Georgie Archer, Young Countryside Writer competition winner and enthusiastic young subscriber to the Golden Valley, was invited by us to be our roving reporter at the Festival of Hunting. Here is Georgie’s account of her day: After an early start and a very long but exciting journey; my mum, my sister (Maddie) and I arrived to an already bustling showground with hound and horse showing already well under way. The traffic had been heavy on the way there, so we were a little later than we would have liked to have been.
We wandered over to the Countryside Alliance stand, timing it badly so that Henrietta (who we were meeting) had just left to have a quick look around. In order to fill some time while we waited for her to return, we set off to have a look at what was going on. To start what was going to be a brilliant day, we sat down in a tent to watch some Harrier, Beagle and Bassett Hound showing. The hounds were beautiful and some rather excited, running after treats thrown by their handlers and being distracted by other hounds, people watching and the other hounds’ treat-bearing handlers. One young lad had a bit of trouble containing his hound’s enthusiasm… The hound wanted everyone else’s treats!
The judges (in exceptionally smart black bowler hats and pinstriped suits) discussed the hounds. In the first class we watched, my initial favourite was the eventual winner! We decided that the judges looked like Thomson and Thompson from TinTin in their hats and suits! After this, we walked around the trade stands, planning where we were going to go later and admiring the antique hunting horns, boots, jackets and much more. We petted some gorgeous rare breed (Sealyham) working terriers who were very enthusiastically greeting all within range from their luxuriously deep straw bed.
Mum, Maddie and I then returned to meet Henrietta, who warmly welcomed us and took us through the schedule to see what we wanted to do for the next few hours. We arranged to meet up again at 14:30, when we would be taken to watch some of the indoor foxhound showing, before leaving once more to explore the show ground. We headed for the inter-hunt, where the senior teams had just started to battle it out for first place. It was all very exciting, and although we were generally only cheering on the team on our side of the arena, it was great fun to watch all teams. Many people on the side lines got extremely competitive! Being around horses and taking pictures are two of my favourite activities, so I was happy. Some of the Inter hunt riders hadn’t been riding for very long at all, so they all did an amazing job! While we were watching, only one person fell off, so despite the hectic nature of the event it was quite safe and controlled.
It was then time for some shopping, and despite the hunting theme, there were a variety of shops to browse through. I bought a new belt (the ‘Polo’ style), mum bought a few birthday presents (including a wine-tasting experience) and Maddie bought some presents for her friends and herself. There were some extremely beautiful and incredibly expensive items for sale: soft leather boots; antique whips, top hats, jackets, buttons and horns; off-road mobility scooters; cushions and purses; made-to-measure breeches and coats; hunting-themed ceramic toilet lids (which I must admit, despite being more interesting than a plain white one, I probably wouldn’t ever buy…); as well as furs, books and alcohol – the list is endless.
After our unique shopping experience, we sat down to rest our sore, tired feet, watching some more Harrier showing. I, again, took many pictures of the magnificent creatures. We then met up with Henrietta and were introduced to Tim (the director of campaigns). Tim and Henrietta took us into the indoor hound showing of the more ‘modern’ English foxhounds, bigger and with some Welsh blood in them. On the way we passed the Old English Hounds and their smart handlers in their thick hunting coats, designed for freezing winter temperatures and conditions – they must’ve been boiling in the hot, humid weather we were all experiencing that day. Many had lots of rosettes on their arms: spoils from previous classes.
Once inside, Tim explained to us what was going on. When we went in, a class for unentered bitches, who hadn’t won anything before, was going on. He pointed out each hunt, which normally does well and why one wears a stirrup leather – The Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt staff wear a stirrup leather because once, many years ago, their master’s stirrup broke on a promising chase. He had to stop, so to ensure it doesn’t happen again, they wear a spare stirrup. This actually was the answer to a competition which we found later, to name the hunt in the picture, so we all entered! It was all really interesting, so I took lots of pictures and enjoyed the atmosphere and events. Tim then left us, but we continued to watch until we could bear the heat no longer. We had thought it was hot outside, but when we stepped back outside it was like a fridge in comparison to the temperature inside the tent. Many hounds, after being shown or during the ‘process of elimination,’ had to be carried out – they would have quite happily stayed in the ring, soaking up the attention and stealing other hounds’ treats.
We left Henrietta in the CA tent once more and set off to watch (and take pictures of!) something else, which turned out to be the Junior, but still as competitive and exciting, inter-hunt relay. We then watched the start of the Working Heavy horse show, including the one Working Farm Horse entrant (a traditional pair of Suffolk Punches in tandem pulling a perfectly maintained farm cart). A pair of Shires and three pairs of Percherons completed the show, providing the audience with a wonderful show. But then the time came; we had to leave – we had a long journey home and didn’t want to arrive too late. We said our goodbyes to the CA team (after tracking down Henrietta to say goodbye and thank you) and set off back through the show ground, past rows of tents being taken down. It was much quieter now; most rings were deserted, so it was time to go anyway. We had had a brilliant day and had learned lots about hound showing and traditions as well as much more.
I thank the Countryside Alliance for getting my family and I tickets!