So, yet again this year, the Boxing Day meets that took place up and down the country received much attention from the media. The use of dogs to hunt wild mammals has been prohibited since the Hunting Act 2004, which came into place in 2005. However, this does not stop the hunts going ahead, where the dogs chase an artificial scent across the countryside.
Personally, I love a Boxing Day meet. I don’t ride, I don’t hunt, I don’t own a horse; but I thoroughly enjoy squishing the entire family – complete with Grandad – into the car, donning my wellies on a crisp post-Christmas morning, to fall out of the car at Chiddingstone Castle in Kent, to watch some top-hatted, red-coat wearing ‘toffs’ on horseback. It’s the one time of year it is socially acceptable for me to wear my tweed jacket and drink from my hipflask, without looking like an alcoholic. No one need know I’m wearing Primark.
The Old Surrey Burstow & West Kent Hunt has their dogs track the scent of a man on a quad bike. He sets off long before the hunt begins, and the dogs and horses chase that scent, rather than a fox. I understand why people are against fox hunting, so this for me is a wonderful compromise.
The BBC ran a story on Boxing Day regarding the Environment Secretary’s warning that the government is unlikely to lift the hunting ban in the following year. Complete with video, the BBC attended a hunt in Oxfordshire, showing footage of the horses being ridden on the roads and the dogs responding to the sound of the horn. But what they failed to show is the number of people who attend the meet simply for the atmosphere and the experience. At Chiddingstone Castle, around 350 spectators turned up to greet the horses and the dogs, to sip on their mulled wines, to wish a merry Christmas to friends. These people aren’t here because they wanted a debate about fox hunting; they are here to witness the display of an old fashion tradition. Being at a hunt is like watching a painting from the old houses come to life.
I know I sound like a snob, but I’m really not. I don’t live in a mansion; I don’t go to the stable every morning to feed my pony which daddy bought me on a whim. Honestly, I’m not like that. But I do thoroughly enjoy watching something with so much history. I love the significance of the red tailcoats, the whiskey mac, the beautiful beasts. And the tweed. SO MUCH TWEED. It makes me smile, because here I am surrounded by stereotypes. There are clean as a whistle Range Rovers, driven by Hunter wearers who have probably never seen mud before. And then there are the stable-hands, wearing gilet’s and jodhpurs, paired with a worn down heel on their Hunters. And then there’s people like me: small-townie wanting my piece of countryside. I get to mingle with the huge horses that I so rarely see, despite living amongst the fields. Antiques Roadshow’s very own Lennox Cato is even here. It’s brilliant!
Horses are domesticated animals: throughout time they have been trained and bred to achieve certain jobs. The Shire horse is bred to tow heavy loads, the Thoroughbreds for racing and the field hunter is born to hunt. Now I can’t speak for the horses, but they didn’t seem to be protesting. They bow their heads when they want to be stroked, they prick their ears at the sound of the horn, their tails swish with what looks like anticipation. I know many of you won’t believe me and will probably think I’m being cruel, but I don’t see many of you protesting about the Turkey you ate on Christmas day, which was bred for the simple purpose of being on your dinner table. Same sort of thing really, only with a harsher ending.
The beauty of the countryside is that it is possible to roam amongst nature, which is not possible in urban areas. The beauty of public footpaths through farmer’s fields is so that you can explore the places the roads don’t reach. In my opinion, even though the fox is no longer the prey, there is not much more beautiful than seeing a blur of red dart over a hedge as the hunt stretch the legs of their animals. The grandeur of the hunt clings on to the small bit of freedom that is still found in the countryside.
Let me know how you feel about the type of hunting that still goes on in the countryside. Is it right to continue? Or does it need to be banned completely? Feel free to comment below.