All in a day’s work
The Beaufort’s Nick Hopkins on the task of managing 90 couple of hounds
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.