This Week in...
Give Hounds the Chance to Enter Well by Andy Bozdan
Field members and Masters alike can ensure good sport by allowing the huntsman to enter young hounds with confidence. (pg. 2)
...Hunting Days of Yore
Hugo Meynell: The Father of Modern Foxhunting by R.T. Vyner
How the father of modern foxhunting established a new sport and a system with which to conduct it. (pg. 4)
A. Henry Higginson: More than just a Familiar Name
Through the indulgence of a powerful father, the son was able to contribute to the establishment of the modern age of mounted foxhunting in North America. (pg. 6)
Rescue on Cat Luggs by Ron Black
How hard and how long will a band of stoical countrymen who live in a harsh place in a depressed time work to save one terrier from perishing? (pg. 10)
On Not Letting Standards Slide by Captain Ronnie Wallace, MFH
Are the words of this man, so revered 25 years ago, relevant today or do we ignore them at the peril of our sport? (pg. 16)
Give Hounds the Chance to Enter Well
By Andy Bozdan
Western foxhounds, Cornwall, UK / Janet Ladner photo For many huntsmen the start of the season can’t come quickly enough. I remember blurting that thought once and the old Master replied, “Don’t wish the summer away, boy.” He was right; there are important things to be done during the summer.
What many members and even some Masters do not fully understand is how important it is for the new entry to enter well. For those unfamiliar with the term, the new entry are the young hounds that have not hunted yet. They are said to have entered once they have been hunting.
The MFHA requires any hound that is registered with them to be an entered hound. New entry are not registered until they are entered into a pack. The preamble to their registered name will become the name of the pack to which they are entered, whether the home pack or a pack to which they may have been drafted.
There are several reasons I want my new entry to enter well. If they enter well then the rest of the season will be fun and exciting for both them and me ... and in the right way. I want them to go to their first draw and find a fox or coyote as quickly as possible. That is the best thing that can happen. Dragging green young hounds around at this stage for several hours with no hunting could lead to them getting bored and looking at things they should not!
But I do need them to both see and ignore deer and any other animal that is not their chosen quarry. They also need to get used to horses. I will do my homework and slowly introduced young hounds to my horses to avoid any problems. Huntsmen who have not done so are storing up trouble for themselves that is easily avoided.
I always want about three to four weeks of what I call staff hunting. That means for professional and amateur staff only. Masters may also be present and some packs ask landowners if they want to be out, but it needs to be a small group.
The reasons for this ‘select’ group are many fold. All spring and summer the new entry have mainly been exposed to the huntsman and whippers in. They have become used to the voices and commands of the same. When we then introduce horses to the mix it can be a lot for a young hound to take on. However, as stated earlier, if the ground work has been done quietly and without fuss, then by the time you take your hounds out on their first morning they should be keen, eager, and at ease with a few horses around them.
The problem for the huntsman is when the members start coming out. It is absolutely vital that members are made aware that hounds have right of way at all times, and they must be given time and space to become used to twenty to thirty-five horses suddenly very close at hand. At larger packs the potential for it going wrong are increased by having as many as seventy to eighty riders all looking for a great morning’s hunting!
This is the hounds’ time not the members. Yes the members pay for the privilege of being there but if they want good hunting throughout the season then they must understand that the hounds and particularly the new entry must be allowed the time and space to learn their job. A hound that gets spooked or worse still, trod on or kicked might never hunt again. That is why I like staff hunting time. During August the hounds will be hunted as often as possible, and because there will only be on average around five to six people out, they will have the time to grow confident in every aspect of their job.
Once members come out in September those young hounds are able to cope with most situations and you will see them looking for ways around horses and, to the unknowing, they may appear to be old hands at the job. But again, as the pace picks up through September they still need to be given as much space as possible, and it is really important that Field Masters do not press them from behind when a run is on.
I had a Master, many years ago, who thought it was perfectly okay to go galloping his field around the cornfield the moment we heard hounds strike! The result was hounds were not only trod on they were rode over. Ignorance like that is inexcusable from a Field Master and is totally detrimental to the hounds and good hunting.
Everything we huntsmen do from the end of the last season to the start of the next is to prepare and ready our hounds for the season ahead. If the new entry get a good start from August through September then come the opening meet they will be flying on the right quarry and ignoring everything else. You can then look forward with confidence to a great season ahead.
Sounds easy but it all comes down to how well they enter and everyone being aware of how important that is.
Posted August 10, 2019
The author is huntsman at the Camargo Hunt (OH).
Hugo Meynell: The Father of Modern Foxhunting
By R.T. Vyner
Hunting Days of Yore
Hugo Meynell is known today as the father of modern mounted foxhunting. In the eighteenth century he transformed a sporting activity which attempted to control vermin with the slow and plodding Southern hound into an exhilarating chase at speed with fleeter Northern hounds and a scientific approach. In so doing, he set the stage for foxhunting’s Golden Age in the early nineteenth century.
The great Mr. Meynell, designated by his admiring friends “The King of Sportsmen,” or “The Hunting Jupiter,” earned those titles by the sport he had shown. Without owning an acre of land in Leicestershire (his extensive estates being situated in remoter countries), he carried on [his sport in that] best hunting country in the world.
He considered horses merely as vehicles to the hounds. There are different opinions as to Mr. Meynell’s proficiency as an elegant horseman; but it is never disputed that his progress over a country was, like the whole course of his life, straightforward.
It was at the commencement of the career of “the great Meynell” that the dawn of science began to cast its rays upon that system out of which had grown the modern style of fox-hunting. He was, as an old sportsman and excellent judge of hunting, the late J. Hawkes, Esq., has justly remarked, without doubt the most successful Master of Hounds of his time, producing the steadiest, wisest, best and handsomest pack of foxhounds in the kingdom. His object in breeding was to combine strength with beauty, and steadiness with high mettle. His idea of perfection of shape was short backs, open bosoms, straight legs and compact feet as the first consideration in form. The first qualities he considered were fine noses and stout runners.
In the spring of the year he broke in his hounds at hare, to find out their propensities, which when all flagrant, were early discovered, and he drafted them according to their defects. After hare hunting they were, during the remaining part of the summer, walked daily amongst riot. When the hunting season commenced, his hounds were hunted in the woodlands amid abundance of foxes for two months. In November, the pack was divided into old and young. The old pack consisted of three-year-olds and upwards, and no two-year-olds were admitted except a very high opinion was entertained of their virtues and abilities. The young hounds were hunted twice a week, as much in woodlands as possible, and in the most unpopular covers, having always with them a few couples of steady old hounds. The old pack hunted the best country; when any bad faults were discovered they were immediately drafted for fear of contamination. Skirting, over-running the scent and babbling were considered the greatest faults; perfection consisted of true guiders in hard running, patient hunters on a cold scent, together with stoutness.
Every hound has his peculiar talents; and Mr. Meynell’s were sure to have a fair opportunity of displaying them; some had the peculiar faculty of finding a fox, which they would do almost invariably, notwithstanding that twenty or thirty couple were out in the same cover; some had the propensity to hunt the doubles and short turns, some were inclined to be hard runners: some had the remarkable faculty of hunting the drag of a fox, which they would do very late in the day; and sometimes the hardest runners were the best hunters, and fortunate was the year when such excellences prevailed. Mr. Meynell prided himself on the steadiness and docility of his hounds, and their hunting through sheep and hares, which they did in a very surprising manner. He seldom or never attempted to lift his hounds through sheep, and from habit, and the great flocks the hounds were accustomed to, they carried the scent on most correctly and expeditiously, much sooner than any lifting could accomplish. Mr. Meynell was not fond of casting hounds; when once they were laid upon the line of scent, he left it to them; he only encouraged them to take pains, and kept aloof, so that the steam of the horses could not interfere with the scent. When a fox was found in a gorse cover, very little noise or encouragement was made; and when he went away, as soon as the hounds were apprised of it, they did not go headlong after, but commenced very quickly, settled, and collected together gradually, mending their pace and accumulating their force as they went along, completing what was emphatically termed a terrible burst.
When his hounds came to a check every encouragement was given them to recover the scent, without the huntsman getting amongst them, or whipper-in driving them about, which is the common practice of most packs. The hounds were halload [sic] back to the place where they brought the scent, and encouraged to try round in their own way, which they generally did successfully, avoiding the time lost in the mistaken practice of casting the hounds at the heels of the huntsman.
When the hounds were cast, it was in two or three lots, by Mr. Meynell, his huntsman and whipper-in, and not driven together in a body like a flock of sheep. They were allowed to spread and use their own sagacity at a gentle pace, and not hurried about in a blustering manner but patiently. It was Mr. Meynell’s opinion that a great noise and scolding of hounds made them wild; correcting them in a quiet way was the most judicious method; whippers-in should turn hounds quietly, and not call after them in a noisy disagreeable manner.
Mr. Meynell’s hounds had more good runs than any other pack of his day. Mr. Meynell’s natural taste led him to admire large hounds, but his experience convinced him that small ones were generally the stoutest, soundest, and in every respect the most executive.
Posted August August 8, 2019, 2019
From R.T. Vyner’s Notitia Venatica, 1841, as published in E.D. Cuming’s A Foxhunting Anthology, 1928.
A. Henry Higginson: More than just a Familiar Name
By Norman Fine
Alexander Henry Higginson, MFH
An Old Sportsman’s Memories, the autobiography written by A. Henry Higginson and J. Stanley Reeve tells the story of a proper Bostonian, Harvard class of 1898, who turned his back on a life of commerce, finance, and philanthropy—the route traditionally followed by New England men such as he. Smitten by the sport of foxhunting to the exclusion of all else, and with the support of his indulgent father, A. Henry Higginson followed his dream: a life of foxhunting.
His father, Major Henry Lee Higginson, more than fulfilled the family’s responsibilities to his community by his own philanthropy. The elder Higginson had dreamt of being a musician in his younger years, but Puritan Boston expected other things from her sons, and so he became a businessman as was expected. In time, he founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra, however, and was its earliest administrator.
He organized the corporation that built Symphony Hall, the first auditorium designed in accordance with scientifically derived acoustical principles. It is, as a result, widely regarded as one of the top concert halls in the world. Interestingly, with all the architectural flourishes of the period that architects McKim, Mead & White could bring to their creation in the year 1900, the structure displays only one composer’s name upon a large shield mounted on a frieze centered above the stage—Beethoven. There are other smaller shields upon the frieze framing the stage, but they are still blank! Boston is a careful and thoughtful old city.
A. Henry's father, Major Henry Lee Higginson (1834-1919) / Detail of oil potrait by John Singer SargentThe younger Henry was at the ceremony when his father, who served and was wounded in the Civil War, donated Soldier’s Field, located on the Boston side of the Charles River, to Harvard University in memory of six friends killed in that war. Hence its name. The university subsequently built Harvard Stadium on Soldiers Field. John Singer Sargent painted the elder Higginson’s portrait which hangs in the Harvard Art Museum, and a copy by Sargent’s students hangs in Symphony Hall.
As laudable as the elder Higginson’s philanthropy appears, he could be a martinet in other respects. He ruled the Boston Symphony Orchestra with an iron fist, and his musicians knew that anyone who joined a union would be replaced with a musician from Europe. Annoyed by drivers who sped past his summer home, he invented the first motor vehicle license plate and petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to register automobiles and make use of it.
As a teenager, A. Henry Higginson, the son, hunted black-tailed deer in the White River country of Colorado. Later, he explored the west—Montana and the Dakotas—where he collected ornithological specimens for the U.S. Biological Survey. He and other young men of his ilk raced their sailboats from one end of Massachusetts Bay to the other, forming the club that became the Manchester Yacht Club.
Quiet Sundays were spent at A. Henry’s father’s home in Boston’s exclusive Back Bay. The family home was a mecca to all the musicians and soloists who came to play with the BSO: Dame Nellie Melba, Paderewski, Serge Koussevitsky, and others. The visitors were guests at the dinner table, after which many would sit down at the piano and play.
While a freshman at Harvard, Higginson became captivated by a beautiful and talented stage actress. He wangled an introduction, and she consented to accompany him to the Symphony. That was the start of his long and enduring friendship with Ethel Barrymore. Even Buffalo Bill Cody ushered Higginson and his friends into the “Royal Box” for his show.
As a boy, Higginson had his own pack of beagles, but later, it was foxhounds he yearned for. The elder Higginson recognized that, though his son wasn’t following his peers down the traditional paths to commerce and finance, the boy had redeeming attributes; he wasn’t lazy, and he didn’t drink or gamble. And so his father allowed him the freedom to be the man he wanted to be. This dynamic and accomplished father, who also participated in the first transcontinental telephone call along with Thomas Watson, Alexander Graham Bell, Theodore Vail and Woodrow Wilson, allowed his son the means with which to build a stately home in Lincoln, Massachusetts, stables for horses, and kennels for his English foxhounds. And to pursue a life of foxhunting which took his sportsman son up and down the eastern seaboard and across the Atlantic to England on a regular basis.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the southern states had the country best suited for mounted foxhunting in the English style. And they had American-bred foxhounds that could hunt the country. What they did not have, after the Civil War, was money or—as descendants of English land-owning gentry—a heritage of commerce and business-like organizational skills. This is what foxhunting needed at the time, and this is what the northerners brought to the table. Their heritage, as descendants of the Puritans who emigrated from the east of England, was commerce. And the timing was such that this generation of New England Puritans was sufficiently distant from their forebears to decide that sporting pursuits were not necessarily the work of the devil. They raced sailboats, rowed skulls, formed polo clubs, and established the first country club. They founded foxhunting clubs, the Jockey Club, and the National Hunt and Steeplechase Association, one of the early efforts to organize sport with horses.
Higginson traveled with the hounds of his Middlesex Hunt wherever he could find sport, from upper New York State where William Wadsworth had established the Genesee Valley Hunt to Virginia’s Piedmont where Higginson had challenged Harry Worcester Smith, another Massachusetts sportsman/industrialist, to the Great English-American Hound Match. Reporters and journalists came from around the country to cover the competition, and it was prominently carries in the newspapers and sporting journals throughout the week.
Higginson and Smith rode every day, despite the fact that Higginson had fallen while participating in a steeplechase race just before arriving in Virginia for the match and had suffered broken ribs. Smith, known to be an aggressive and bold rider, had several hard falls during the match and was pretty banged up himself.
Though the sport was less than either man had hoped to show, the match did manage to bring the sleepy southern villages of Upperville and Middleburg to the notice of the outside world. Smith took over the Mastership of the Piedmont Fox Hounds, but the Orange County Hunt, established in Middleburg and The Plains by wealthy northerners from Orange County, New York, kept running their hounds into Smith’s Piedmont country. They ignored his complaints, and the National Hunt and Steeplechase Association also ignored his complaints and was unwilling to intervene. Smith quit the Mastership, sold the hounds to Orange County for the largest sum ever paid for a pack of hounds, and resolved to start an organization, the Masters of Foxhounds Association, that could and would maintain the integrity of member hunt boundaries.
William Wadsworth was elected to be the first president. He served for a year. Harry Worcester Smith was president from 1812 to 1915, and he was followed by the term of A. Henry Higginson who served from 1915 to 1931. Higginson resigned as MFHA president after he became Master of the Cattistock Foxhounds in England.
Generations of descendants of Higginson family lines continue to populate the foxhunting fields of North America, some by the name of Higginson, others by Mackay-Smith (Alexander’s first wife was Joan Higginson, breeder of the famed Farnley Ponies), Day (daughter of Dr. Matthew Mackay-Smith), and perhaps other branches unknown to the author. A fascinating and accomplished family!
Posted August 5, 2019
Rescue on Cat Luggs
By Ron Black
What is dog to man? What is the worth of one terrier to a band of stoical countrymen who live in a harsh place in a depressed time? How hard and how long will such men strive to save a dog from perishing, out of pure respect? Our late Cumbrian friend Ron Black gave us a story to remember.
The rescue, 1934
It’s a long pull from the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel to the site of the borran. You first climb up Stickle Ghyll following the track as it ascends, beside the beck, at first gently, but just before Tarn Crag there is a steeper section. At Tarn Crag the track swings right-handed, and you can cross the beck and follow it up to the tarn on the left bank picking your way through the rocks.
At the tarn you stop for a blow and a look around. To your front is Pavey Ark (2,288 feet), several hundred feet of rock broken in places by ledges and grooves, but on the right it’s vertical rock. To the left the bulk of Harrison Stickle dominates the skyline. Turn your head back to the right, and a good mile further on Sergeant Mann (2,214 feet) attracts the gaze. Your breathing has settled after the climb so you get to your feet, shoulder the pack, and follow the track beside the tarn toward Sergeant Mann.
Twenty minutes later you arrive at the site of the borran, a jumble of rocks in a weather-blasted landscape. You sit down in the lee of a boulder, out of the wind, open the pack, take out a flask, pour a brew, and sit there remembering the story. It is not a bad day on your visit, but when the “rescue” happened in 1934, there was snow on the high fell and showers of rain and sleet at the dig site.
It’s late January 1934. The Coniston Foxhounds have been hunting the Great Langdale Valley, and huntsman Ernie Parker’s hounds are on the line of a fox. In an effort to escape pursuit the fox goes to ground in a borran. There is some discussion as to the name of the borran. To some it is nameless, whilst others know it as “Cat Luggs.” Whatever the name, this borran is a bad place. It is Saturday afternoon when the three terriers Spider, Set, and Floss are sent in.
The borran is formed of huge rocks which have piled up at the bottom of a scree bed, and the terriers, entered at short intervals, could be heard at grips with the fox at a distance that both amazed and frightened the hunters. Ernie Parker, the huntsman, remained at the place until darkness fell, when the terriers were left.
It was decided that rescue work would have to be carried out, and a party was organised by Braithwaite (Brait) Black of Ambleside, a hunter and breeder of terriers. He got together a number of unemployed quarrymen from the Ambleside and Langdale neighbourhoods, and, with the exception of Tuesday, they worked every day for a week. Among the workers were Messrs R. Atkinson, A. Pearce, L. Langhorn and E. Stobbart (all of Ambleside), T. Harrison (Loughrigg) R. and J. Birkett, H. Mounsey and H. Dover (Langdale) and T. Faulkener (Ambleside).
A meet at Kirkstone Top Inn with huntsman Goerge Chapman. Brait Black is third from the left.
Operations were begun at the left hand corner on the low side of the outcrop at the place where the terriers entered, but this was soon abandoned and a fresh entrance opened out on the topside. It was then discovered that at some time a shaft nearly fifteen feet deep had been worked out and partially filled in with stone. There were also drill holes, showing that blasting had been carried out. It appears that some seventy-odd years previously, terriers belonging to the local parson had also become stuck in the same borran, but their fate is unknown. At the time, those who lived in the valley had forgotten this incident.
After four day’s work it was found that a downward sloping crevice branched off the vertical shaft, being formed by a narrow space under a huge slab, hundreds of tons in weight. All this time the terriers could be heard whining and whimpering each time the dynamite pills shattered the silence of the fells, and on Friday afternoon Brait, candle in hand, crawled into the downward sloping fissure more than twenty feet down. With colleagues holding his feet he called to the terriers, and to his delight saw the muzzle of Spider emerging from the gloom. Probably through being in a weak and dazed condition, Spider did not show any great anxiety to be rescued, and Brait had the mortification to see the terrier disappear once more into the darkness. Undeterred by this disappointment, the men resumed work with their varied assortment of tools—picks, crowbars, spades, garden rakes, and hoes—enlarging the hole as far as possible. Before they left the place on Friday night the workers pushed pieces of meat down the ginnel, but it is not known if they reached the terriers. On Saturday morning the persevering dalesmen made the steep climb from Dungeon Ghyll—a walk occupying well over an hour—in the confident hope that the seventh day would be the last.
For five hours they worked on the underground crevice until no more loose material could be removed, the walls and roof of the narrow aperture being formed of tremendous slabs of rock on which it would have been unsafe to use dynamite. At 1:30 p.m. Brait again disappeared into the bowels of the earth, armed with a lighted candle and the head of a cod fish attached to a piece of cord. Brackens had been strewn on the ground, and Brait, lying full length, wriggled downward until he was more than twenty-five feet below the mouth of the shaft. Despite the confined space, he manged to throw the fish head down the slope, meanwhile shouting the names of the terriers.
Suddenly, as on the previous day, the brown muzzle of Spider appeared and approached the fish head. With bated breath Brait coaxed the dog, and after he had gently jerked on the cord and made the bait move a few inches Spider took hold! The watchers further back were unaware of the drama taking place inside, for all they could see of Brait were the soles of his boots. At a word from him they drew him out by the feet, and to the delight of all Spider also appeared, her teeth firmly gripping the cod’s head. Thus their week’s work had not been in vain.
Heartened by this success Brait tried again, but although the two other terriers had been heard only a few minutes before and were known to be alive, they could not be persuaded to show themselves.
Apart from momentary blindness through being brought into the light of day after a week’s imprisonment in the blackness of the borran, Spider appeared little the worse for her experience. She was not thin or wasted, and it is likely she had had a feed of the fox. After being taken down to Dungeon Ghyll farm she satisfied her thirst with a drink of milk, curled up by the fire and fell asleep, perhaps to dream of underground encounters with Reynard. Next day she was quite brisk, but was satisfied to remain by the fireside.
Brait and his colleagues decided, during Saturday afternoon, that they could not make any more progress in the shaft, and in view of the knowledge gained they started to work into the centre of the outcrop on the bottom side. As the fissure from which Spider appeared ran in this direction it was hoped that a passage could be broken into it from below. Therefore Sunday morning saw the adoption of a fresh line of attack, and in one respect the work was much easier. In the previous excavation the shaft was vertical and the deeper they went the further they had to carry the stone removed. On Sunday they worked on the sloping fellside, and as soon as a rock was dislodged it required little effort to start it rolling downhill. Operations again started at 8:30 a.m., and the band of workers was larger than ever.
It was during the morning that the dalesmen realised that, for the first time in eight days, there was no sound from the borran. Shouts and even blasting failed to bring a whine or sound of any description, and as the day wore on it was agreed that all hope had gone, and that the terriers were dead. The work did not suffer through these fears, however, and more rock was removed than on any previous day, through the better facilities. One huge slab weighing several tons required the combined efforts of seven or eight men to send it toppling down the mountainside towards Stickle Tarn.
During the afternoon a small aperture was made, following two blasting charges, and through this there emanated a stench that proved the proximity of fox and terriers to this point. No way could be broken in, however, owing to the size of the rocks, and as no sound was heard, even from this obviously nearer point, the workers turned sadly homeward as a full moon mounted the sky and shed a ghostly light into the chimneys and gullies of Pavey Ark. Several of the men returned to the place on Monday, but, through no fault of theirs, they had failed in their mission of mercy. The same eloquent silence enveloped the borran, and it was a silent party that shouldered spades, bars and drills and skirted Stickle Tarn on the path down to Dungeon Ghyll.
At the time, the national press carried this story, and there is even a Movietone film of the rescue. Brait became something of a hero but received no reward other than the respect of his friends. A song was composed about his exploits; here are two of the verses.
Those terriers did their duty -
Every one of them, my lads, a little beauty!
But in that trying hour,
They had no more the power
To climb aloft the perpendicular,
To regain the borran’s inlet - now afar,
Than you have strength to reach the midnight star.
Forgetfulness of danger, with no regard for self,
Had brought them to a wet abysmal shelf.
From which they could not rise,
Indeed it was to them a terrible surprise.
Then from a shaft, in four days made,
Black crawled, head–first, and unafraid.
Into a sloping crevice underground,
Which his keen quarrymen had found.
And with a shining candle in his hand,
To illuminate the darkness of that land,
He descended five and twenty feet,
With a pocket full of choice and varied meat.
There are two reasons why this is a special story for me. First is that a man would give up his time when he should have been seeking work (the 1930s were the years of the Great Depression), and Brait was unemployed. Incidentally he lived in Ambleside, which is a further nine miles from the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, and I do not know where he spent the nights. Should it have been at home, he would have a further eighteen-mile walk to add to his day. And they were not even his terriers. Second is that he was my great uncle.
Glossary of Terms
BECK...small mountain river
BORRAN...Anglo Saxon term basically meaning a stone pile
CAT LUGGS...name of a borran. Cat is self explanatory; luggs means ears. There is a piece of rock close by whose shape resembles a cats head.
DYNAMITE PILLS...explosive charges
GHYLL...a valley, usually with a stream flowing down
SCREE BED...pieces of stone which have fallen from the crag behind
(Three mountain peaks are named in this story. I am unable to find the meaning of their names, but there are probably Viking/Anglo Saxon influences within.)
Visit the late Ron Black's website for more Lakeland Hunting Memories.
Harrison Stickle, Pavey Ark, and Stickle Tarn
Re-Posted August 2, 2019
On Not Letting Standards Slide
By Captain Ronnie Wallace, MFH
Ronnie Wallace with the Eaton College Beagles, where he set records as yet to be equalled.When we were beaglers with school or college packs we tried to be as professional as possible. At the Eaton Beagles we had a splendid fellow, Bill Perkins. He had been second whipper-in to a number of high class establishments, and as he told us all, he’d only come to the Eaton Beagles in 1926 because he’d disagreed with Arthur French Blake over half a crown. He drummed into us the parade ground stuff, the handling of hounds from home, rigorous exercise, and obtaining hounds’ confidence.
He made us able to take hounds under strict control through the by-streets of Slough without a whipper-in. Later George Knight, Percy Durno, Bill Lander, Tony Collins, and now, Anthony Adams and Tony Wright were all trained to know there is a correct way of doing everything.
As a boy I began to see that the prestige of hunting as well as the success of hunting is based on a parade ground atmosphere. At that time it worried precocious young men that many beagle packs had whippers-in and others with whips held upside down, hunting horns stuck in their bosoms, sometimes shouting Get away, hark. It was worrying that high standards were not necessarily the normal state of affairs. Nor are they now.
Over the years I have been MFH I have a sneaking feeling that standards have not only slipped but are no longer aimed at in some foxhunting establishments. I know for certain that it is not good for sport and I suspect it is not great for public relations either. We have had suggestions that people should go hunting dressed as ratcatchers. I believe still that most village people, and certainly landowners and farmers appreciate the courtesy of clean and suitable turnout. Moreover, items of dress and equipment that seem to belong to another age are in fact well designed for recognition, tough weather, banging legs on gateposts, and all the vagaries of the chase.
The standards required of Masters, huntsmen, and whippers-in are essential to get the best possible sport out of the day and the territory available. I think modern life is not made easier because hats are a crowning glory. I appreciate (I regret to say) that safety hats have to be accepted; but they do detract from the visual impression, as well as hindering prompt performance in the field.
I still think that the ambition to attain the best is an essential part of a Master’s and a huntsman’s attitude, and that a pack of hounds should be able not only to control and disperse the local foxes to levels acceptable to landowners but also be capable of entertaining those who ride to it. It is sometimes said by older foxhunters that people are satisfied with very little now. Almost certainly it has always been so, and the answer is that hunt establishments must raise the expectations of their fields.
Talking is no substitute for showing sport, neither can you achieve it by reading books. Let us continue to aim high. When the huntsman and his hounds are developing a promising hunt, and are assailed by a column of cars all pointing the route back of the fox or foxes they have just headed, let him cast boldly forward and be rewarded with the sort of run of which our fathers would have been proud.
What we all need is a pack of hounds that are under control but happy, and inquiring. Hunt servants, amateur whippers-in, and terrier men who are polite, friendly, but attending to their business. Horses should look well, and they should be neatly trimmed and fit. There should be a manifest impression that each day’s hunting is conducted to a plan, and the feeling that no stone is being left unturned to show sport each and every hunting day.
If things are not done properly, no such result will be achieved. Then the hunt will lose the confidence of the locality. So all these aspects are indeed relevant to the situation and not, as some think, frills.
Much effort is always needed in hunting, much sorting out. Packs of hounds which get out of control are likely to do so in summer exercise, and they are apt to do so at the same place. Good foxhounds are high-mettled animals and they can easily start boiling up. The remedy for that is to slow down. Many people rush on with them, trying to steady them. What must be done is to slow them down until they stop, then start again at a lower impetus by getting them walking and looking about. Hounds need to be inquisitive and to think that life is interesting. It is not as easy as said, but it is so.
A sign of professionalism is somebody who, in approaching a day’s sport, may act and speak in a jolly way, but is deadly serious in what is going to be done. To show the best sport the huntsman needs to be like the conductor of an orchestra, with a wise Master in charge of intelligent whippers-in and helpers. Famous hunts need an input from the human element as well as the hounds.
The best conditions are probably a little less than a flying scent which makes foxes circle and go to ground. What is better to give a good run is half a scent, but a holding one. Of course, foxes are headed, that is the excuse. On the other hand they are much more used to people than they were 50 years ago, and they are less easily deterred.
A fox on the top of Exmoor is more easily headed by a lone horseman than he would be in the Heythrop country. But even on the top of Exmoor foxes are less sensitive than they were 30 or 40 years ago.
If we let hunting degenerate into a rag-tag-and-bobtail affair it will not survive. Landowners would not put up with it. But some others might say, If people are happy, why not let things slide? That is not my view. Masters and huntsmen who do it in the proper way are sometimes thought to be overbearing. This should be taken as a compliment.
Posted August 1, 2019
As published in Hunting magazine, London, March, 1994.
The late Captain Ronnie Wallace was the most highly respected Master, huntsman, and foxhound breeder of the latter half of the twentieth century. Since the original publication of this article, Britain’s Hunting Act of 2005 was passed, and foxhunting, as the author knew it, is no longer legal. And to be honest, the level of sport and its traditions have slid in many hunts due to a number of reasons, some even perhaps legitimate—like the welcome fact that many more people of lesser means may now hunt, and time demands of twenty-first century families may be more pressing than they were twenty-five years ago. However ... while, as some might argue, the world and family priorities have changed, there is always wisdom to be found in harking back to better hunting days, and giving Captain Wallace’s words a thoughtful re-reading. Readers’ Comments are always welcome.