Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
The hound show season is drawing to a close as hunts start to prepare for the new season. There has been a clear trend of strong entries and good crowds from the South of England Hound Show at Ardingly through to The West of England at Honiton yesterday. In particular the Lycetts Festival of Hunting at Peterborough has grown into a wonderful annual celebration of hunting and hounds of all types. The most important class of the summer, however, was undoubtedly the young handlers class at Honiton yesterday. A dozen or so youngsters from across the South West were judged by a slightly older trio of retired huntsmen. It was wonderful to see Alice Herniman of the Tiverton Staghounds take home the cup and a beautiful hunting horn which I am sure she will use to hunt her own pack of hounds one day.
No one looking at any of the hounds shown through the season could fail to be struck by the health, athleticism and vigour of working hounds. The contrast with some breeds of pedigree dogs which have been bred to exaggerate conformational features, rather than fulfil a working role, is stark. You only have to compare a working beagle or basset with their show ring counterparts to see the huge benefits of consistent breeding for a working role.
A recent Veterinary Symposium run by the Masters of Foxhounds Association and Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles which brought vets and hound experts from around the country to discuss the latest developments in veterinary care for hounds, would undoubtedly also have informed veterinary approaches to domestic dogs.
Keeping dogs in packs is increasingly rare. Hunt kennels are one of the few places where large numbers of dogs exist in groups close in form to the natural social structures of the wolves from which all dogs are descended. The management of packs of hounds is obviously a very different challenge to keeping domestic dogs, or even working dogs like gundogs or sheepdogs in a non-pack environment, and the hunting associations have an increasing focus on training, best practice and standards in kennels. I am always struck by the incredible commitment to hounds and their welfare which is so obvious in hunt kennels from the most modest of the fell packs to the grand establishments of the shires. For most of us our love of hunting starts with our love of hounds. They are the best advocates there could possibly be for hunting, as is so obvious every time they are paraded at a show, and a living history of the countryside with pedigrees stretching back for generations.
As this summer has shown hunting has a bright future. It may not look the same in ten years time as it did ten years ago, but then hunting has always changed in response to our ever changing countryside. Our job is to pass on hunting in a state that guarantees the future of our hounds by ensuring the highest possible standards, and an infrastructure of hunts in which hounds can continue to carry out the roles they have been bred to fulfil for centuries.
Follow me at @CA_TimB