In this series of “In the year of the life of” we are going to look at the lives of some of the greatest characters in the hunting world today and their contribution to the sport and life in rural Britain. This could be anybody who shares the passion we have for our activities. Firstly you will learn about their early days, their background and what has motivated them to become involved. Then we will look at a year and see how hunting fits into it and how it has enriched their pleasure and enjoyment of the countryside. There can be no better place to start than with the Huntsman of the Quorn, Peter Collins who is a well respected member of the profession of Hunt Service and is one of those we believe you will thoroughly enjoy reading about.
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All young lads have childhood ambitions about what they want to do when they grow up. Some want to be train drivers, others astronauts, but to dream as a five year old of being Huntsman of the Quorn would certainly appear to be aiming pretty high! The fact that Peter Collins has achieved this and at fifty four years is still going strong, whilst having as much enthusiasm for the sport as when he first started, is in its own way quite remarkable. His affection he has for the hounds, and the knowledge he has of the Quorn Country is infectious to say the least and is why he is still at the very top of his profession.
Peter Collins was born into a dairy farming family on the 14th December 1960. However it was their early introduction to hunting on ponies with the Cotley Harriers and the Taunton Vale Foxhounds that swayed Peter and his brother Bob away from farming towards what has been between them, many years in Hunt Service. Whilst at Chard Comprehensive Peter was summoned to the office of the Careers Officer, a Mr Jack Handel, to discuss his future. The early signs of Peter’s enthusiasm for the chase had already begun to show and Mr Handel who had a son in Hunt Service recognised it immediately. As Peter said, “he really understood my situation and as a result let me off all my exams”! So it was off to a Brigadier Driver who field mastered for the Cotley to learn the ropes in the stables. After a while the Brigadier tried to sign him up for the Kings Troop but Peter was having none of it, and made it very clear that this was not an option! He knew exactly what he wanted to do and nothing was going to change his mind, that was absolutely certain. As a result, Tony Collins (“no relation, thank God” says Peter), took him under his wing at the Heythrop where the extremely high standards of kennel management that Peter keeps in the Quorn Kennels today, are exactly as those that were drummed into him all those years ago. There was absolutely no doubts that to Tony his hounds were his family, this really left its mark on the young Collins, and is a real pleasure to see all those years later, it is the same with Peter.
After three seasons Peter was to go from one very high class establishment to another, the Fernie. Percy Durno, who had hunted the Heythrop for a number of years and also whipped in to Captain Wallace, put in a word to his son Bruce for Peter and it was here that the Leicestershire bug started to expand in the young Collins’s mind. Bruce, like his father was a wonderful hound man and hunted the Fernie with great skill and dedication, so it was the perfect place to go and further learn the trade. It was then to somewhere completely different, the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray as First Whipper in and Kennel Huntsman to Nigel Peel. Hunting in Sussex was a massive change to both the Heythrop and Fernie countries, it was a place where Peter could amongst others, observe the finer arts of hunting hounds in the big Sussex woodlands. This is another talent to acquire and where patience is the all important ingredient. After going with Mr Peel to the North Cotswold, it was back to the South West to the Seavington and his first job as Huntsman. For the next nine seasons Peter put all the knowledge he had learnt from those early days into practice and showed some tremendous sport in a country which was full of supportive dairy farmers who gave the young Huntsman a great deal of encouragement. It was then back to the Chiddingfold Leconfield and Cowdray for a while before progressing to the Portman. At this time little did he know it, but Peter’s childhood ambition was becoming ever closer and after two seasons with this well known Dorset pack he was off to Leicestershire. The Quorn had been going through an unsettled patch, so it was important for Peter as the new man on the block, to build bridges. After twelve seasons you can see quite clearly is what he has achieved. His popularity within the country and his sense of humour stands out a mile! Like all huntsmen they have to concentrate on the job in hand, as without that the whole operation is doomed to failure. However Peter manages to combine the two rather well and always has a humorous comment ready when you meet him with his hounds flying towards you!
And so to a year in the life of Peter Collins. Peter reckons the start of the following season is the very day after he has blown home on the last. It is important to give the hounds a week off, but more than that he feels is not helpful to them. They are like children and need enough to do every day to keep them satisfied and away from quarrelling. The kennel bicycles are brought out, checked for any faults, such as lose wheels, and a week later the trusty machines are brought back into action. It is a fascinating time for a huntsman as the routine is completely different and his eye will be on next season’s young hounds. These he will be observing closely and giving them all the confidence they need before it is their turn to take up the action. Once they are off couples, which will have taken place during the winter whilst being walked out, they will now have a new freedom. This will be very carefully defined by both Huntsman and Whipper In. It is a freedom that is never discussed it comes entirely naturally to both men as to how far they can let their charges go. Any further can lead to trouble and a quiet reminder may occasionally be necessary. Any reprimand must be done in a manner which will never lead to a young hound losing confidence as. Otherwise all the work a Puppy Walker puts in during their early days is undone instead of being reinforced. Now is the time for Peter and his staff to take some much needed time off. It will have been a hard season as the Quorn will have been out three to four days a week from the end of August until the middle of March. However, whilst holidays have to be taken, kennel routine does not change and this is vital for the happiness and contentment of a pack of hounds wherever they may be. The Quorn are lucky that their kennels are set in ninety acres of land, so during those summer months this gives Peter plenty of room for manoeuvre. The hounds and the kennels are the very hub and centre piece of any Hunt, so for whatever reason a person may hunt it is important to remember that this is the place where it all comes together and makes the day’s hunting possible. It is the heart of the operation and there is no better example than here at Kirby Bellars in the heart of Leicestershire.
As the spring turns to summer there are plenty of duties to perform and these all fit neatly into a huntsman’s year. Whilst bringing on the young hounds that were born in the spring of the previous year more will be being born and needing a great deal of care and attention. This is another part of Peter’s everyday life and one he takes very seriously. Twelve to fifteen couple is the ideal number for the Quorn and whilst in days gone past they hunted a dog pack and a bitch pack, more often nowadays they are mixed as there are not quite the numbers of hounds being bred as there were. The months quickly roll by and during this time Peter Collins, his bicycle and the hounds will be covering much of the Leicestershire countryside in their summer keep fit campaign. Calls to outlying farms will be made as well as to others who possibly are unable to get out and about as much as they would like. They may be to a previous puppy walker or someone else who has been involved in one way or another over the years. It matters not, the pleasure it can give to see the Quorn Hounds in this case on their doorstep is immense and Peter knows this only too well. It is on a visit such as these when a hound suddenly recognises its old walker and decides to leap into their arms, he knows something is working pretty well!
Preparations and practice for the Puppy Show as well as taking his young ones out to walk have to be fitted into Peter’s busy summer schedule. Also included are the hound parades at local shows, the hound shows themselves and most importantly preparing the country for the coming season. Once holidays are taken there is little rest for him and his staff. However all this is undertaken with the greatest of good humour that Peter is well known and respected for. The Puppy Show is a large event for the Quorn and a good opportunity for the locals and those from far and wide to come to the Kennels and cast their eyes over not only the young hounds but the old stagers who have worked so hard over the past seasons. These hounds are fairly orthodox in most of their breeding, however when I tell you there is a considerable influence of French blood as well as some wolf in them, you may be surprised! The fine detail of such an experiment is fascinating to say the least and is well worth delving into.
Hunting the Quorn hounds is a mixture of many different balances. Knowing and trusting your hounds and the horse you are riding is where the golden thread comes into play and it all starts from there. Without it one might as well not bother and become a civil servant or something equally uninteresting! Peter has just the rapport to make it work and I would certainly trust his ability in this direction more than perhaps I would than if he was in local government! With his wife Lorna being Stud Groom, this helps to ensure harmony between stables and kennels and allows Peter to enjoy what he loves most, entering his young hounds and watching them gaining confidence as the season progresses. This is all absorbing, watching them in their second season, seeing them really beginning to excel is his reward for all the work he has put into them. It is at this stage he will be looking at who has potential to use as stallion hounds and which bitches to breed from.
From November 1st the chips are down for Peter and doesn’t he know it. The last two seasons have been an extremely bad scenting and made life tough for both him and his beloved hounds. However, it would seem that with the gift he has of managing to keep the tambourine a rolling with a natural smile on his face and twinkle in his eye, it would seem that Peter manages to ensure all about him are kept rather well amused! This is of course helped by the Quorn Country being made easily crossable by those who take charge of the fencing and covert maintenance throughout the season.
So we have to ask this son of a West Country dairy farmer, who has a passion for fast motorbikes and has achieved his ambition to hunt the Quorn hounds, what advice would he have for those young professionals of today who are keen to achieve their dream. “Keep smiling” he says, and “always raise your hat to whoever he or she may be.” Peter Collins would not have changed anything in his life and and observing him on the hunting field and listening to the enthusiasm that so clearly still exists, my advice to anybody wanting to going into Hunt Service would be to take a leaf out of Peter Collins’s book. With young Joe, Peter’s son coming along and looking as though he may have the same enthusiasm for the chase as his father, there just could be another huntsman of the Quorn in the making here! Watch this space!
Well done Peter and thank you.