The early mornings have started in Dorset – we can’t wait for this season’s British foxhunting holidays to begin!

Sunrise as enjoyed by Blackmore & Sparkford Vale subscribers in South-West England.  The B&SV is Blackthorn & Brook's home hunt - great horses, lovely people and country to suit everyone!

Sunrise as enjoyed by Blackmore & Sparkford Vale subscribers in South-West England. The B&SV is Blackthorn & Brook’s home hunt – great horses, lovely people and country to suit everyone!

Why hunt in the UK?

For most people outside of the small world of foxhunting on the British Isles, the question of how the sport functions in 2013 remains somewhat of a mystery.

Significant global coverage of the debate about the sport means most people are aware of the controversy around foxhunting and of the 2004 Hunting Act.

What perhaps is not so evident is how British hunts have adapted to life under the ban; why people can continue to enjoy hunting in England and (significantly in our business as a tour operator) why it still makes sense to come here to ride to hounds. In this piece, I am going to look at why we love foxhunting in England and why we think the sport has a brilliant future.

Why hunt?

A busy Boxing Day meet – a prime chance for people to rally behind hunting.

Perhaps the greatest surprise is that yes, most of Britain’s hunts continue to operate under the ban, and in terms of the day out on horseback we all enjoy, it is pretty much business as usual.

Hunts have worked hard to adapt to hunting under the ban: developing strategies to work within the law, investing in their countryside management and developing innovative approaches to providing a rewarding day out for riders, foot-followers and hunt supporters in general.

This widely has been a change for good and is reflected in growing support for hunts as a vital element of the rural and agricultural milieu. A recent study by the Countryside Alliance has shown that since the ban the UK’s foxhunts are enjoying a renaissance ‘with more riders than ever […] coming into the sport, more hounds being bred [and] more people being employed in the industry’.

It has also pulled once archaic institutions firmly into the 21st century. The post-ban hunt is a more welcoming place. Widening support is at the top of the agenda and so hunts embrace visitors, new-comers and children with wholehearted enthusiasm. These, after all, are the people that represent the future of the sport.

Greater efforts to expand the positive reach of hunting means improved relationships with the environment, farmers and landowners, pony clubs, ramblers and the racing world. This bridge-building places you – as a foxhunter – within a broad family of people who respect our countryside, conserve its customs and recognise the importance of balancing conservation with a robust rural economy.

Finally post-ban hunting is a much less confrontational pursuit than it once was. Yes, many hunts continue to be observed by professional or serious amateur hunt monitors, but the antagonism and animosity characteristic of the pre-ban era is largely forgotten as the debate moves from the political arena to the legal sphere.

There is a good article about how hunts have ‘beaten the ban and thrived’ on the Guardian website. A newspaper – it is worth noting – that wouldn’t typically favour the hunting community.

Act Facts

  • The 2004 Hunting Act outlaws the hunting of live mammals with dogs.
  • So far five cases have been brought to court via private prosecution.
  • Two of these cases have been acquitted at appeal.
  • The successful prosecutions have been against hunt officials from the Fernie Hunt (2011), Crawley & Horsham Hunt (2012) and the Heythrop Hunt (2012)

So despite the complexities of the law and the challenges of running hunts in the 21st century we believe that foxhunting plays a vital part in the cultural, social and economic life of Britain’s countryside.

That’s why we want to work in the world of foxhunting and that’s why we want to share it.

Foxhunting in the UK may have changed, but it is a living breathing world. It is a world of fun and friendship, challenge and excitement, beauty and tradition and a world very much worth exploring.

The long wait

Summer has shifted into her luxuriant dotage. The oaks on the road towards Firtree Farm bear leaves of a dusty, dark green leather, so far from the transparent, near edible crepe of late May.

The heavy exuberance of the summer countryside – Megan and I had to turn back the horses on a bridal path thick with brambles and dog roses today – speaks of imminent autumn hunting.

Despite a schedule of autumn hunting meets issued in mid August (over optimistically perhaps) atrocious weather this summer has set back the agricultural calendar and as of a yet no word. Fields still stand with corn and even uncut silage. Farmers have more to think about than hounds, horses and hellos of ‘summered well?’ amongst long lost sporting friends.

But cut grass and the boom and buzz of tractors on the fields late into the night encourage us. Our new 4-year old from Ireland, Wilf, has had his mane attended to by Megan, and I set about the yard. Perhaps with pots of creosote and plenty of grooming we will bring new season closer.

Until then, I will plagiarise unabashedly from our hunt supporters’ club magazine The Follower. Here is a lovely song of our ‘Blackmore Vale’ which was sung with great gusto at the end of season supper this year. It even makes mention of the Blackthorn of our ilk.

THE SONG OF THE BLACKMORE VALE
1.
There be doughty men in Dorset,
There be boys of bone and brawn,
Who work and smile and sing all day
In the land where they were born.
 

CHORUS:

‘Tis the old, old song of the Huntsman’s horn,
As away down the vale they run;
There’s a splash and a thud, and a roll in the mud,
And fine old Dorset fun,
Then there comes a crash! of the old Blackthorn,
The rend of the rasping rail,
Oh! the sound of the hound and the huntsman’s horn,
The Song of the Blackmore Vale.
2.
When a man goes out from Dorset,
Out to the far, far west,
He longs for his lanes and pasture land,
And the songs that he loves the best.
There’s the song of the kine in the cow-yard,
And the song of the nightingale,
But the song that dwells with a Dorset lad,
Be the Song of the Blackmore Vale.
3.
A man comes back to Dorset,
Back from the lands afar.
No need to yearn for the old milk churn
And the song of the swingle bar
Now shall he bide in Dorset,
Or once again set sail?
When there comes the sound of the huntsman’s horn
Away in the Blackmore Vale