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August 26, 2005

Hunting Life - The Puppy Show

Posted by Jorocs

During the summer months, when the pace of life in hunting circles has slowed down, country people are occupied by attending their local puppy show. This is the day when the young entry (the young hounds who are about to enter the pack) show off their paces, although this is far more about people-spotting than dog-spotting.

The puppies to be judged are not this year's litters (which have been sent "out to walk" on various farms and households throughout the countryside where they will be bought up in a family atmosphere) but the ones bought back from walk last season and which over the last few months have been fed, exercised and prepared for their great day.

This is a day on which the great and the good mix on equal terms with the humble and the poor. On the hunting field, the great and good, on their expensive horses, can be abandoned by the humble and poor old farmer on his cob as he slips across the country leaving them stranded. Today, they have to talk to each other, something which the farmer does not always relish. He is the offspring of a long line of successful farmers and is reluctant to spend time with people who will not be there in three seasons' time.

Against a backdrop of clipped hedges and mown grass flanked by white painted stones, the kennels are prepared to look their very best. The showing ring has been erected and the huntsman's friends have been invited round in preceding evenings to create an audience for the puppies to display their action and confirmation to best advantage when "shown the biscuit". This entails the huntsman enticing each individual hound with a biscuit held in his hand to show itself off to best advantage. If it's a hound with a short neck or a light shoulder the biscuit will be held low and forward to stretch the animal. One old huntsman's trick to get a hound up on its toes, was to throw the biscuit onto the kennel roof, and as it slowly bounced down, the hound would be straining upwards to receive it on landing.

On the dot of three, the two chosen judges enter the ring. The huntsman stands there in his white coat and bowler hat and the kennel door clicks open with oiled precision as the first hound is let out to be judged. The judges themselves have a difficult job, they are bound to upset someone who thinks the hound they walked should have come first; very often they are wise and authoritative, but budding young Master of Foxhound's (M.F.H's) who may not have a good eye for a hound, can always check the list to see if a debatable first or second was walked by a pretty young lady. Young M.F.H's are always easily influenced by a bit of skirt.

Whilst portly farmers perspire in tight collars and ties, their wives may have treated themselves to an outfit with a hat as if they were at Royal Ascot. There is usually a fair grope of old colonels with barking voices and a plethora of amateur young M.F.H's in eye-shattering pink trousers. If it were not for the fact that every young M.F.H is expected to be a rampant stud with the ladies, one would question their sexual orientation. This year there seem to be far more pretty young ladies, or is it that I am getting older?

On the far side of a ring will be a farm wagon where there will be seated the bowler hatted, suited, professional huntsmen, visiting from hunts all around the country, attending each others' puppy shows with an eye of acquiring a stallion hound to use in their own kennels. Here they sit, lean faced, lantern jawed, hunched like a murder of ravens. No matter what they say afterwards about the pack looking very good and level, they will be analysing each hound in their minds for its movement, which must be balanced. There is no way that today they can assess a hound's fox-catching ability, but if a hound is to gallop long distances he must move in a well-balanced fashion.

One famous incident this year, the talk of the local dinner tables, was of a young man who was dragged north to judge his first puppy show. This certain gentleman's lack of knowledge was only outdone by his well known stinginess. He slyly indicated to the huntsman that he would slip him a drink if the huntsman would tip him a wink. "Don't worry", said the huntsman. As our hero entered the ring he was handed a scrap of paper. As he unfolded it expecting to see the name of whom the winner should be, he discovered a hand drawn picture of a dog with various labels attached such as "head", "tail" and "feet".

After the judging, all repair to the marquee for tea. Then the prizes are given, a challenge cup for the best working hound for the previous season awarded, and speeches are made.

This year the general theme is on the lines of:

Fortunately we have some people leading the hunting community that are dedicated, determined and have nothing to lose. A most dangerous combination. Abide as best you can by the law in a civilised society but kick on as much as you can. The whole of our past and the whole of our future is down to our farmers.
After tea, the aficionados return to the kennels to view the old hounds and then retire to the huntsman's house for a further extended tea leading to the consumption of a considerable amount of scotch when past, present and potential mating of hounds and humans are debated, planned and practiced.

Jorocs writes about hunting life for the Social Affairs Unit. To read more by Jorocs, see Hunting.

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