by Had­don Train­ing, which gives them a use­ful qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Hunt ser­vice is a hard life and, rather like the mil­i­tary, if or­ders are to be obeyed in the field then they must also be obeyed in bar­racks (the ken­nels). A boy at Bad­minton was late two morn­ings run­ning but never again when he had to cut the en­tire edge of the show yard with a pair of nail scis­sors. He now holds a se­nior po­si­tion.

Man­ners mat­ter. A cap off and a “Good morn­ing sir/madam” and a smile, rather than a grunt and a “wotcha old cock” with a fag hang­ing out of the side of the mouth, is prob­a­bly more con­ducive to pro­mo­tion.

Also a word of warn­ing about the overuse of so­cial me­dia. In­no­cent mes­sag­ing on, for ex­am­ple, Face­book, can eas­ily be mis­in­ter­preted and dis­torted should it get into the pub­lic do­main, with hugely re­gret­table con­se­quences to all con­cerned.

Gen­er­ally, other sub­jects such as a clear un­der­stand­ing of the Hunt­ing Act and com­pli­ance with it must also be taken on board, as should how to deal with sabo­teurs and League mon­i­tors, but that to start with is best left to those with ex­pe­ri­ence. Con­fronta­tion is sel­dom a sound way for­ward.

The one fac­tor that comes out loud and clear in trav­el­ling the coun­try, how­ever, is the de­ter­mi­na­tion to keep our hounds and our com­mu­ni­ties to­gether. That I am sure we will do, but please re­mem­ber that de­spite the dif­fi­cul­ties, hunt­ing should be fun. As ever, “Hunt­ing is a se­ri­ous busi­ness as long as it is taken lightly.”

Good luck to all.

Capt Ian Far­quhar, joint-mas­ter — and for many years hunts­man — of the Duke of Beau­fort’s, with hounds in the park at Bad­minton

The bond be­tween a hunts­man and his hounds must be a deep one: North Here­ford­shire hunts­man Derek Hop­kins and his hounds

Any mas­ter, un­less they have pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, should spend time work­ing in the ken­nels

Sage ad­vice: if you do not look af­ter your farm­ers, they will not look af­ter you

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