When James kindly invited me to write an account of this year’s Newcomers’ Weekend I was not sure where to start though its a pretty standard event for us, now in its 6th year. We follow a format; the core being hounds, hunting, the kennels, hunting manners and hunting fun and were thoroughly spoiled this year, as ever, with some fabulously knowledgeable and eloquent speakers.
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The weekend kicks off with a gathering in a ‘typical hunting pub’ which welcomes us all and where pictures of the chase abide together with photos of my Joint Master ‘in disguise’ at a Hunt Ball…. The food is excellent, both in content and cost. The atmosphere on this first evening is always memorable – its a challenge to pick out newcomers – as indeed it is for them to identify us. Somehow we all meet and have a great evening in a large designated room which by the time everyone arrives is heaving and the pub staff do well to cope.
Next morning with autumn hunting on the agenda check in is 7.10am for the 28 guinea pig newcomers. The local racecourse is the venue for the meet and we move off at 7.30am prompt. Although 71 is a splendid number for us so early in the season, the Field’s exuberant voices are loud and even if it is not needed I am glad of the offer of support from a former Huntsman/Master on point. An average but nevertheless good morning ensues and hounds go well. All the newcomers have survived and we return to base 10.30am for coffee and the introductions, most of importantly to the Hunt Staff.
The programme begins and participants learn by means of the first talk of ‘The RA as a military Hunt’ followed by a fine rendition of what hunting is really about by renowned and revered Hunting guru Carolyn Humphrey. The Commanding Officer of The King’s Troop follows linking both The Troop and the Hunt together in a seamless entwine.
Lunch is lasagne and a pudding (courtesy of Hunt Supporter; Emma of ‘Complete Catering’ a name that says it all…) and then follows the central visit to the kennels. Robert Moffatt, Huntsman has been with us six seasons and we’ve been counting our blessings ever since. He has much wisdom to impart and this year is no exception. He shows off fine breeding lines in certain hounds and, as well as a tour gives an explanation of what goes on in the background at the kennels itself.
Cross country jumping (not that this Hunt does more than a few fences per season) is part of a hunter’s lot. Once hooked – a true hunter wants to travel – and to attack different country. With the afternoon’s xc session imminent the newcomers are oozing adrenalin whilst our instructors are being their cool selves giving confidence and vigour to those tackling the British Eventing course. Only one faller this year!
A feast of a tea awaits on their return to the racecourse building and then an informative talk with a table full of ‘clues’ that is how to dress, what you should carry on a day’s hunting and most important of all – Hunting Manners – much underestimated. As the speaker said ‘a pair of clean wellington boots out hunting is fine, much more important are good manners to our farming friends and beyond.
The theme continues in a talk that is always included; ‘A typical day’s Hunting’ delivered by Chris Austin MFH, Kimblewick Hunt, ably assisted and partnered by our RA Huntsman whose horn calls are phenomenal.
Still in their morning hunting kit participants now have about ¾ to have a bath/shower (if they so wish) and its back for an indoor barbecue. However, the weather is clement and from the racecourse building balcony, whether you are a smoker or not you can admire an amazing view over Salisbury Plain which stretches on and on. Meanwhile the hunt supporters arrive in abundance…..
Our ‘guest raconteur’ is the President of the Honourable Artillery Company Saddle Club (amongst other things): Col Geoffrey Godbold OBE TD DL. He and his impressive and vast CV are introduced by former RA Huntsman/Master, now Vice President, Lt Col John Jago OBE. Geoffrey is actually hilarious and there is not a dry eye in the house. The party goes on (and the organiser wonders how and WHEN she can realistically kick everyone out).
Sunday morning comes all too quickly and 9.30am is the first talk. 1st Whipper In and former hunt staff member are at the racecourse together with the organiser at 8.30am but some of the real keen newcomers are already there beforehand. The coffee is made just in time for engrossed participants who are being talked through the inner workings of how to prepare a hunter. Then its time for a hack. The sun shines (again), practically miraculous for The Plain…
A perfect morning for a ride and NO ONE falls off despite a few jumps. One aching participant goes back early with an instructor but otherwise all goes as planned and we are back in time for Emma’s full blown delicious roast.
The happy hackers return to the racecourse building to find hunt members, subscribers and vice presidents, already at the bar. Our esteemed speaker and his family have also arrived and so have ‘The Flying Foxes’. All are welcomed by our Chairman, who after lunch leads the singing as one of the participants has a birthday. Finally Rob Williams, Chairman of the RS Surtees Society gives a splendid foxhunting address which is hugely enjoyed.
An outdoor display by hunting side saddle ladies follows, they even jump mock wire and it is totally breathtaking/heart stopping. We are particularly proud of our home grown mother and daughter RA hunting enthusiasts. A large tea put on especially by, and for the hunt supporters who have turned up to see it all.
At last exhausted but appreciative newcomers return to the building for the concluding discussion on hunting dos and don’ts taken by our formidable but lovely Hon Sec and Joint Master (the one in the photo at the pub).
4.30pm we’re all done (in more ways than one), we wave goodbye to our new friends and after clearing up all crawl home….
Feedback on the Weekend in the words of various newcomers:-
“I met so many wonderful people who are all bound together by their shared love of hunting, and it was a privilege to be part of it. You laid on so many interesting, fun things, from learning about hounds from Carolyn and Robert, to the eclectic mix of speakers and experts in their various fields; their knowledge always relayed in a charming, humorous and informative manner. I enjoyed every single minute. And the social vibe was fantastic as well. I met so many charming people.”
“I knew nothing of hunting prior to the weekend; at the time of the debate about the ban, I was living in Camden, London, and fox hunting was totally beyond my knowledge. Now, informed, the ban makes no sense and in fact seems vindictive. So my top take home tip is that if the conversation of fox hunting reoccurs, I am now better informed for the defence.”
To our Hon Sec; “I attended the Newcomers’ Weekend this year and would like to subscribe to the Hunt for this coming season. I have a subscription form and will enclose a cheque alongside joining the Countryside Alliance.”
“You clearly put an awful lot of effort into orchestrating the Weekend and I am exceptionally grateful to you for the wonderful introduction to a sport that I suspect I will derive a tremendous amount of pleasure from!”
“ I am a novice rider, only took it up 18 months ago after a break of decades upon decades. Although I’ve had a go jumping on a polo pony once before (in a polo saddle!), I in fact had my first jumping lesson just the week before the weekend. Nevertheless I had a very well matched horse, Woody, yes it took me a while to get to understand him, and there is so much to think about on riding.”
“It was great fun and a fantastic introduction to hunting”
“The hunt on the Saturday was fast and furious (at least it felt that way to me!)…..”
“I have bought a good quality black hunt coat from eBay at a knock down price; I hope it fits ok. I think the other bits and bobs can wait a while, my other kit should pass, unless there is something of necessity that you think I need…”
On the morning’s autumn hunting; “I was very well looked after by the hunt nannies and felt suitable thrilled and exhausted by the end of it”.
“I was reading my copy of Hound Hares and Foxes of Larkhill on the way in to work and it felt slightly surreal to step back in to City life – whilst still day dreaming Salisbury Plain!!”
“A further influence of the Weekend – I have now ordered myself a copy of R S Surtees’ Handley Cross!!”
From someone who was injured and unable to ride but came to a couple of talks “……do you think it will be around the same weekend next year? Am tempted to book hotels now!”