Notes on...

The sheer joy of hunting

It’s the simple pleasure of being out in the field, watching the hounds do what they do best, and discovering the pure beauty of the sport

17 January 2015

9:00 AM

17 January 2015

9:00 AM

This time three years ago, I hadn’t jumped a single thing for almost ten years. This season, I am happily jumping hedges that my horse and I can’t even see over the top of. Crazy? Most likely. But when the adrenaline is pumping, and an inviting-looking hedge is looming directly in front of you — well, what’s a girl to do?

The sheer joy of hunting comes from far more than just dressing up in a smart coat and shiny boots and drinking port. It’s the simple pleasure of being out in the field, watching the hounds do what they do best, and enjoying the pure beauty of the sport. One of my favourite memories this season is of watching the hounds work through a field of leeks, the only sign that they were there being the little puffs of mist above the crop, and the odd head briefly popping up to double-check its whereabouts.

It’s the thrill of clearing a 5 ft hedge without thinking twice (just kick on, find a nice-looking gap and pray, is my technique). ‘How brave,’ people say, looking at the photographs. ‘I could never do that.’ Well, I never thought I could, either. There may be photographic proof, but my memory has erased the details of the whole fearsome jump, a bit like it used to do with those shocking exam papers I knew I had failed. It’s about jumping our way across David Cameron’s constituency; discovering D-day training sites scattered with replicas of Normandy’s Atlantic Wall, and the true location of James Bond’s Skyfall (sadly, in the film it’s Surrey rather than a remote Highland glen). Those are the little things that make a day perfect.

To a certain extent it’s just the rush of it all, and I probably am an adrenaline junkie of the worst kind. Galloping across country at high speeds may not be the most sensible thing to do, but somehow all thoughts of sanity disappear when the field master takes off. The feeling of being at one with the horse; an animal that, however good a hunter it may be, never leaves you quite sure what it might do next, is one that simply can’t be matched. Why would I put my life into the hands of an immature, six-year-old Irish gelding? There’s only one answer: I must be mad.

I only hunted once before the ban on foxhunting came into force. My father, being the kind of person that he is, decided that if Blair’s hunting legislation was going to be enacted, the least we could do was lend some support. So off we went on a pair of hirelings; me aboard a tiny Exmoor pony, and him on something that should really have been pulling a brewer’s dray. Today, I’m out hunting every weekend, and any other day that I possibly can — and I’m far from the only one. Since the ban came into place, ten years ago on 18 February, the number of people who hunt regularly has grown to around 45,000 — an increase of 5,000 over the past ten years. And if their experience is anything like mine, who can blame them?

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  • Elspeth Carr

    I second all of the above. Having moved to the countryside when I took early retirement three years ago, I started going out with our local hunt on the borders of Wales. Not the most fashionable of hunts, but wow, do we have some fun. I used to event quite seriously in my younger days, but the need to be responsible in middle age meant that I had confined myself to dressage in recent years. Now I am back, jumping huge hedges and doing things I wouldn’t have ever imagined, on a lovely big young horse. The camaraderie and sheer friendliness of our hunt is a joy and getting myself ready to go hunting, often twice a week, gets me through the winter. I love it.

    • Jack

      The problem with hunting isn’t that it isn’t fun, so I don’t really care whether you enjoy it or not. I suppose it is the folly of the nouveau-riche to assume that people are interested in what they do for fun. I do however care that you get your jollies from watching 20 dogs chase what is essentially a smaller dog and then ripping it to pieces. It takes a very particular type of insecurity to indulge in unashamed bullying. Just before people characterise me by the way, I have no problem with hunting for food. I eat plenty of meat. I just think there is something pathetically self-serving, weak, and sh*thousey, about Fox hunting in particular.

      I bet you try your best to fit “tosh” into your response to this post. I bet you leave your tag on after you’ve been to the races. Such is the predictable nature of this kind of person; “oh, status, wherefore art thou?”

      • Elspeth Carr

        Such a funny response, the idea that I would be any sort of “riche”, nouveau or otherwise! If only you knew how broke I am most of the time. I have never actually seen a fox being caught, never mind ripped to pieces. In case it passed you by, hunting wild animals with hounds was banned ten years ago. We take part in trail hunting, which actually is good fun. The rest of your response was rather incomprehensible to me, sadly. Am watching the racing on telly…does that count?

        • George Holliday

          Just because you haven’t seen it happen doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

          There is plenty of video evidence showing there are hunts that flout the law and many openly admit to doing so.

          You can enjoy all those things without the unnecessary killing. What you’ve just described does not seem to argue for the repeal of the act, because riding out in the countryside with your hounds and horses is perfectly legal and understandably fun. Its just the killing part that people object to.

          • balance_and_reason

            whats your position on small children and babies getting mauled by foxes….

          • And what is your position on Kosher and Halal slaughter?!

      • Ed  

        Nerve touched, I see.

        • Jack

          Why? Absolutely irrelevant comment mind, but I’m curious as to where you get that idea from? Because I don’t like fox hunting, or because I think bullies are the way they are because of deep insecurity? Don’t need to be personally outraged to think that.

          • Ed  

            She’s enjoying something that’s perfectly fine, unless you’re actually a vegetarian, and you’re unhappy with that. There are many who dislike others’ happiness; puritanism is still alive and well, even if it’s wearing a green hairshirt.

          • Jack

            Why is it perfectly fine unless you’re a vegetarian? Seems a pretty baseless thing to say. It takes a fair bit of stupidity to confuse disliking an act with disliking happiness in general.

          • Ed  

            Not sure I agree with you. We’ve already established that you’re not a vegetarian. This means that you’re fine, as am I, with the level of animal welfare in industrial ranching settings. The welfare of the free range English fox exceeds this (unless you have issues with the nasty and brutish form of the state of nature, which I don’t). Therefore, your objection is not on grounds of cruelty. What then are your grounds? In many such cases, the ground is simply envy, even if it’s not phrased this way.

          • Jack

            Being an omnivore does not mean that I am fine with industrial ranching settings. Quite a leap of logic there. I’ll try and make the distinction clear. A vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat any meat. If I am not a vege, that doesn’t mean I like to scoff 10-a-penny chicken thighs from Tesco. Simple enough. Farming also doesn’t wash as a point of comparison as fox hunting is for a very different end than farming. My objection is on the grounds of cruelty, and it is not contradictory for me to eat meat.

            The life welfare may be excellent; free to run about as they see fit, but the way they are killed is pretty horrendous. All the more so because it is just to fill up someone’s Saturday afternoon. Not for food (a key differentiator from farming; highly relevant here), not to protect their chickens, but because they enjoy mob bullying and because they can’t think of anything better to do.

            Envy of what?

          • Ed  

            Envy of the wealth and lifestyle. Horses ain’t cheap. I prefer the American approach, where rather than envying the lifestyles of the rich and famous, many aspire to them. Seems less petty to me.

            While I will agree with you that I don’t eat fox, we can argue necessity both ways. The argument is made that foxes are a vermin nuisance animal, which must be controlled with or without the hunt.

            The (few) foxes that are caught are dispatched quickly enough. The scene is no more or less gory than your average butchery.

            So, neither cruel nor unnecessary.

          • Jack

            Oh how delightfully conceited of you. Yes, your analysis is spot on. If only I could afford the roughly £3,000-8,000 per year that it costs to keep a horse. That is of course to overlook the whopping cost of a thoroughbred 6y/o; a gargantuan £6,000. If only I belonged to that upper-stratosphere; there but for the grace of God go I, hey?

            The argument for them being a nuisance doesn’t really stand up. Why not crucify them then, if there is indeed no difference between any two different methods of execution. Furthermore, their main diet is rabbit. A study found that they could save the crop farming industry £7 million per year. Could be falsifiable, but it is certainly not clear cut.

            That it is no less cruel is simply untrue; a cursory glance at the evidence can tell you otherwise.

            I will not aspire to be someone who supplants good character with dressing up like someone in a Francis Turner painting, hoping that doing so makes them a jolly-fine chap as well. It doesn’t.

          • Ed  

            It’s vermin. Calm down. I’m not worried about it. You shouldn’t either. There are more important things.

          • Jack

            I’m perfectly calm, thank you. Please do not mistake my level of anger with whatever voice you chose to read the above comment in. I can read “nerve touched” with you sobbing, doesn’t mean you’re upset does it? How weak.

            Do you reserve all conversation for only the most important things in life? Must be great to work with you: “Did you watch the match?”, “The match? Do you have any idea how many people die of hunger every day man?!”

          • Ed  

            The point is, you’re expending a great amount of psychic energy on something less important than the match, and, protestations to the contrary, you do give every indication of being enervated by it, like the red-faced, puffing fellow who exclaims “I’m perfectly fit”. Leaving aside class and wealth considerations, there don’t appear to be any valid objections here. Let’s move on. Tootles.

          • Jack

            I hadn’t realised that this was a particularly taxing discussion for you. You should have said; we could have stopped for a break. I am quite calm however; my thoughts about a person’s insecurities, if that is what you are referring to, are pretty detached. You don’t have to be angry to understand that bullies are generally pretty insecure people. You also don’t have to be angry about something to speak about it at length, nor to disagree with it.

            Well, simply saying they aren’t valid will hardly convince me that they aren’t. So, if a few hundred words is more than you can muster on such an unimportant topic, I suppose that is the end of it.

  • Tim Gilling

    Attagirl. I think the sheer beauty of it is what gets to me. The horses, the hounds, the country, the clothes. It produces a unique joy and sense of connection – with other species, with the countryside. Nothing else comes close.

    (I was always taught to head for the thickest part of a hedge as you’re less likely to hit wire or end up in the blind side ditch.)

    • dalai guevara


      • Grace Ironwood

        When I die, the best times, most beautiful times in my life I”ll remember will be foxhunting when a teenager. Foxhunting is a glorious tradition, hunting historically preserved the land.
        It’s not primarily about killing.

        And do please note: foxes are not sweet little doggies like your shits-tzu. They are crazed mass head-rippers & live disembowellers of any animal more vulnerable than themselves.

        You should look at their handiwork before you judge the hunters.

        The electorate is now made up of suburban stuffed animal cuddlers, brought up on “nature documentaries”, where the animals have names. The only contact with “nature” faked and mediated through their screens.
        The anonymous lumps of meat you eat, Guevera, die in a slow agony at the hands of savage, halal-certified butchers.
        Why not protest these much worse, unnecessary abuses of your furry friends that happen in their millions?

        You should look at their handiwork before condemning the hunters.

        It’s alright, we all know why you don’t.

        • SalmondFishing

          Hunting still is about preserving the land. It never was not about not preserving the land. Preserving the land does not require fox hunting carried out by hounds. Fox hunting carried out by hounds isn’t hunting, it’s a joke that has now been rendered ad absurdum by being a meaningless procedure without cause.

        • dalai guevara

          You understand nothing and are shallow minded full of halal crazed bigotry. Who on earth would have upvoted your dire tirade which is clearly nothing more than the last nail in the coffin of those supporting the foxhound bunch, is beyond me.
          I have been on *real* hunts many times, lass. Preserving and protecting the countryside does not require dressing up like a ponce in red. People like you have no idea what ‘nature’ is.

  • Katherine McGrail

    What a lovely looking pony in the middle 😉 x

    • harter

      what a load of sick fucks

    • Rifleman1853

      Agreed; New Forest, do you think? Got the slim build, and that face doesn’t look Welsh.

  • Well written and a cracking read, this is my wife’s first season riding a Rare section one ‘Dales Pony’, she is absolutely loving it and the friendship and support from everyone has been first rate, I take photo’s at as many events as I can attend and share these wonderful moments to all who are involved, one of the the Braes of Derwent ‘Old English’ hounds has just birthed 9, 6 dogs and 3 bitch’s, everybody should try a day……….

    • Grace Ironwood

      I remember well my black dales x thoroughbred hunting pony. He was a monster ! What a beautiful animal, what a courageous character !

  • Rifleman1853

    Growing old disgracefully – nothing like it, is there?

    Or perhaps I should say:

    “Old enough to know better – but still young enough to do it anyway; the perfect age!”

  • wudyermucuss

    Ah yes,chasing down one terrified exhausted animal before ripping it to shreds with a pack of dogs,horses and people.
    Such joy.
    And afterwards,relax with your favourite bull”fighting” video.

    And I’ve lived in the country and seen the way you thugs behave.

    Get lost,go on,do one.

    • Jack

      Just a bunch of people with some serious problems with insecurity. It is nothing more than organised bullying, and they should be treated much like bullies; with contempt. I imagine many do actually have an ethical problem with it, but they like the warm fuzzy glow of belonging to ‘the horsey set’ more; I assume because they were neglected as kids. Is it a boarding school sickness, perhaps?

      • Jblogg

        Odd so many antihunting posts on the Spectator website. As stated above hunting foxes was banned 10 years ago and we hunt the trail now. It is actually quite hard work to get a clean plaited horse and rider to the meet on time especially with a couple of teenagers too and I always have second thoughts at 6.30am on a Saturday morning when I get up to feed the horses after a long week’s work. However later when the huntsman is blowing and the hounds speaking and the hairs go up on the back of your neck and you are galloping several abreast over the grass, jumping hedges and seeing your daughters’ faces covered in mud and terrified but thrilled and proud, you know that it is worth it and is why you do it. Since the ban, hunting has become more popular than ever and we must have had nearly 100 mounted followers last time I was out. Camilla, carry on and spread the message.

        • TNT

          “Odd so many antihunting posts on the Spectator website.”

          The world grew up and got a conscience?

          • Peter Stroud

            Yep, that is why there are more people out hunting than ever before.

          • TNT

            Come now. Popularity doesn’t equal rightness. There is a quirky Britishness and nostalgic glow around things like foxhunting. I’m all for quirky Britishness and nostalgia, but the bloodlust can be omitted.

          • ExiledOnMainStreet

            Is it true that hunting gray squirrels has become popular in Britain and they are now eaten over there? I once tried to convince a New Yorker that squirrels (properly prepared, like all game meats) are quite tasty; he was surprised that someone who hadn’t grown up in Bumpkinville, Tennessee would think so. Yet that same man loved to eat venison, pheasant and rabbit.

          • GeeBee36_6


        • GeeBee36_6

          Ah – what you appear never to have learned is that the antis actually want us to be cruel. It gives them something to hate, you see, and without their hate – coupled, of course, with their predilection for bullying and regarding themselves as morally superior – they’d be nothing. They are just like all Puritans: self-righteous hypocrites.

          The hunting ban was a disaster for them, so now they just continue as if it had never happened (rather like we do: Sshhhh!!)

    • Ed  

      Heaven forbid others enjoy themselves. We must put a stop to it!

      • wudyermucuss

        Most people don’t need to rip an animal to shreds to get their jollies.
        If you really must satisfy your bloodlust,at least try and do it with a modicum of honour.

        • Ed  

          The fox had a sporting chance, which is more than the bacon you had for breakfast did.

          • wudyermucuss

            50 dogs,20 horses,30 people,1 fox.

            Not sport,barbarism.

            The majority know how you thugs behave.

          • Ed  

            Thugs? No, we’re the ones who put a stop to Thuggee. So you have that backwards

            And yes, it’s sporting.

            Are you a vegetarian?

    • balance_and_reason

      moron….foxes like shredding anything they get their teeth into…they will do the whole chicken coup and leave the meat to rot….go back to your little suburban bourgeois backwater…eat your packaged ham sandwich and f.o. on your package holiday….when I need some half wit urban warrior to tell me how to run my life, I’ll ask……and for the record, the actual hunting of foxes was banned a few years ago …they are mostly hunting a laid trail now…stop claiming benefits, do a job, pay some tax and at least stop being a dead weight on society in general.

  • Richard

    The writer is scum, sub human scum.

    • Peter Stroud

      How utterly unintelligent you are.

    • GeeBee36_6

      Of course she is. Now it’s time for your medication, or you’ll be doing that awful self-harm stuff again…

    • Ed  

      Ah, thanks to that deeply thought through comment, my opinion has been entirely changed. You’ve convinced me to see the light! Bravo. (golf clap)

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    For women in particular, hunting with hounds is like smoking: You turn off a lot of potential punters.

    • Ed  

      She’s just not that into you.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        That’s fortunate, because I’m just not into white women.

    • Jack, Japan Alps, giving relationship advice on the Internet, for free, from Japan, since the year 2004.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Ms. Swift would appear to be about as popular as David Irving at a Holocaust survivors’ reunion.

    • Are you one of those hired foreign help that those hunt sabs hire from the UAF/SWP these days?!

  • balance_and_reason

    nm foxes….get a piece of these bad boys….now thats what I call hunting.

  • Julie Gray

    I agree with Jack. Not only about the poor fox but the dogs and horses are slaughtered when no longer needed. These people remind me of the film deliverance as they are mindless of what is right.

  • Michael Richards

    Sick stuff. Hunting is just a euphemism for killing. Sick stuff.