It may yet be only June, but in the past two weekends I feel I’ve enjoyed the very best a sunny English summer day can offer. It began at the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray puppy show, held at the kennels in Petworth Park – surely one of the most idyllic settings in England. The bright sunlight was emphasised by the looming black cloud that never released its contents, merely serving to create a dramatic backdrop with that magical contrast of sunlit trees against dark skies. On the ground, a fence ringed by chairs delineated the showing area, deer-nibbled turf with a square of concrete slabs providing a level surface on which the judges could assess the confirmation and standing of the hounds. Huntsman Sage Thompson was smart in his white coat, and the traditional bowler hats and crisp suits of the judges added to the timeless elegance of the scene.
Paul Lyon-Maris MFH and puppy
Faced with the near-impossible task of choosing a champion from among the splendid young hounds were Martin Scott, Beaufort follower and noted houndsman, and Mark Bycroft, huntsman of the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent. First out were the doghounds, a beautiful group, alert, handsome and obviously devoted to Sage – and not averse to his titbits either. After examining the hounds in threes and pairs, all nine were brought out together and single ones sent back until a winner was chosen – Ponder, out of Ripple by Heythrop Ponder. Then it was the turn of the sparky little bitch hounds, after which Gadget, out of Goblet by Duke of Beaufort’s Galahad, was crowned overall champion.
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Puppies play in the sunshine
Before tea, cups were awarded to puppy walkers, and a special photograph was presented to retiring master Jeremy Instone, from whom was exhorted a promise to help out with the odd bit of field mastering next season. Then we made a beeline to the tea tables – positively groaning with cucumber sandwiches and cakes of every description. Of particular note were the chocolate/orange brownies made by Louie Uloth with a little help from her children, Honor, Nonie and Rufus -delicious!
Oliver and Miranda Cooke
At first glance, ‘puppy show’ is something of a misnomer, as the ‘puppies’ in question are a year old and pretty much full grown, but after the serious tasks of judging and eating, the real puppies come out – roly poly balls of adorable fluff only a few weeks old and just begging to be played with. I joined the Uloth children and my hosts, Oliver and Miranda Cooke, for a spot of puppy ruff-and-tumble, until we dragged ourselves away to the Cookes’ stables where another baby was attracting plenty of attention. Orlando, a tiny chestnut foal only a few days old, was sleeping off an enormously exciting day – his first venture into the big wide world of the open field.
Octavia plus puppy
The following weekend I headed home for the Clifton-on-Teme point-to-point, for which I round up the indefatigable fence stewards every year. I’m always on tenterhooks until they all turn up, as so many are needed these days – two on each of the eight fences plus a first aider, despite there being two doctors and two ambulances on the course as well. It’s an awful lot of people for a small hunt to find, with so many other jobs to be done on the day, too, but such is the curse of health and safety. To my relief, they all arrived safely, and were able to settle down for an unexpected but very pleasant afternoon’s sunbathing! Contrary to the driving rain and freezing winds we usually experience, even at the end of May, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and suncream, rather than wellies, was the order of the day. I must say, it felt most odd being in flip-flops on a point-to-point course.
The racing was surprisingly good considering the heat, with no problems and some cracking finishes, after which teams of willing volunteers gathered gallons of water to fling over the horses. The mounted stewards had it worst, I think, in hunting stocks and waistcoats. I spent the day whizzing round the course with pork rolls and tea for the fence stewards, a job I usually enjoy in a borrowed 4×4. Sadly, with a complete lack of mud, my own much-loved but less-exciting Honda Jazz was sufficient – rain definitely has its advantages! I fear the weather was too good for attendance, as I’m sure many people took one look at the sky and flopped on their own lawns, but the beer tent did well out of the general thirst and we definitely proved that, whatever the weather, even the smallest of hunts is capable of putting on a jolly good show.