The Zetland huntsman talks to Tessa Waugh about his upcoming retirement after 24 seasons — and the politics of the hunting community
Zetland huntsman David Jukes
THERE is snow on the ground in North Yorkshire when I visit, but David and Ginny Jukes’ cottage at the Zetland kennels is cosy and welcoming, with the fire burning and terriers milling about at foot. I know David from hunting as a child and 30 years on, he has the same youthful, easy manner and, strangely, no grey hair, despite being nearly
60. He is one of Britain’s senior professional huntsmen and when he retires at the end of this season, he will have hunted the Zetland hounds for 24 seasons.
DAVID grew up in the heart of South and West Wilts (SWW) country — he still has a gentle West Country accent — and got into hunting through his first wife, Scarlett. He was a thatcher then, who did earth-stopping and followed on his feet when he could. When the hunting bug started to bite, he moved on to horses — usually the ones that no whipper-in wanted to ride — and became amateur whip to Capt Simon Clarke who was master and huntsman of the SWW. David has a lot of respect for Capt Clarke, an early mentor, but wasn’t cowed by any notions of seniority.
“I got a lot of bollockings but I was my own man and I wasn’t afraid to shout back,” he says.
It was Capt Clarke who suggested David became a hunt servant, advising him: “If you do, don’t go in at the bottom. Every year, jobs come up at short notice because someone breaks their leg or gets caught sleeping with the master’s wife and then you can apply.”
Capt Clarke later told him about the whipper-in’s job at the Zetland. David remembers the interview well.
“They got me to jump all these hedges, which was a bit of a shock coming from the SWW, but it sort of worked,” he says. “They wanted me to start straightaway but I had to tell them I was in the middle of thatching someone’s house so I went home, finished the job and returned in August.”
At the Zetland, David began working for Martin Thornton, another well-respected huntsman, this time a professional. Martin was a hard taskmaster but David wasn’t put off.
“I didn’t know anything about the kennel side of things and was probably more of a hindrance to begin with,” he admits. “It was a busy place then: a big flesh-round, three full-time chaps. Martin instilled all these old-fashioned hunt servant ways and I just soaked it up.”
How did the hunting compare?
“Simon Clarke was your archetypal amateur of the old school with a natural flair for hunting the fox and a good brain, but I didn’t realise how steady it was,” says David. “Coming here was a big shock. It was so fast and competitive. The riding side was scary.
“Martin was the most exciting man to follow a pack of hounds with and above all, a very good horseman.”
WHEN Martin left for the Bicester with Whaddon Chase two seasons later, he was replaced by Mark Esling. “There were plenty of good people in the frame,” says David, “but they were all frightened off by the politics.”
It is the first of several references David makes to hunt politics and it seems this sorry aspect of hunting has been a recurring feature of life at the Zetland. He has had more than 25 masters in his time as huntsman. When Mark crashed and burned after one season, David stepped into the breach as huntsman.
“I told them they might as well take me on despite my lack of experience — at least I was
sensible and knew the hounds,” he says.
He cites politics as the reason he left after only two seasons — “it finally exploded” — but he was asked back again in 1996 after a couple of years as kennel-huntsman to Capt Rupert Inglesant at the Tedworth.
David had reservations about the return to Yorkshire but the fact that his second wife, Ginny, was a Zetland girl (Ginny’s grandfather was stud groom at the Zetland and lived in the house where they are now) must have had a bearing on the decision. During their time away, they had produced two children, the eldest of whom, Victoria, was profoundly disabled and needed 24-hour care — an incredibly difficult situation that might have knocked other couples off track. David’s friend, Jamie Cameron, former vice-chairman of the Zetland, describes David as “tenacious” and “a life enhancer”. Andrew Spalding, joint-master of the Zetland who whipped-in to David for 17 seasons, is not one to gush, but he describes David as “brave, resilient and professional”.
“He has been an asset and guiding rock to us [the masters],” he adds. “We see him as the fifth ‘master’ and he has made this pack into what it is.”
DAVID had full responsibility for breeding the hounds since becoming huntsman, something he has relished. “I am convinced that there is not a better pack in the country,” he says. “The best bit of advice I was given on hound breeding was from Capt Clarke, who told me ‘any fool can breed a boring pack of hounds’. The Zetland hounds are not boring.”
We walk around the lovely old kennel buildings and take a look at the hounds and Pedro, one of his favourite horses. David is very much a man surveying his manor. He is relaxed about the next stage; he and Ginny have bought a house nearby and he is talking about a grouse loading course, a bit of skiing and is full of praise for James Finney from the Hurworth, who will replace him.
On choosing this time to retire, he says: “I don’t want to go on until I’m 65, it is not good for the hounds. I am handing over a pack that are still mental for it.
“The Zetland is a young man’s country. If I’m on a supersonic horse, I can still go pretty straight but jumping five-bar gates on to concrete yards is not for me any more.”
‘The Zetland is a young man’s country — jumping five-bar gates on to concrete yards is not for me
David Jukes (on the grey), huntsman of the Zetland, arrives at the meet
‘The best bit of advice I was given on hound breeding was from Capt Clarke, who told me “any fool can breed a boring pack of hounds”. The Zetland
hounds are not boring’
Relished responsibility: ‘I am convinced that there is not a better pack in the country’