There can be no better way to spend a Indian summer weekend than autumn hunting, especially if it begins with an open day at the Chiddingfold Leconfield and Cowdray kennels, when some 150 members and guests, including Jim Barrington of the Middle Way Group, Charles Mann of Vote-OK, John Gardiner of the Countryside Alliance and local MPs Andrew Tyrie and Peter Bottomley, gathered for afternoon tea in Petworth Park.
Joint master Paul Lyon-Maris introduced Nick Herbert, shadow Defra minister, who told of his time whipping in to the Essex foxhounds and as master of the Newmarket Beagles for 14 seasons. He genuinely knows his stuff, and when he promises that the Conservatives will give an immediate free vote to repeal the hunting ban, you believe him. However, he stressed the importance of Vote-OK and of not resting on our laurels – yes, the Conservatives are in the lead, but nothing is guaranteed. Every hour people can spend lobbying and leafleting is valuable, especially in more urban constituencies. With the Repeal Committee working to ensure a publicly acceptable framework for hunting and the Tories benefiting from Gordon Brown’s unpopularity, we can be optimistic that this season will be the last under this ridiculous law, but we must keep fighting.
The immediate present, however, was in very good shape. After a hearty round of applause, we enjoyed a tour of the kennels and a photographic exhibition before tucking into a delicious tea (Paul’s iced cupcakes received particular commendation). When we had eaten our fill, huntsman Sage Thompson walked out the hounds into the park – surely one of the most beautiful settings for hound exercise. My hosts, the Cookes, had to get home to do their horses, so we bade farewell and set off for a comfortable round of feeding, watering and bedding – both the equine and human kinds.
* For more stories like this every week subscribe and save
The following day, I bought a new coloured stock, which proved less than successful when I came to put on said stock in the lorry on the way to the meet, and found that it was a fake one. Oddly enough, the words ‘untied stock’ on the packet didn’t give me a clue. There was no alternative but to wear it – but I don’t recommend them – not only are they not the best form, but they’re difficult to put on and most uncomfortable!
Octavia enjoys the mild weather on horseback
Alice Cooke had arranged to borrow a horse from Justin Morgan at Hazelhurst Farm, a former point-to-point jockey and a dealer who has several nice horses at his stables. On his tack room wall was a page from Horse & Hound of him completing a race despite the somewhat tricky circumstance of a saddle that had slipped under his horse’s belly – quite a claim to fame!
Alice borrowed an excellent horse from a nearby farm
Under the late-afternoon sun, we met at Malham Farm in some of the best Chid and Lec country. My horse, Stumpy, an extremely handsome bright bay, earned his name from the lack of a tail, caused by a too-tight tail bandage on the way over from Ireland. He proved fantastic fun, hugely powerful with a terrific jump. One to remember, I feel.
There were dozens of people out, and the mood was high. Moving off beside masters Robin Muir and Paul, I couldn’t stop grinning. Robin was mounted on Lloyd, a handsome black, and Paul was on a diminutive but feisty chestnut: ‘If he was human, he’d be hanging round street corners wearing a hoodie!’
The ground was too hard to hope for much jumping, but we soon found a decent tiger trap. Unfortunately, it had a sizeable ditch underneath, which put rather a lot of horses off (for the record, if your horse won’t jump and there are dozens of people queuing behind you, get out of the way and wait until there’s room to try again). But the melee soon cleared, and Stumpy flew over. Alice displayed a masterly bit of riding to get her mare over it – Dancer had never seen hounds before, but despite a few nerves did extremely well. Justin stresses that she is for sale!
We had a lot of fun in the woods and across the stubble fields, until the sky turned pink and gold and the light faded. In a deep blue dusk, we returned to the meet for a barbecue as darkness fell. The perfect end to a perfect weekend.