Original Entry Winner
Two Glimpses of Riding in Wales
Up in Tilley country after a Meet at the edge of the world
Where the familiar and domesticated touches the untamed…
And Fortified with the fire of a Percy brew,
We clatter and slither through stream and bog to a high crest,
To the wall below which the world drops away
To a dwindle of tiny farms and a miniature covert.
We sit on our horses like gods and survey
Ravens tilting and grabbing the wind beneath us,
Filling the air with their dragon speech,
Their dark imprecations…
Hound-music suddenly swirls up
From the wood at our feet and the raven voices are drowned
As our eyes refocus
On the miniature fox well away on a sunlit slope, clear away from its pursuers
And the pack that follows, divides as a second fox sneaks some to a further hill
And more distant music arises
Like an. echo…
One hound returns to watch as we do in a god-like pose
Seated beside his huntsman..
Glancing from right to left with gracious condescension..
Looking for the best chance,
Waiting for the signal
Breaking at the right second
Rejoining his companions at the critical moment
For the swift and glorious running down and instant execution of the quarry.
Such is the nature and art of the fox hunt:
The combination of skill and experience, of patience and understanding,
Bred in the bones of the hound, in the brain of his master,
Coloured with courage and spiced and seasoned with danger.
Riding out this morning after a snowfall
And after the hunting ban,
I marvel at the beauty of Wales
And celebrate the freedom of its high hills unfettered by fences
And think of the fox.
Evidence of its passing lies in the next field:
A group of crows cluster and dance about the corpse of a sheep
Shocked to death after a partial butchery.
Next, the fox will be shot
Or most likely wounded
To shamble away and expire slowly under the dank hedge..
Deprived of the neat execution of a pistol to the head
Or a swift bite to the back of the neck and instant oblivion.
Excerpts on Hunting Winner
On Hunting, by Sir Roger Scruton
By now I had led Dumbo to one side and was edging down the road towards the turning which would take us home. Suddenly the Huntsman’s horn stuttered out its excited semiquavers. The hounds, which had been drifting round the trotting horse like gulls around a fishing boat, instantly form a line, running one behind the other towards the copse, each hound breaking into song as it jumped the low stone wall that crossed the valley. There was a commotion behind me. I turned to see the Master swing his horse towards the rails that border the road on this side of the valley and then rush at them with a scraping of hooves. The other riders followed, some 40 or more, each horse fired with enthusiasm pulling its rider into the jump and following the herd in its downhill stampede towards the river, into which they plunged like the Gararene swine. Dumbo was rearing in my hand, and I was tempted to let him go. But soon the hunt had waded the shallow stream, and galloped off behind the copse and was lost to view. Dumbo allowed me to mount him for the journey home, setting off at once in an excited trot, ears pricked, eyes searching the horizon to every side, hoping for a miraculous vision to be granted again. Only when the familiar houses of his village lined the road, did he returned to his plodding gait. And I noted that he was drooping and covered in sweat. Thus it was that I resolved to take up hunting during this, the best part of my life.
The Legend of the White Hart
Jack Snape was a fiery horseman;
A man who knew no fear.
He’d made his name as a thruster,
A rider without peer.
‘Young Snape’s a good man on a horse,’
So all the old men said.
The ladies always swooned and sighed;
Jack was a thoroughbred.
When leaping over rails and banks
He always led the field.
He cut the finest figure; so
Refined and so well-heeled.
Though Snape was blessed with talent he
Had arrogance as well.
No man could tell him anything.
He never ever fell.
He’d spied the Squire’s daughter once,
Out cantering in the ride.
He’d set his cap to win her heart
And have her for his bride.
The Squire wasn’t so inclined
To have Jack for a son.
‘But if you match this task,’ he said
‘My daughter’s hand is won.’
‘If you dare kill the old White Hart,
That lives out on the moor
And bring his body back to me,
I’ll cede your overture.’
The next day riding out Jack met
An old crone on the track:
‘Beware the legend of the Hart,’
These words took him aback.
‘I’ve seen your future in the stars;
Please don’t ignore my mark.’
‘Who kills the White Hart seals his fate;
He’ll surely die by dark.’
‘I’ve no time for your fairy tales;
No witch can frighten me.’
‘I’ll kill the Hart and claim my prize;
Tomorrow you will see.’
Jack gathered hounds around him then
And called the huntsman in.
The harbourer had done his job.
Jack gave the word; ‘Begin.’
The White Hart led the pack a dance
All day across the coombes,
But late on in the afternoon,
Hounds found him in the gloom.
The old Hart stood at bay at last;
Jack’s pistol did the rest.
‘Where are you now you wizened crone;
I’ve passed the Squire’s test.’
The Squire’s daughter waits in vain,
There is no sign of Jack.
She hears the huntsman’s limping horse,
She hears the whimpering pack.
Then flickering in the shadows, as
The huntsman blows for home;
Beside the shape of a ghost white Hart,
A horse trots home alone.
Sir Humphrey Wakefield
Hunting in Ireland
Hunting excitements vary constantly, fast changing and different as faces on a moving staircase. This is just one day I love to remember.
In Ireland long ago, when I was living at Lough Cutra Castle in County Galway, I hunted the full seven days of the week. One could just about manage, boxing here and there and hunting with Harriers on a Sunday. On the Tuesday, in early spring, I rode out in the west of Ireland with the Limerick Hunt, with their emerald velvet collars and scarlet coats. The distant hills were bright in the sun and a slight rain kept the ground soft and green.
I knew I was to be faced with broad open ditches and high ‘Irish banks’– vertical turf walls broad enough for a horse to stand on, utterly unknown to my English hunting world. I prayed they would be known to my locally hired horse, a chestnut quarte-bred rig ( a ‘half-stallion’) called Danny. He was small for my weight but I loved him at once. At the meet he danced rather than stood, hazarding my grabbed gulps of cherry brandy, a drink much needed for the long-imagined challenges to come. They had told me Danny kicked and he had a red ribbon tied to his plaited tail giving warning to stay clear of his heels. They also told me he ‘punched’ but, early in the day, as I dismounted to help a friend tangled in wire, he stood like a lamb: Danny had decided to enjoy his day rather than fight.
As hounds moved off I looked for a likely local to follow. One does that in strange country, rather than become embroiled in the crowds, and I saw an elegant, competent looking lady on a promising mount. She looked like one well used to taking her own line and, sure enough, when hounds moved off, she set off at a sharp pace in a different direction to the rest of the field. I kept my distance, not wanting her to warn me away and, so far as I could tell, she remained unaware of her keen follower. We flew over wide ditches, great canal-like expanses of water never experienced by me before; we leaped and scrambled up those Irish banks, higher than a horse, paused on the top and struck out into space . I clung fast and followed, quite as amazed by my brave red Danny as by my dashing leader. Patronising views of lady riders melted there and then. At the end of a long and exciting day, never having had a moment to talk, my dream leader lady trotted off home into the dusk as I, muddy, drenched and happy plodded home to my memories.
I never saw her again till I was old. Though, not to my surprise, in the meantime I found she was Annie Townsend, the international rider who had just won the International Show Jumping in Berlin. Annie was mounted on Olympic rider Angar Lillingston’s famous ‘Battleship’.
It was more than 50 years later that I met her, far from County Limerick, down on the Suffolk coast. I said how grateful I was, how vividly the memory clung, and asked if she had even glimpsed her scraggy shadow. ‘You were riding Danny,’ she said.
Excerpts on Hunting
The Colonel’s Dream
It was in the Season 1882-3 that the Spade had not only been called into action (? Illegible) by the Master of the Hambledon Hounds unusually often, but on several occasions, the excavations had lasted hours, even far into the night. Under the circumstances, Colonel Small (?), a former Master had the following dream, which he related thus –
“I dreamt that I saw Walter Newman (the first whip) mounted and ready to start for hunting and he had a very strange looking box fastened to his saddle, so I said, What have you got there Walter? (W) Oh, it’s just a fiddle, Colonel. (CS) But what do you want a fiddle for? (W) Oh, Sir, the whips always take fiddle with them, to play for the ladies and gentlemen to dance to whilst we’re digging out the foxes.”
Portrait of a Hunt: Mr Roffe-Silvester’s Foxhounds
“…That is the great thing about the Roffe-Silvesters – they are a timeless part of the English countryside and of a way of life that has maintained for centuries and which we are struggling to maintain to this day. It is a way of life that represents everything that is good about being English. If this country has a soul then it is rooted in the countryside and its life. …
“…Hunting days often began with a car being push-started in order to tow a Land Rover in order to pull a tractor in order to tow the lorry! When these vehicles eventually gave up the ghost completely, they would not be scrapped but put out to grass in a paddock like faithful old horses.
“If a hound did something out hunting and Michael didn’t see the hound do it, he still knew that it had. He always said: ‘Never wait until a hound does something. You always catch him before he does it.’
We would go out exercising and Michael would suddenly look at a hound and go ‘Grrrrrr’. I would ask: ‘What is it?’
‘I saw him thinking about looking into the field of sheep,’ Michael would reply.
Michael knew these things before the hound did.”
“… to underline the Chipstable Hunt ethos. The Hunt was indigenous – rooted in the life and work of the country that was hunted. Almost everyone who followed – be they on foot, on a bicycle, by car or mounted – earned their keep in the locality – even the parson who put in his one day a week! The Chipstable Hunt was in direct line of all those small West Country packs that hunted in the days of Parson Jack Russell. Such packs represent the spirit of foxhunting …”