Whist tidying during pandemic induced self-isolation, a high spot was a folder of old family images of horses, hounds, and hunts came to light and it found its way to me. During a quick browse over a coffee and biscuit shared with retired hounds, I remembered some of the exceptional equine characters I was able to ride and or drive during that time and the attitude of some on the hunting field towards them. Today, that same attitude would be labelled prejudice as opposed to ignorance, towards the capabilities of those horses that did not fit other people’s expectations of what hunters should be. Given the totally unreasonable prejudice faced by hunting people today from external forces. This ‘anti woolly native breed’ prejudice is relatively new and is one hunting cannot afford.
At all levels of hunting with hounds, native breeds have a valuable role to play. It is a role to be encouraged not disparaged by those who have come into hunting late in the day, and therefore may have missed out on the fun native breeds offer. It is after all how many people including Baily’s Directors got their start in riding to hounds.
Throughout the Spring and Summer months of the 1970s and 80s, my family could be found making regular forays into various show jumping arenas with whatever ponies and horses we had at the time. Often for 3/4 days a week during peak season. When not jumping or spending hours and hours schooling at home we used to follow the Summer national Carriage Driving Circuit with anything we had broken to harness which had not been sold. The training sessions for the long (15km+) marathon sections meant that at the end of the summer our horses were ‘match fit’ and taking them to local meets as hunting ramped up was a good way of showing them to a new market, giving them something different to think about and keep them fit.
Home at the time bordered the hunt territory of 7 hunts four of which were mounted so there was no end of opportunity.
On one particular day, I had been invited as a guest to a neighbouring hunt who just happened to have a meet about 8 miles from home. I was mounted on a very well-muscled and equally self-confident Welsh section D (aka a Welsh cob) – the type that looked good and he knew it!
That meet was to a very well regarded hunt with great hunt staff and hounds but though certain cliquey members of the field it had a well-earnt reputation for not being welcoming to visitors. Despite its air of exclusivity, the hunt had a number of followers both on foot and those on specialist hunters that were being tended by grooms. An outside observer could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that this was often primarily to ensure that both first, second, and sometimes third horses were tacked up and facing the right way when they were mounted by their impeccably turned-out riders.
Our day started early and we drove the cob in harness from home to the meet. Much to the apparent amusement and in a few cases obvious disdain of some, the same cob was then unharnessed, groomed and then saddled up for a day with hounds.
For reasons that I still do not understand to this day this did not go down well with the ‘ruling clique’ in the field, and I was made aware that our presence meant that some of them felt they would have to slow down to accommodate the cob. As the hounds moved off we were given the ‘once over’ by a foppish individual elegantly attired in bespoke clothes and a saddle that came complete with every conceivable gadget attached to it, each in a separate monogrammed leather case, including a ‘mobile’ phone.
Before pushing his way to the front of the field his only comment was ‘I am sure you can find a way around our country – THAT-pointing at the cob- won’t be able to jump our fences’. We had an interesting day, but more of that later.
In response to a social media request for other people’s experiences, of hunting native breeds Sue Peckham wrote “ I had two pure Dales ponies that I hunted very successfully with the Ledbury and the Cotswold Vale in the early 1990s.
One, in particular, Wharmton Brigadier, was also very accomplished at working hunter, versatility, dressage, showjumping and hunter trials. Competing at Ponies UK and NPS championships. However, he excelled at hunting and I would hunt him at least once a week. We often hunted with the Ledbury on a Friday, keeping up with the blood horses and still be out when the huntsman was collecting hounds, to hack home by the moonlight! He could jump, perhaps not the big hedges but if I could find a stile, or water trough, no matter how trappy, he’d clear it with style. He didn’t care about the ground and would travel across the mud and plough.
We used to help out in order to be able to hunt and earnt ourselves the unofficial title of ‘gate shutters’, more often than not we’d open and shut them and keep up well in between too.
At one particular opening meet the Whip had a nappy horse that wouldn’t jump so we swapped mounts and Brig went up front taking his promotion very seriously until I got him back at 2nd horses.
We also hunted with the Cotswold Vale and can be seen with hounds and Nick Valentine in the black and white picture, taken with Linton church in the background.
We were lucky at that time to be able to go visiting, with the Berkeley, the North Cotswold to name a few, it was always interesting to see people’s opinion of my hairy pony change during the day as he kept up with the best of them until the end!”
Fiona Leng wrote in with enthusiasm regarding her ongoing experiences of Harry. She describes him as “ a striking Welsh Section D, as a 4 year old who had been broken in and turned away. I started hunting him at 5 years old and this season is his 9th following The Hurworth hounds across North Yorkshire’s finest countryside. He’s also had days visiting with the Bedale, Middleton and Bilsdale and enjoys his annual trip to the Hurworth point to point to catch loose horses.
He’s successfully shown as an M&M WHP (Working Hunter Pony) but hunting is where his heart lies.
He is without a doubt the bravest horse I’ve ever ridden; he definitely doesn’t know he’s only 14.2hh and endlessly pulls me into hedges or rails even when I’m not feeling so game! He’s an expert at finding an extra leg when needed and has saved me on countless occasions – he’s never ever let me down. He knows his job inside out and never takes his eye off the hounds, he’s the ultimate hunting pony that I am incredibly grateful and proud to own.
In 2014 Hannah Evans and her Welsh section B, Brooklyn, were introduced to hunting when they went out with the Zetland Hunt. Hannah wrote that “Brooklyn took to hunting like a duck to water. Despite being only 12.2hh he has never had any issues keeping up with the big hunters in the first field! At the grand age of 24, he is still going strong.
We were lucky enough to get a day out with the Staff College Draghunt in December just before the recent lockdown. Brooklyn powered on all day and happily took on a ditch the size of himself.”
Niki Pargeter wrote in to remind us that the smallest of the Welshie’s the Welsh section A is a small pony with a big heart. She describes him as “a superstar hunting pony who lives to go out hunting. He has been diligently waiting for his jockey to get brave enough to come off the lead rein! He is a brilliant hunting pony, a total superstar and much admired when out with the Bedale. Now aged 17, he shows no signs of slowing down!”
For about 6 seasons Caroline Carrington and her 13.2 hh Highland gelding could be found out with the Beaufort. Caroline reports that “He used to pull for about the 1st hour then slowed up. Most of the time he did really well keeping up with the field and jumping, but often being slower than the big horses we were at the back which meant we were left to do the gates, but then of course we were even further behind and struggled to keep in touch. I was very proud of him as he was the first pony I bred and trained myself, we had a lot of fun.”
Liz Braithwait wrote in telling us about her husband, who was hunting in Kent, with the Coakham Bloodhounds riding a 5yr old Dales pony (Griseburn Kestrel) It was apparently a first-time experience for them both and one which pony and rider both thoroughly enjoyed. Liz also mentioned that in her case the hunt was very welcoming (as they should be) and much fun was had by all.
Finally, Emma Wallace told us that her daughter, granddaughter of the late Captain Ronnie Wallace, regularly followed the Pendle Forest and Craven Harriers on a native pony – to start with an Exmoor, then a Welsh Section C, then a Highland which was followed by a couple of Welsh Sec D’s.
All of which goes to show that native breeds continue to have their place on the hunting field so don’t dismiss them!
And that day with our Welsh cob? Having finished the day up with hounds and having jumped every single obstacle without incident he was unsaddled, rubbed down and we drove him home in harness arriving just before dusk- far from being tired, he jog-trotted for the entire journey home. For those of you wondering, sometime later we heard that our foppish and ill-mannered detractor had been sent home for riding over newly sown crops.
Thank you to all those that wrote it it shows that native breeds have a vital role in hunting with hounds in the 21st century. It also acts as a reminder to those So even though you often can, don’t look down on native breeds during the hunting day. They and their riders will be doing an important job for the hunt at the front or rear of the field, the jobs that you often rely on ‘someone’ doing, as long as that someone is not you.
Tags: Native Breeds