This article first appeared in the Autumn 2020 issue of My Countryside magazine.
Polly Portwin chooses the two hunting essentials - one old favourite, the other new - she can't be without.
Unlike a huntsman who may have a favourite hunting horn, or a hardcore hip-flask enthusiast who has a vessel that can be strapped to their saddle and take a litre of their favourite exotic bramble-infused gin concoction, I travel relatively lightly on a hunting day. My three essential items of a hunting whip, a mobile phone and a pair of wire cutters* always accompany me; however, my two favourite bits of hunting kit are perhaps unremarkable to many and have been pretty much exactly the same for as long as I can remember.
*Please note: wire cutters should only be carried by Masters, hunt staff or others who have had specific permission to do so.
After years of maintaining that my perfectly functional but old saddles - many of which were of the highly practical and easy-to-wash synthetic but authentic-leather looking variety - I was persuaded to invest in a decent saddle that would be comfortable as well as utilitarian.
I've always ridden with incredibly short stirrups, with my feet, at times, barely reaching below the bottom of the saddle flap. As a result, when using virtually any saddle, unless I wear gigantic adhesive dressings on the insides of my knees, I end up with raw friction sores on them from effectively rubbing on the front of the knee rolls. So, after much deliberation and settling on a specific type of saddle, a second-hand double flap Butet jumping saddle was acquired from Sederholm's, which, even though it had already been well worn-in, still cost more than many of my best hunters. On the plus side, I now save a fortune on wound dressings, am completely converted and can't imagine a long day in any other saddle so will have to ensure any future horses I buy are of a certain stamp in the hope the saddle fits them as well as it has so many of my others!
Being superstitious, nothing new is ever worn or used for the first time out hunting. That even applies to hairnets which have to be worn out hacking - and preferably jumped a fence or two - before they can be worn to follow hounds. For that reason, I tend to utilise my kit until it's in need of repair or replacement, with a preference for the more traditional items.
Fingerless string gloves, from the Hunting Stock Market are indispensable, and not just for those who need to use their phones while mounted - only in an absolute emergency, of course. Anybody who has ever dropped a glove in a muddy gateway when trying to fumble with a hunt padlock would appreciate them too because they don't even need to be removed to ensure maximum dexterity. I wouldn't be without them, although I know that it's about time for me to start wearing in a new pair so they are no longer "new" for when they're next needed.