I had only recently married an MFH when, at work one day, an email from my husband’s joint master popped up. It said: ‘Certain responsibilities come with marrying a master. Please cook enough potatoes for 40 for the puppy show lunch on Sunday.’ The busy office receded as I pondered this emergency call. There was something prophetic in his words they suggested that my priorities would have to change. Welcome to the life of the hunting WAG (Wife and Girlfriend). Hunting WAGS may have been solicitors, event riders or nightclub singers in their previous lives, but when they align themselves with an amateur huntsman, these callings will nearly always be eclipsed. A good WAG must follow her man from pack to pack (rather than club to club). And, although the football variety makes her career out of shopping for the latest handbag, the rural version abandons her career, holidays (apart from spring hunting trips to Exmoor) and handbags for hunting, hunting and more hunting.
She must adopt the mantra ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’, for a man who has committed himself to hunting hounds will live, breathe, sleep and dream the sport, and if you don’t share his passion, life can be very tough indeed. Unsurprisingly, many of these relationships are forged on the hunting field. ‘Richard and I met on the side of a covert at the Eglinton. I had to hold his horse,’ says Alice Tyacke, whose husband, Richard, is master and huntsman of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn’s.
The meeting provided a foretaste of things to come, as Alice now rides beside Richard. ‘I used to think I whipped in, but I realise I’m just a glorified gate opener,’ she says. She has been known to give up her horse for her husband, but generally she sees riding beside him as a huge perk. ‘When we’re hunting together, we’re definitely at our best.’ Corin Jones, whose husband, Dominic, is master of the Cotswold, agrees. ‘Hunting is how Dom and I got together. It’s what we love, and, when it’s going well, it’s the best fun we have together.’Corin also rides beside her husband out hunting. ‘I know it gets people’s goat, but I’m there to help and it means I’m there at the sharp end watching hounds work. It’s a privilege.’ Hunting WAGs talk a lot about ‘privilege ‘the privilege of riding across people’s land, of hunting a pack of hounds, and of watching the sport at close quarters. Mrs Tyacke says: ‘I think a lot of our friends are quite confused by, but also quite jealous of, our lifestyle. We get to spend lots of time together.’ Mrs Jones agrees: ‘I pinch myself sometimes when friends call from their offices.’ Most feel that their enjoyment of the sport has increased with their added involvement.
‘On the way home, I’m just as likely to ask which hounds did well as who jumped what,’ says Izzy Jones, who hunted with the South Wold and the Brocklesby before getting together with Portman master Charles Frampton. ‘I appreciate my hunting much more, because I know about all the work that’s gone into it.’ Point-to-point rider Emma Tory, whose boyfriend Rory Innes is master of the South Dorset, says: ‘Since meeting Rory, I get as much enjoyment from going on point as jumping hedges in the vale.’ The hunting WAGS are also consistent about the drawbacks. It’s been said that a footballer is only as good as his last match and, invariably, a huntsman is only as good as his last day. After a frustrating day’s hunting, the mood comes home, and often themollifying attentions of a sympathetic WAG aren’t enough to dispel the gloom. Tessa Jackson, whose husband Alastair’s career as an amateur huntsman spanned the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, recalls various annoyances in her role as master’s wife, including clueless staff and the telephone ringing at all hours of the day and night, but ‘a grumpy husband after a difficult day was the worst’. Neither will there be diamonds and other luxuries to compensate for the
bad times. Camilla Hankinson, whose husband, Mark, hunts the Wilton, says: ‘Hunting hounds is a way of life, but it’s not an income.’ Pammy-Jane Farquhar, whose husband, Ian, has famously hunted the Duke of Beaufort’s hounds for 23 years, cautions:
‘It’s fine living in a cold kennel cottage with an outdoor tap when you’re young, but as the years go by, this gets harder.’ Taking the ‘Barbara Bush’ role doesn’t always sit happily with the modern woman, but girls who succumb to ‘scarlet fever’ would be wise to heed the words of more experienced WAGs. When Corin Jones got engaged to her husband, a doyenne of the WAG world, Sophia Peel (joint master with her husband, Nigel, of the North Cotswold), wrote to her: ‘There are many disadvantages to being married to an amateur huntsman, but they’re far outweighed by the few advantages.’ Mrs Farquhar states: ‘You need patience and stamina. It’s a team effort.’ Mrs Jackson agrees: ‘I threw my heart into it, as it was impossible to make a success of the job if we didn’t do it together. You need lots of energy and fierce loyalty to your “master”.’ Frankie Clarke, whose husband, Simon, enjoyed a notable career as an amateur huntsman for 34 years, cautions: ‘Don’t make the mistake of getting involved with the horses or the hounds. Your concern is the people.’ And being friendly to everyone and helping to ‘oil the wheels’ is certainly a big part of the WAG’s remit. One joked that she had put her politics degree to good use since marrying a huntsman.
But, again, there are large compensations. Eleasha Nolan, whose fiancé, Andrew Sallis, hunts the East Sussex and Romney Marsh, says: ‘It’s a phenomenal position to be in, because everyone wants to get to know you’, and Camilla Hankinson notes that hunting offers an instant network of friends’. Which can be an enormous bonus when you move into a new hunt country, possibly in one of the remoter parts of Britain. So how do you identify a hunting WAG? Unlike her footballing counterpart, she has no expensive highlights and perma tan to distinguish her. Look instead for a high colour to the cheeks, a mild wrinkling around her eyes, and a firmness of thigh. She may have accessorised with ruddy-cheeked children or the type of horse that gets called a ‘good sort’, but don’t let these distract you. Something about her bearing will tell you she’s a hunting WAG; she looks pretty determined and, in this, she’s probably not so unlike Victoria Beckham after all.
Marrying the master: useful tips
* Dont be competitive the days not about you
* Do be nice to small children, nervous ladies and doddery old gentlemen, even if you get left behind
* Do go deaf; armchair detractors are inevitable, and youll be hurt on your mans behalf
* Do rise above politics in public anyway
* Do keep the heat off your man by looking after important/annoying visitors; hes busy enough hunting hounds
* Dont get in the way; there are lots of people an MFH cant swear at, but youre not one of them
* Do look the part blowing hair, skewed hats and billowing stocks are not a good look for a hunting WAG
* Do buy a job-lot of hand cream
* Do budget carefully youll have fun, but never the high life on an average hunt guarantee
* Dont let your PR skills slip like vicars and headmasters, MFHs are judged by their WAGS