My Dear William,
When we last spoke, you made reference to one of the Hunt staff and I was rather surprised to hear you mention ‘ …the Whip…’ when you were referring to what is in fact ‘…the Kennel Huntsman and First Whipper-in….’ !! You might think this an unimportant distinction, but it is almost akin to calling an Archbishop ‘…a parson..’ Both have generally earned their appointment by virtue of talent and hard work and would surely appreciate being accorded their correct title, which acknowledges the special responsibilities that go with it. So perhaps we might look at the range of titles and what their respective roles entail so you can avoid elementary errors in future.
The Master of Foxhounds or MFH
It is unusual these days to have a single Master. Organising and running a Hunt country is a very responsible, time-consuming task if it is properly done. It costs money too. The role reaches its peak of activity during the season, which might run between Autumn and Spring. Clearing country, so that each day’s hunting can be accommodated is a complex puzzle that must take account of agricultural as well as other sporting interests. Avoiding a clash with commercial shooting commitments needs tact and goodwill to keep everyone satisfied; but the farming aspects of rural life are even more important. We can only hunt by let and leave of farmers and landowners so their interests must be paramount at all times. In parallel, Masters make sure the country remains ‘huntable’ by arranging, usually during the summer months, the provision of hunt jumps, gates, bridges and the like so we can get about with minimum effect on the land.
Then the Masters are responsible for the breeding and welfare of the hounds. They ensure each day’s hunting is properly conducted within present constraints. They engage and supervise Hunt staff. A multitude of additional responsibilities might also fall to the Mastership team; Hunt vehicles, buildings, services such as heat, light and fuel, staff accommodation, all of which might be their sole responsibility if not shared with other elected or appointed officers of the Hunt. So the Mastership needs many special attributes and an ability to ‘multi-task’.
The Huntsman’s principal task is to produce a fit, experienced well-conditioned pack of hounds and to hunt them. Books have been written on this subject alone! Filling this role might be one of the Masters who will combine it with all his other responsibilities as shown above. In this day and age, such a man might well be paid a certain stipend, particularly if he is young and set on making a career in hunting. Paradoxically, despite being paid, he is still regarded as an ‘amateur’ (or ‘shamateur’ as some would have it!)
Alternatively, the post might be filled by a professional, who will have worked his way up through all the more junior appointments in Hunt Service. In addition to hunting the hounds, he will have delegated to him day-today responsibility for running the kennels and staff, for which he is answerable to the Masters by whom he is employed. He will play a key role in breeding, or helping to breed the hounds and in supervising their welfare. In the latter task he will be assisted by the Kennelman, who acts as his second-in-command in the kennels. Otherwise he will support the Mastership, assisting them where appropriate in carrying out their responsibilities.
The Kennel Huntsman and First Whipper-in
This appointment is only made when a Master is hunting hounds and is supported at the kennels by a professional member of Hunt Staff and if the Master feels it is appropriate. In that case the master will delegate to such a professional the duties carried out by the huntsman as listed above save for that of hunting the hounds. On a hunting day the Kennel Huntsman will assume the role of First Whipper-in
He has a key role in management of the hounds. If they are fed flesh that is brought in as ‘fallen stock’ from farms within the country, he will run the picking-up, skinning and disposal of bones, hides and offal. In close cooperation with the huntsman he will feed the hounds so as to achieve the level of bodily condition the latter demands. If other systems of feeding are employed, he will carry out a similar role. He will be responsible for the cleanliness of the lodges and yards occupied by the hounds for much of the 24 hour period. Care of brood bitches and whelps and routine medication as well as the foregoing are duties shared with the huntsman and other kennel staff
We often hear reference made to ..the Whip… Well as far as I am concerned a whip is something carried in the hand by a mounted rider on a hunting day! Where a Kennel Huntsman is in post he will act as First Whipper-in (see above) as required by the Master hunting hounds. Any other member of the Hunt supporting staff designated as a ‘Whipper-in’ will in that case act as Second Whipper-in; and be promoted to First if in support of a professional hunting hounds. Whatever the case, on a hunting day he will support the Huntsman as directed by him. This may be ‘on point ‘ when the hounds are drawing; riding out forward or to a flank when they are hunting or bringing on hounds that have become separated from the main body of the pack; and any other task as directed by the Huntsman. On non-hunting days he will assist in all other tasks within the kennels and Hunt country as directed by the Huntsman
Some Hunts are able to employ a man who works to repair damage on a hunting day; and otherwise to improve access throughout the Hunt country during the year. He might also combine his duties with those of Terrier Man, but only where the Law permits digging and terrier work as a vermin control measure.
Let us not forget the Stud Groom and any other stable staff who are responsible for producing the Hunt horses, fit and turned out to the highest standard for each hunting day, often working long into the night after a late finish. It is a challenging and time-consuming task, quite often overlooked by some who are unfamiliar with all that goes on in Hunt stables.
A Mark of Gratitude
I just want to finish this homily by reminding you that without the hard work and devotion of our professional Hunt Staff, hunting as we know it would not be a possibility. We owe a duty to recognise this at Christmas time when traditionally, we contribute as generously as we are able to the Hunt Staff Christmas Box… So hand in pocket – or better still in wallet – please