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May 11, 2007

Hunting Life: The Hunt Button

Posted by Jorocs

Being awarded the hunt button marks the passing from childhood to adult, or in the case of someone who starts hunting late in life, having hunted enough seasons to be marked out as one made of the right stuff or a good egg.

I still remember the enormous pleasure when I opened the envelope containing the letter announcing my wife and I simultaneously being awarded the hunt button. This allowed us to wear a button on our hunting coats displaying the ensigma or emblem of the hunt. It marks one out as a true hunter.

It gives me great pleasure now to read the letter on my desk which was sent to James Massingbred awarding him the hunt button after his second season's hunting. James moved into the village two years ago, and upon discovering that I went hunting, quietly confided that he had always had this dream to take part in this particular sport. He admitted his riding skills were negligible but I assured him as long as he regularly hacked out my hunters all winter keeping them fit and improving his riding, I would give him half a day at the end of the season to see what happened. I also hinted that I might be willing to sell my old grey hunter, Phillip, to a good home.

Keeping hunters fit in all weathers is a real test of one's commitment. James duly obliged and at the end of the season I organised for him to take over my horse on the second half of the day. This was woodland hunting in the park - not very demanding one would think.

James duly arrived at second horses and had the misfortune to draw up and park behind the Hunt Secretary's horsebox. The Secretary is a man who is unfortunately short of temper and also very verbose in expressing his feelings; he imagines he maintains control by shouting at everyone. He had been given the position of Secretary since he was a large landowner, to deter his aspirations of becoming a Master. In character, the Secretary immediately let fly vitriolically at James about "people's inability to park correctly". James seemed nonplussed and, as I hoisted him into the saddle remarking that I was surprised he hadn't flattened the man, he dryly observed that he was used to people behaving like that since he'd been to public school.

We set off, him full of enthusiasm mounted on Phillip, my faithful old grey, who was hopefully worn out enough to behave himself. Hounds soon found and we were lucky to come across a small set of post and tails as James' initial test of jumping ability. This he managed adequately but by now Phillip had engineered himself into a position just behind the Field Master who immediately turned sharp right and flew a five bar gate. Before I had time to speak, James had followed him and cleared the obstacle in fine style. I informed James that it was definitely not the done thing to jump a five barred gated on one's first day's hunting and immediately doubled the asking price for Phillip.

Pride is usually followed by a fall, and at the next set of post and rails (which James and Phillip flew), the whole field turned right but James decided to carry straight on, which he did minus Phillip, suffering quite a severe groin injury as he parted company with the horse.

Driving home in the box that evening, James was burbling with excitement since hunting had lived up to all his lifelong expectations (I don't think this included the groin injury however). Although it was the end of the season, he decided that he must buy a horse immediately, ready for next year. With only a couple of meets left to go, we were lucky to find a horse which seemed to fit the bill, but due to his groin strain I would have to test it for him. When we arrived, Poppy was stood demurely tied to the back of the lorry; with both eyes shut and one foot resting off the ground, for all the world looking like a troop horse. James was stood nearby, mentally nursing his groin injury.

"I'll ride her first", exclaimed the wife with the excitement of a child wanting to unwrap its Christmas presents. She duly mounted and disappeared in the direction of the Meet. I came across her five minutes later sat on one side of a fence, the horse the other. Not a good start. Once again I had to take on the horse.

Poppy proved to be an outstanding hunter in spite of her original sin. She would take one into a jump, see a stride to perfection and come out the other side listening for the next instruction. At the end of the day I told James this was the horse for him, but he wasn't the man for the horse yet. James duly bought her for an astronomical sum - although now hunting is banned horse prices are raising like wildfire. He diligently spent the summer having riding lessons on his new steed, trying to keep falls per lesson in single figures. I continually assured him that jumping cavaletti happens so quickly that if you were wrong on approach you would still be wrong on landing but when it came to jumping hedges in the Vale he would have so long in the air he would have time to correct himself. Although I did worry at times if nerve and enthusiasm would last the summer.

They duly did and he wrote a very polite letter to the same Hunt Secretary requesting permission to hunt the coming season. His wife surfed the internet avidly for hunting attire and it was a very proud man who set off with us cub hunting. Albeit him in his brand new Range Rover and horsebox following me as I struggled along at five miles an hour in my spluttering lorry (but that's another story - hunting transport).

James was a very rewarding pupil in that he was continually enthusiastic but I in my new role as livery yard owner had to keep his steed fit enough for hunting but not too volatile for him to handle, a balance between oats and ability. Things were going well until February but when jumping a five bar gate one day, Poppy was unsighted by a horse besides her refusing (mine) and consequently broke the gate and badly injured her front leg.

She proved to be a model patient having been stitched and also tethered in the stable for ten days, the end of which time James' impatience had got the better of him and he decided he must have another horse. An ex-eventer called Witch Hazel was duly found - a wonderful hunter, but one that once again would be a challenge for James. Also, the price of horses had risen yet again due to the popularity of trail hunting.

James duly finished the season in full flow. Poppy came back on song, in time for his wife Sandra to ride her to the final Meet of the season, which was her first day's hunting. Sandra has now displayed a strong interest in wanting to hunt next season. James is madly careering round sponsored rides with the intention of team chasing next season, as well as hunting. This I fully approve of but the problem is his company is called Integrated Transport or some such name. I fear he may name himself Team Integrated Transport and I despair commentators might abbreviate that, but the learning process goes on.

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

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