The Festival of Hunting, held annually at the East of England Showground around the middle of July, is the only venue where hunting Basset hounds are shown in formal classes. This year the show is on Wednesday, July 16th and the Basset hound classes are, as usual, held under the auspices of the Masters of Basset Hounds Association and the classes are open to all its member packs.
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The Masters of Basset Hounds Association (MBHA) is the smallest of the hunting associations. There are currently seven member packs in the UK, with a further two affiliated packs in the USA. An additional new pack has recently joined and will commence hunting, within the law, during the coming season. Most member packs bring hounds to exhibit at the show. It is the only time we all get together and the only occasion when the Masters get to see each other’s hounds in the same place and on the same day. This year will be the 72nd show since the MBHA was formed just over a hundred years ago. There has been an annual show each year since its foundation, apart from the years during and shortly after the two World Wars.
A lot of work goes into preparing and showing the hounds. Years ago this was usually done by the professional huntsman of each pack, but we now have only one pack who is so blessed and, having personally prepared hounds for showing in days gone by, I know how much time and effort is involved in getting hounds ready.
The hunting Basset hound is not an easy hound to judge. To begin with, we have no actual breed standard and the hunting Basset covers quite a wide genotype. This is because of the out-crossing done historically to obtain a more active hound for the hunting field by creating what became known as the English Basset. The aim was to produce a working hound that was capable of hunting two days a week, without being encumbered by the “Queen Anne” legs – so it was a hound much more straight in front and without the “stuffiness” and the “lumber” associated with the original French or “Hush Puppy” type. The MBHA has always believed it is up to each Master to breed the type of hound considered best for their own type of hunting country. Consequently, as you can imagine, there is some variation in the show ring and the judges can have quite a task.
We usually like to invite one judge with considerable experience of the hunting Basset with a co-judge who has the reputation of being an experienced general hound man – be it Foxhounds, Beagles or Harriers. Guidelines are produced for the judges but these can often, of necessity, appear so imprecise that the judges tend to follow the procedure of eliminating those hounds in a class which they consider to have any faults and then putting those remaining in the order they might like to take home!
The annual show is no longer quite the garden party it once was in the old days. It is sometimes more like an exhibition than a contest, but the occasion provides an opportunity for Masters to see each other’s hounds and exchange breeding ideas. Nevertheless, the competition can be quite fierce and not everybody will go home happy!
“Peterborough” marks the turning of the year in many ways. After it is over, we begin to look forward to the start of the new season. Whatever happens at the show, all of us, whether we are exhibitors or spectators, should remember that showing is a very pleasant way of spending a summer’s day, but it is nothing to compare with what the hounds were really bred for.