Horse & Hound
A hunting lady who has travelled the world for her passion but who is at her happiest at home with the South Shropshire
BORN at the South Shropshire kennels at Annscroft where her father, Michael Rowson, was huntsman for 34 seasons, Diana Thomas has hunting etched deep in her DNA.
“When I left school at 16, I spent a season as groom at the Fernie before coming home to do the horses for the South Shropshire,” Diana says. “In my second season I was promoted to head girl and whipped-in to Dad for two seasons, three days a week.”
A two-year bloodstock course at Hartpury College disrupted her hunting career before Diana jetted off to a job whipping-in to the Adelaide Hunt in Australia.
“I loved it and am still great friends with the huntsman Andrew Gray,” Diana says.
“I did one season and when I got home Dad got a call from David Barker asking me to go and whip-in at the Meynell.
I was worried that it would be too much for me, but with Dad’s encouragement I accepted. It really was a fantastic opportunity to learn about hounds and riding to them. I still have many of Mr Barker’s ditties engraved in my mind that I repeat with a Yorkshire accent.”
Mason Lampton, the master and huntsman of the Midland Foxhounds in Georgia, USA, came to look at the Meynell hounds one day and asked Di if she fancied coming to the States to whip-in to him.
“It was the first time that I had ever committed to three years in one place,” she remembers. “[Senior master] Ben Hardaway had his pack of bobcat hounds and his lurchers for coursing coyotes. It was a great experience.”
Diana flew back to the UK in April 2001 when the foot-and- mouth epidemic had shut hunting down, so without hesitation she whizzed back to Adelaide for another season as whipper-in.
“The Australian season ended in October and I was keen to muster cattle, so I got a job in the north-eastern corner of South Australia on a million-acre station with only three people living on it. I stayed three years,” she says.
A HOME BIRD
DESPITE all this frenetic travelling, Diana insists: “I’m a home bird really and I just love Shropshire. It’s the best place in the world.”
She returned to look after Richard Cambray’s horses for five years, managing to hunt three days a week with her beloved South Shropshire and even to hunt the United Pack for a season after Oliver Hill had a bad fall.
“Hunting hounds is the ultimate and I’m so pleased that I had the opportunity to do it,” she says.
Diana is now settled on a Shropshire farm, only six miles from the South Shropshire kennels, and has set up a business making nylon thongs for hunting whips, and Thi-Dri Riding
Aprons. She has been married to Myles for eight years and has two small children — three-year-old Arabella and William, who is nearly two.
“Myles built new stables before he bought me an engagement ring,” she says. “Then he started to ride and now he is flying.
“I struggle for childcare so I spend most of the time getting horses ready for either Myles or my sister, but I love seeing them enjoy it so much. My parents follow the hounds in a carriage pulled by a pair of driving horses when they’re not riding. I just hope that I get a couple more good seasons before I have to do that leading-rein thing.” H&H