All in a day’s work

The Beau­fort’s Nick Hop­kins on the task of man­ag­ing 90 cou­ple of hounds

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - H&H

Ken­nel-hunts­man Nick Hop­kins from the Beau­fort

As ken­nel-hunts­man to the Duke of Beau­fort’s,

I’m in charge of the day-to-day run­ning of the ken­nels and of a four-man team. We have 65 cou­ple of hounds, plus 25 cou­ple of young hounds who will en­ter next sea­son, and we pro­duce them to go hunt­ing four days a week. We man­age their fit­ness, their health and their wel­fare. I also act as first whip­perin to our master and hunts­man, Matt Rams­den, on a hunt­ing day.

I’ve worked in hunt­ing for 31 years now.

I worked on a farm for a bit when I left school, but the only way to get as much hunt­ing as I wanted was to go into hunt ser­vice, which I did as ken­nel­man to the Oak­ley in 1986.

I spent six years there and got a fan­tas­tic ground­ing.

I have to give a huge thanks to Paul Bel­lamy, the ken­nel-hunts­man there, for all he taught me. I don’t think young peo­ple spend enough time learn­ing the job now — they want to get to the top too quickly, and fall off the lad­der on the way up. A life in hunt ser­vice in­volves long hours — 6am to around 7pm on a hunt­ing day — and you need both pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion.

What makes it worth it? The sport — the good hunts.

They might be few and far between, but it’s the ex­pec­ta­tion. You’ve got to go out ev­ery morn­ing think­ing, “This could be the day”. You need that pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, as well as pa­tience and good manners. Re­ally, you do it all for the hounds. I love my horses, but it’s re­ally all about the hounds.

I hunted the Clifton Foot Bea­gles for five sea­sons,

which taught me how to hunt a pack of hounds, be­fore go­ing to the Mine­head Har­ri­ers in Som­er­set in 1997 as ken­nel-hunts­man to Sid West­cott. He had to have heart surgery in my sec­ond sea­son and I took over hunt­ing the hounds, and my wife Selina whipped-in to me.

It was great fun down there — rough, wild coun­try, small but very sport­ing with great peo­ple.

In the year of foot-and-mouth dis­ease, we didn’t start hunt­ing un­til late De­cem­ber and Selina was preg­nant with our son James, who was due in early Fe­bru­ary.

The mas­ters de­cided they couldn’t risk her be­ing out on a horse but, when they told her that, I knew she had ap­peared to take it rather too well. The fol­low­ing week we were hunt­ing in some forestry and I heard her voice tally ho-ing a fox over the ride.

I rode over to her, and she said. “They might me able to stop me com­ing out on a hunt horse, but they can’t stop me com­ing out as a mem­ber of the field!”

I’m glad I got to hunt hounds — and I still do on oc­ca­sion —

but, hav­ing spent 10 sea­sons as ken­nel-hunts­man at the North Cotswold and three sea­sons here at the Beau­fort, I know it’s about team­work. A suc­cess­ful hunt needs mas­ters to run the coun­try, good staff in the ken­nels, good grooms and good coun­trypeo­ple. All the cogs need to click to­gether to make it work. It’s all very well be­ing the striker, but you need a bloody good goalie as well.

‘It’s all very well be­ing the striker, but you need a bloody good

goalie as well’

I’ve been very lucky to have had two of the best ken­nel hunts­men’s jobs in the coun­try.

Times have changed in hunt­ing — the back-up for young staff isn’t al­ways there. The av­er­age mas­ter­ship lasts just three sea­sons; it can be very un­set­tling for young pro­fes­sional hunts­men not to have the sta­bil­ity and the con­fi­dence of an ex­pe­ri­enced mas­ter­ship be­hind them.

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