Monday, October 28, 2013
After the fall of the leave to the last frost—that is the traditional foxhunting season, when the fields lie fallow. What we otherwise think of as November to March. However, cub hunting (when young hounds were trained with drag hunts, might begin as early as October, depending on the weather and the keeness of the hunter.
In England, the record of the oldest foxhunt dates back to mid 1600's and the second Duke of Buckingham, who hunted the Bilsdale pack in Yorkshire dales.
Each hunt is composed of a Master—usually the man who owns the hounds. The Master may employ "whipper-ins" to help keep the hounds together. Hunting is informal in the 1700s—anyone can join in to follow the hounds (as in that wonderful scene from the movie, Tom Jones, when the Squire cannot resist the call of the huntsmen's horns). Those horns are actually signals to the other huntsmen and the pack as to where the fox is headed.
The Duke of Bedford's hounds hunted actually stags until 1770's. But by 1780's fox hunting took over in popularity. Enclosure Acts and reduction of forests mean less stag hunting. And hare hunting was generally regarded as more a necessity of country life.
Hunt territories varied widely. The fifth Earl of Berkely hunted an area from Berkley Castle to Berkley Square, stretching 120 miles. Most hounds were kept by rich individuals, and they often invited local farmers to hunt with them, for very often you depended on the locals allowing your hunt access over their farms—there's still no way to predict which way a fox will run.
By 1810, there were only 24 subscription packs—or packs that you could pay to belong to and hunt, as opposed to requiring an invitation from the Master. But this would double, so that by the mid 1800's hunting became a more a matter of 'subscribing' in exchange for the right to hunt with the pack.
The golden age for hunting in Leichesterchire is 1810 - 1830. This starts off with Hugo Meynell, who hunted his foxhounds from Quorn Hall in Leicstershire from 1753 to 1800. His record run was 28 miles in 2 hours 15 minutes.
During this time, there's as many as 300 hunters stabled in Melton Mowbray--with some gentlemen keeping up to 12 hunters. You could hunt 6 days a week with the still famous packs—the Quorn, the Cottesmore, the Belvoir, the Pytchley. Lord Sefton, Master of the Quorn from 1800-02, went through 3 horses a day—which is why you might need a dozen horses.
Ptychey's record run was in 1802, when the pack covered 35 - 40 miles in 4 ¼ hours. With horse medicine being about the same as for people—horses were bled after a long, tiring day. So the life of a hunter could be a short, hard one. In Warwickshire, a hunter might fetch 200 - 500 guineas. But in Leichestershire, a hunter could cost up to 800 guineas.
Wellington's officers took to hunting in their regimental scarlet coats. These started to be called hunting pink (the story goes that this was after the tailor Mr. Pink, but there's no evidence this is true). Each hunt, however, has its own colors—a color of leather boot tops, coat color and collar color and even button design. It's said that Brummell never hunted past the first field, for he hated to get his white-leather boot tops muddied.
Ladies were also found in the field. Mrs. Tuner Farley hunted for 50 years. Lady Salisbury was master of the Hatfield Hunt from 1775 - 1819. She hunted old and blind, in her sky blue habit, with a groom leading her horse and yelling at her to, "Jump, damn you, my lady." From 1788 to 1840, Lord Darlington hunted his own hounds 4 days a week in Yorkshire and Durham, with his 3 daughters and his second wife, all in their scarlet habits.
But between late 1700's to about mid 1800's, when the jumping pommel was invented for the side saddle, ladies were more the exception than the rule, and they were more likely to be advised to "ride to the meet and home again to work up an appetite."
Traditionally, each hunt always has a designated meeting place—a gate, or an inn, or even a house. You meet, the hunt cup is taken—folks drink to stave off the cold. You might meet around 11 and hunt all day—or until it's dark. Bad weather does not stop hunting--wet weather means the scent will be high (so long as it's not pouring). Ice can be dangerous—that's when you get broken necks and legs.
A hunt really is lots of standing around. Galloping to and fro. Trotting from cover to cover, hoping to draw a fox. Some hunts kept tame foxes they could let go if the day's sport proved too slow. Some areas had to curtail their hunting to allow the fox population to come back.
Hunting was always viewed as a sport for everyone, but the reality was that it cost money to keep a pack of hounds and hunt them. However, anyone could take a horse and follow, if the master allowed it, and some followed the hunt in their carriages.