Sarah Kate Byrne

This Diana of the Chase cum rac­ing stylist has a ‘have a go’ at­ti­tude to field­sports, though is hap­pi­est ‘on the wonk’ over drains and hedges

The Field - - Country Estate -

A YEAR ago I shot my first stag on a glo­ri­ous es­tate in Suther­land, af­ter a long crawl up a burn from where we’d left the boat on the loch shore. That mo­ment con­firmed my opin­ion that all sport­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties are pre­cious and should be em­braced and ex­pe­ri­enced. My mantra has al­ways been to “have a go” and although I may never be a pas­sion­ate stalker, I know I can place the bul­let and cut the mus­tard. This is an im­por­tant as­pect of my sport­ing life and from a young age I de­vel­oped a can-do at­ti­tude, espe­cially where horses were con­cerned. I had the for­tune to be raised in ru­ral Ire­land in a house full of an­i­mals, where horses came and went but not un­til they’d been un­der a sidesad­dle.

My par­ents were for­ever ac­cu­mu­lat­ing old sad­dles and tack as they toured Ire­land’s crum­bling piles for their work, re­claim­ing and con­serv­ing his­toric houses. It was a sidesad­dle from one such house that launched my pas­sion for this style of rid­ing.

I started hunt­ing astride a Shet­land pony in Car­low coun­try when I was four. When the old sidesad­dle turned up eight years later, I started to hunt ‘on the wonk’. Those days with our sur­round­ing packs – the Car­low, Kil­dare, Wick­low and Shil­le­lagh – were of­ten hairy, al­ways wet and my sis­ter, Aoife, and I were the only chil­dren ever out side­ways. The sense of ad­ven­ture and ex­hil­a­ra­tion it gave me was pal­pa­ble. I still feel it now, re­turn­ing home an­nu­ally for days aside with the Blaz­ers, Lim­er­icks and Duhal­low, to name a few. Hav­ing hunted sidesad­dle with a dozen or more packs in Eng­land since mov­ing over here in 2006, I have seen a real rev­o­lu­tion in the way women ap­proach their hunt­ing. The sidesad­dle move­ment has had a real shot in the arm from those true thrusters, such as Lucy Hol­land and Fran Moulaert, who don’t just look el­e­gant but re­ally go for it. I wouldn’t call it a sis­ter­hood but it’s no longer a nov­elty and that’s a good thing.

Hav­ing missed the in­au­gu­ral Dianas of the Chase sidesad­dle steeple­chase due to a ski crash on the gi­ant slalom run in Ver­bier, I was de­ter­mined to en­ter at the next avail­able op­por­tu­nity. Rid­ing Karen Bam­ford’s trusty if a lit­tle sturdy Al­fie, and de­spite a heavy peck at the last, we came home an honourable sixth, thus si­lenc­ing one lady who asked me why I had cho­sen a cart horse as my mount. I al­ways ad­mit that my prow­ess in the sad­dle is en­tirely down to the brav­ery of the steed I am lucky enough to have un­der me.

My boyfriend is an ob­ses­sive shot and fish­er­man and I’m happy to get stuck in, too. My in­tro­duc­tion to shoot­ing was un­planned. Start­ing the day as peg fluff, I found a gun be­ing thrust at me by a bored Spe­cial Forces of­fi­cer who non­cha­lantly gave me some in­struc­tions while puff­ing away on a ci­garette. Some years later, I found my­self on a peg in Spain on a whop­ping dou­ble-gun par­tridge day. I’ve fished the Bal­li­nahinch in the West of Ire­land and the Deveron un­der the guid­ance of a charm­ing gillie who re­cited po­etry to me from the bank. How­ever, these things don’t match the thrill of fly­ing a black hedge or a deep drain on a for­ward-go­ing hunter. I re­ally en­joy the op­por­tu­ni­ties for vis­it­ing and the so­cial side that field­sports of­fer. On that trip to Spain, Martha Sitwell and I were the guests of a charm­ing Span­ish duque who took us pig-stick­ing and put us up on horses for a mon­te­ria, where we drove the pigs and deer to­wards the ri­fles. What a thrill to be able to do all this side­ways in a coun­try where hunt­ing is taken so se­ri­ously and is so en­shrined in cer­e­mony.

My in­ten­tion is to con­tinue to give ev­ery­thing a go and seek new sport­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. There’s talk of a trip to Africa and as the house is fes­tooned with big-game tro­phies, I might as well try to add a few. The thought of stalk­ing a buf­falo with a dou­ble ri­fle ap­peals and as a nat­u­ral thrill-seeker I’m sure it would de­liver just as much adren­a­line as the wildest day over walls in Ire­land.

My work as a rac­ing stylist gives me ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to be around race­courses and rac­ing peo­ple, which is in my blood. I’m an aes­thete and I try to dress ITV Rac­ing’s host, Francesca Cu­mani, in as much vin­tage cloth­ing as I can. This goes hand-in-hand with my ap­proach to the sport­ing wardrobe. It’s not a fancy-dress party but there’s al­ways room for a lit­tle theatre and one should strive to look a lit­tle quirky. It’s all part of the fun. The joy of vin­tage clothes is that they are prop­erly made and one-of-a-kind pieces that you won’t see on the lady next to you at pad­dock or covert-side. Af­ter all, we only do these things for fun so there’s noth­ing to be shy of when dis­play­ing a touch of flam­boy­ance.

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