Hunt­ing

De­spite one of the worst scent­ing days, the Taun­ton Vale pro­vides one of the most wel­com­ing open­ing meets

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - By RE­BECCA JOR­DAN

Taun­ton Vale, the Quorn and the Kim­blewick

IF any pack of fox­hounds can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, it’s the Taun­ton Vale. De­spite one of the worst scent­ing days I have ever ex­pe­ri­enced, this pack’s joie de vivre kept the ball rolling from be­gin­ning to end.

Bright sun­shine made for a fine open­ing meet but scant scent. We were gen­er­ously en­ter­tained at Jor­dans — just off the A303 round­about at Ilmin­ster in Som­er­set — by Christo­pher and Caro­line Speke. The house was de­mol­ished in 1964 but the fam­ily’s legacy was as­sured by John Han­ning Speke’s dis­cov­ery, in 1858, of the source of the Nile: Lake Vic­to­ria in Uganda.

Nigh on 60 horses made for an im­pres­sive sight in beau­ti­ful park­land. Al­most lost below the tide­line was the fu­ture of our sport. It was the first day for three-year old Poppy Young, mute

with ex­cite­ment, out on a pony which, in its 32 years, had seen more sport than all the hun­ters snort­ing and pranc­ing around it. Poppy’s mother Lucy, a well­known thruster, was burst­ing with pride as seven-year-old son Archie watched over his sis­ter.

An­other mak­ing his de­but and en­sur­ing this was the third gen­er­a­tion of Alers-Hankey to grace the hunt­ing field was Arthur. At seven years old, Arthur was a lit­tle more will­ing to share his thoughts on the day ahead. Up­per­most was the con­cern his pony might be too tired for twin brother Tris­tan to en­joy a day with the Tiver­ton fox­hounds the fol­low­ing day.

I have a feel­ing fa­ther Dom was pray­ing there were no un­in­ten­tional dis­mounts to dirty great-great-un­cle Gen­eral

Sir Ken­neth Dar­ling’s rid­ing clothes — tai­lored in 1911 but mod­elled with tre­men­dous flour­ish by Arthur on his first foray into the hunt­ing field.

Un­for­tu­nately, Guy Lan­dau, joint-master and am­a­teur hunts­man for the past four sea­sons, was giv­ing a read­ing at the fu­neral of David Barker, for­mer in­ter­na­tional showjumper and hunts­man of the Meynell and South Stafford­shire. Ken­nel­hunts­man Dan Ham­mett was there­fore car­ry­ing the horn here for the first full day’s sport.

Ben Lowe, sta­tioned here last sea­son but now hunt­ing hounds at the South Tet­cott, re­turned for the day to help out along­side am­a­teur whip­per-in Charles Pearce.

FICKLE SCENT

IT was ob­vi­ous hounds and Dan had a won­der­ful rap­port but, once on the move, it was clear the pack were in for a try­ing day. Ex­cel­lent team­work between the mas­ter­ship and hunt staff en­sured those fol­low­ing crossed the vale in some style.

To­day, even on breast-high scent, this would not be the eas­i­est of coun­tries to hunt. The days of vale car­peted in un­end­ing old turf are glo­ri­ous mem­o­ries. A strong trade for pro­tein-based feed, driven by the rapidly ex­pand­ing af­flu­ent Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion, con­tin­ues to push live­stock farm­ing to the less fer­tile fringes of our land­scape.

So, in this coun­try where fields tend to be smaller than coun­tries such as the Wynnstay, hounds hunt a fickle scent hing­ing on an ever-chang­ing va­ri­ety of crops his­tor­i­cally found on vast arable es­tates.

Throw into the mix pock­ets of wood­land, which thank­fully still have a foothold here — as well as this vale’s no­to­ri­ous rhynes and ditches swad­dled in black­thorn hedges — and you know a hunts­man has to be on the ball and use ev­ery tool in his box of ven­ery to help hounds pro­vide un­in­ter­rupted sport.

It’s com­mon prac­tice here to jink between fly­ing a hedge to clear­ing rails and gates or scram­bling over or through the type of Ir­ish ditches of­ten viewed

by adrenalin junkies on Face­book videos, and then duck­ing and weav­ing through small copses. Your horse’s brain needs to be sharp enough to al­low it to change tack quickly on land­ing if you are to keep with Hed­ley Webb, our field master.

A GRAND JOB

HE did a grand job keep­ing the adrenalin flow­ing all day. The field was in con­stant con­tact with hounds and we barely touched tar­mac. Hats off to David Lowes, Dom Sch­nei­ders, the Clark­son fam­ily and Gra­ham Pel­low, who have vol­un­teered and helped the mas­ter­ship and hunt staff con­tinue to open up the coun­try.

This sum­mer, there has been a huge drive to put in yet more hunt jumps and trim back some of the more im­pos­ing hedges to al­low as many as pos­si­ble to cross hunt coun­try in proper fash­ion.

Not long af­ter we left the meet, there were a cou­ple of hor­ren­dous falls. The first was Si­mon Oliver, for­mer master of the VWH. His horse fell into a badger sett on a head­land and did a com­plete som­er­sault with Si­mon. It was ter­ri­fy­ing for his wife Emma to watch. Coun­try­man Tom Leary took a slightly con­fused Si­mon to his box on the quad bike while Char­lotte Rowe rode back Si­mon’s horse — plas­tered in mud but seem­ingly un­scathed.

As 17-year old Annabel Du­man’s pony spun yet again to­wards a hunt jump and straight­ened it­self just a stride away, Mark Ansell and I com­mented on what a good jockey she was and how she would flour­ish un­der the ex­pe­ri­enced eye of point-to-point train­ers Ed and Polly Walker, where she has just started work­ing.

But, as is the way with this sport, within five min­utes she was prone on the tar­mac at Il­ton air­field. Hounds had just spo­ken for the first time and ev­ery­one was

keen to make the most of their mu­sic; her horse slipped on the airstrip and tipped up. Thank­fully Annabel was OK, if not a lit­tle shocked, and showed her true colours by be­ing more con­cerned about her horse’s wel­fare than her own.

ONE GREAT FAM­ILY

THE beauty of the hunt­ing com­mu­nity is no one is ever left to cope with any calamity on their

‘I shall never give up my ef­forts

to keep this sport go­ing’

VICE-CHAIR­MAN DAVID LOWES

own; we’re all pretty use­ful in a cri­sis. So it goes with­out say­ing Annabel was im­me­di­ately un­der the watch­ful eye of El­lie Wass, her “hunt­ing mum”, and hunt nurse Eleanor Pugh.

How Eleanor ap­peared on the scene so quickly is still a mys­tery to me. Usu­ally she is a per­ma­nent fix­ture on her coloured horse, but to­day she had given up the ride to daugh­ter Lizzie, a pri­mary school teacher in Ger­many, en­joy­ing some fresh air over half-term.

An­other who had come home to roost tem­po­rar­ily was Ali Hawkes, in her first sea­son as stud groom at the Devon and Som­er­set Staghounds — rest­ing for a few days be­fore switch­ing to hinds.

This is one great fam­ily. I hadn’t hunted here since Jan­uary 2017 and yet it felt as though I had vis­ited just the pre­vi­ous Fri­day. The warmth and fa­mil­iar­ity of the mas­ters’ wel­come was over­whelm­ing. Their ban­ter and crack were the main rea­sons I took out a sub­scrip­tion pre­vi­ously and noth­ing had changed.

“When this team of mas­ters was elected four sea­sons ago, I pre­dicted there would soon be a huge smile on ev­ery­one’s face,” said vice-chair­man David Lowes, who con­tin­ues to use his great in­tel­lec­tual in­sight tire­lessly be­hind the scenes on our be­half.

“I shall never for­get the look on Annabel Du­man’s face when she jumped her first hedge as a lit­tle girl. I knew she was hooked on hunt­ing from then on. As long as that keeps hap­pen­ing, I shall never give up in my ef­forts to keep this sport go­ing.

“There is no com­mu­nity like it. Where else would you find such spirit de­spite all that has been thrown its way?”

Joint-master Matt Wilkes clears one the coun­try’s hedges in fine style

Poppy Young, three, aboard 32-year-old Lady­bird and as­sisted by her brother Archie Young, seven, on her first day’s hunt­ing

Ken­nel-hunts­man Dan Ham­mett hunts hounds in Guy Lan­dau’s ab­sence

Emily Rawl­ins is im­mac­u­lately turned out for the open­ing meet

Char­lotte Long and Molly Lan­dau make the most of the open coun­try

Team chaser Pe­tra Bryan-Brown with her daugh­ter, Alice

Katy Berry con­fi­dently sails over one of the day’s hedges

From left: Re­becca Jor­dan, El­iz­a­beth Pugh and Jenny Par­sons

From left: whip­per-in Char­lie Pearce with joint-mas­ters Mark Heuff and Poey Vacher, andwhip­per-in Ben Lowe

Joint-master Hed­ley Webb clears a rail into wood­land

Joint-master Tony Berry (left) and Johnny Sump­tion catch up

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