A Plea from a Retiring Master of Hounds

Posted on Wednesday, September 20, 2023
In: Editorial
Written by: Peter Brook

On his retirement  from the Mastership of  Blackmore Vale Hunt Mr. Merthyr Guest, drafted the following remarks to all followers of hounds regardless of the pack(s) they followed.  Though written in the  stylised language of the time the underlying message, which was addressed to followers, Huntstaff and new Masters, is as important now as it was then,  show respect for your farmers and landowners.

Mr Guest said
“Considering how much the mass of riders in the hunting field enjoy themselves, and how naturally anxious they are to continue to enjoy their amusement unchecked and undeterred by any feelings of animosity in the district where they get their pleasure, it has often been a wonder to me that they do not, individually and collectively, endeavour to conform to some rules, so as not to damage the relationship with farmers over whose holdings they disport themselves. Riders to hounds in the present day do not seem to remember the possible damage they can do, and that a moment of thought, and a word of caution or advice to ignorant riders-or, more properly speaking, a strict attention to certain rules, would avoid causing that damage which rightly annoys farmers. The rules of riding over a country when hounds are in hot pursuit I need not discuss as I suppose no one would ride over a heavy plough if he saw a furrow, nor would the most wanton ride over beans, but in the course of a slow, hunting run, or in drawing covers, much damage might be avoided and less annoyance caused by following a few simple rules. Whyte Melville says justly :-” No one should neglect, in riding to hounds, to think of his own choice of sound ground, so is to spare his horse’s exertion.” Another author says “Pick your ground as carefully as if you yourself were running.

The wettest furrow in a ploughed field is always the lightest riding, The headland in a grass field is always the soundest,  and in both these cases the least damage is caused, and the least eyesore is left. I say nothing about beans, because no one but a fool could pretend not to know them, and no one but an enemy to sport would ride over them. Vetches can be easily distinguished, and should not be ridden over nor turnip,  and sheep should not be ridden through. I am always entreating my fields to avoid beans, to ride the furrow in corn lands, and the headlands in the grass fields. A great many riders do take care, especially those who are sportsmen at heart, and those who happen to hear the caution. But as I cannot remain stationary there are many who come after who do not hear the caution, who are coffee housing, perhaps, or, perhaps, belated, and they ramble on anyhow and anywhere, with the consequence that the foremost and good sportsmen who are most seen by the farmer, are credited with the harm done by the hindmost and indifferent sportsmen-and the Master gets the blame for all.
To prove my case I transcribe part of a letter received on the subject ; and this is only a sample of the many I have received in the same tone-the writers of which I have had to soothe, to satisfy and pacify to the best of my ability :-“ I feel compelled to call your attention to the reckless and disgraceful way in which my wheat was damaged yesterday by the foxhunters. The land I rent is so difficult to manage that it takes two years to obtain one crop of wheat; therefore it is most disheartening after bestowing so much labour and sparing no expense to have it injured in such a cruel manner. It was not done in the running, but when drawing- forty or fifty horsemen blundering about all over the field, besides making three or four huge gaps in the hedge to get there, whereas they could have walked their horses across one after another, if they had only bad sufficient sense and neighbourly feeling to have done so. I have never yet used barbed wire and should regret having to do so, but I fail to see how I can pay a heavy rent under such treatment as that of which I reluctantly complain, which is no new thing. but an annual grievance. I  have never in my life claimed a penny compensation for poultry.”

I address this to all followers of hounds, male and female, boys and girls, old and young, as a parting word on giving up the horn in, the B.V. country. I know most of the B.V. farmers in Dorset and Somerset, and I know them to be loyal to hunting, kindly in the extreme, and tolerant of any trifling damage or inconvenience that they may sustain in the course of our amusement. They are sportsmen, too, to the backbone; and it requires all who hunt to exhibit a reciprocity of loyalty end sportsmanlike consideration in the farmers ‘ interests. Unless these courtesies are borne in mind, I say, with bated breath, ”
How long is the sport to continue?”