On the 28th October 1995 I mounted my very large coloured Hunter hireling (you might call it a cob if it was at least 2 hands smaller) for my first days hunting. He immediately bolted across the farmyard much to the consternation of both my wife and son. No amount of hauling back on the reins or shouting “Wow” had any effect upon a horse with a neck that big! It was clearly designed to bear a large collar and pull a brewers dray rather than carry this feeble office worker.
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Let me explain, I was then a 42 years old Solicitor who had been riding for about 2years. Riding, for me, consisted of hacking around the lanes around our home and occasionally going to small local shows or the occasional local cross country where I would inevitably fall off! I had been a very enthusiastic game shot for a few years and I was very taken with the traditions of Hunting. My horse riding friends had explained to me that The Badsworth Hunt was having an introduction to hunting day or”Newcomers day”. The idea being very simple, namely, that a rider who had never hunted with a pack of Hounds before could experience a day’s Hunting for the princely sum of £10. It seemed too good an opportunity for this Yorkshire man to miss so I made arrangements to join them. As always, with the best laid plans of mice and men, just before the appointed day my mare decided to go lame. Despite all the encouragement I could give her she refused to improve and as the day grew ever nearer it was obvious I couldn’t ride her. That is when we made arrangements to get the hireling although at the time we didn’t know he’d be so precocious! Having watched my incompetence on such a fine Hunter the experienced groom, Rupert, immediately took charge and swopped me on to a steadier and smaller character called Nelson. From that moment on I immediately knew that this was something that would dominate my life. Nelson was everything that an experienced Hunter should be, especially with a novice aboard. Namely, a bold, fit and extremely enthusiastic horse. I was amazed at the distance that we covered often at great speed and through some very wonderful farmland. No amount of hacking out had prepared me for the free access we had to such private land. As my addiction to Hunting grew so my attachment to shooting reduced. In fact, it wasn’t long before I was a full subscriber with the hunt and a little later the Honorary Secretary of my own local Hunt, The Burton.
The whole concept of a “Newcomers Day” had been the brainchild of those two extremely well known and well loved hunting characters, James Barclay and the late Maurice Askew. Maurice was always very proud of this particularly successful day when newcomers from all walks of life could experience riding with the hunt together. He would say “it was a day when Solicitors, Accountants and former Miners all rode together side by side in this exhilarating sport of ours”.
It changed my riding life and no doubt changed the lives of my wife and son as from then on every Saturday, or as many as possible, was devoted to taking my mare out Hunting. It was no longer enough to merely hack around the lanes at home. Of course, that was still necessary just to maintain her fitness. The thrill and excitement produced by one day spent hunting is definitely another level in horse riding.
I am also very aware that I owe a huge debt to both James and Maurice without whom the idea of a newcomer’s day would never have materialised. What a wonderful idea to bring a poor office worker out into the fresh air to enjoy (and become addicted) to this wonderful sport of ours.
Sadly, it has become ever harder for Hunts to hold a “Newcomer’s day” every year especially since The Hunting Act became law. We seem to spend most of our time watching our backs to make sure that we are doing nothing wrong. However, all hunts do welcome newcomers and recognise that they are our future.
As the Burton Hunt Secretary let me encourage everyone who would like to try this fabulous sport of ours to make contact with their local Hunt Secretary to see what arrangements can be made to make you feel very welcome on your first outing in the field. We at The Burton Hunt certainly feel very honoured when we have the opportunity to take someone out for the first time and show them what our honourable sport is really all about.
Burton Hunt Honorary Secretary.