The Trials of a Hunt Secretary

Posted on Tuesday, June 2, 2020
In: Articles
Written by: Liz Young

First published in BHD 2000 , the writer Liz Young gives a personal and valuable insight into the life of a Hunt Secretary

The Hunt Secretary can be described as a cross between a Secretary of State and a housekeeper: this office bearer works both diplomatically and physically behind the scenes. On the one hand he or she is looking after the mundane day to day arrangements of the Hunt, and on the other quietly maintaining the smooth running of the organisation. It is certainly true that our forefathers were no fools, and the rules and regulations they adhered to in the hunting field are still appropriate today. The Hunt Secretary is largely responsible for the maintenance of these standards.

One of the secretary’s main duties is, of course, the collection of subscriptions and caps, and it is fascinating to see how most of the character portrayed by Surtees are in the hunting field today, although of course they now possess modern attitudes. I have come across one ingenious method of evading a cap which seemed to slip the eye of Surtees. There was a certain gentleman who had classical good looks, and always came out in a swallow tail coat. His horse was often unclipped, but he always had a beautiful lady beside him. For about half a season he completely took me in. He attended most of the social functions of the season, and was always to be seen at any dance or ball; but the following day he would appear on his horse saying he was the guest of whoever had been host the previous evening. It was extremely difficult to check up on these invitations, because as we all know, after a big party the host is always overwhelmed with people wanting to thank him and discuss the affairs of the night before. So for about five Saturdays this fine man and his fair lady paid no cap. However, on the sixth he slipped up, because his host was also looking out for him. The host had noticed that the gentleman appeared on any important day but on none of the others. For the first hour of the hunt our friend thought he had once again escaped. The entire Field were plodding round a very large piece of plough, and since this man had failed to present his cap we all decided we would hold up hounds and ask him to either pay his debts or ride home along the Queen’s Highway. This he proceeded to do; and spent the remainder of that season hunting with our neighbourhood packs. We never enquired as to then financial arrangements.

Apart from chasing such scoundrels, the hunt secretary often has to make on the spot decisions regarding subscriptions and caps, and I think it is still very necessary to leave the power of discretion to the secretary. Everyone who wants to come bunting should be able to hunt, and if it is financially difficult for them, then maybe they can contribute in some other way to the wellbeing of the Hunt.

There are also other occasions when it is extremely diplomatic to exercise this power. If, for instance, visitors who have had a blank day, or a personal calamity, I would recommend that they be offered another day free of charge. It is also very important to welcome all Masters of Hounds because they themselves contribute far more than most of us can ever know towards our great sport.

Apart from the actual subscriptions in the Field, the secretary must also keep their eyes open for any damage, and make certain that if a fence is broken it is made stock-proof that very night, and if any stock are inadvertently let out hat they are put back, preferably into their own fields, and that their owner is told. The secretary should also be prepared to help with any emergencies, be it a serious accident or the hunt saboteurs.

They  must also keep a weathered eye on the dress of his members and subscribers, because it is out of politeness to the Masters, who are providing the sport, that the Field turn out as correctly and tidily as possible. In this day and age it is extremely difficult to ask people to wear different clothes, and I think it is necessary to take a very practical view. For instance, in countries where there is a considerable amount of rain, it is far more practical to the embers of the Field to wear waxed jackets, but if they do so they must look as clean and tidy in them as possible. I would also recommend, for the rider’s own personal safety, that he put a stock around his neck. I also think it is terribly important to remember that everyone is welcome out hunting and, if they and their horses are neat and tidy, they are very welcome.

Unfortunately, in the modern world in which we live, the secretary’s duties have increased tenfold. The paperwork is considerable, because not only Is the secretary expected to send out or collect the subscriptions, but they must also keep an eye on the knackery bills, fill in endless forms for the authorities, organise the insurance, and deal with a hundred and one other peeves of paper. It is for this reason that I would suggest that one of the ways forward for hunting is to establish an office where an ordinary typist, working under the guidance of the appointed hunt secretary, would fill in and complete all these forms, send out the meet cards, collect all the bills, and keep the paperwork under control. Gone are the days when there were men with military training who had either an office or their own private secretary behind them, who were generous enough to give all this freely to the Hunt.

Next, I would suggest that we pay a typist to do clerical work, and the hunt secretary remain an honorary position. The modern foxhunter needs a lot of help because many people who have taken to foxhunting recently come from a non hunting family. They are learning all the time. So it is important that the secretary should help them all they can. These people will often ring up to find out when the Meet is, and they will then want to know how long it will take them to get to the Meet, where to park, where they will finish at the end of the day and how long it will take them to ride back to their box. All this is something that in days gone by every foxhunter would have worked out for himself. So I do urge the hunt secretaries of tomorrow to be very kind and to look after these people, because they are the foxhunters of the future.

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