HORSE AND HOUND COLUMN
It should be fun. That’s with hunting and with racing too. On Saturday Marcus Armytage and I both took our sons hunting with the Old Berks as a break from their school work. 7 year old “Arty” Armytage had been out before but Jim Scott hadn’t. Which is a pity as he is already 33.
Unsurprisingly Jim is not at Arty’s Uffington Primary but on a stint at the Defence Academy, Shrivenham, and he was riding a galumphing 17.2 giant called Shiloh not a 12.2 grey “whizzer” called Ben. But they were both enjoying it. In truth there wasn’t much in the hunting department on Saturday as assorted trails took us from Compton Beauchamp in the Vale up to the wind and rain on the Ridgeway just to the west of Uffington Castle, that old Iron Age hill fort above White Horse Hill or, in racing parlance, next to Henry Candy’s gallops. Yet spending almost five hours in the saddle with more than a hundred other mounted followers was a living reminder of how much fun even these “bad days” can give.
To see ourselves as others see us is no bad thing. Jim may have missed out on hunting up till now but he has not been without sporting and military experience having played at Twickenham and served in Iraq and Afghanistan in some pretty hairy situations. Here he was five weeks into Clare Chamberlayne’s riding lessons at the Shrivenham Saddle Club quite unable to keep a smile off his face as the mighty Shiloh rumbled along underneath him. And on Saturday he never had the chance to leave the ground. He can be assured that the best is yet to come.
None of us should underestimate the central thrill at the heart of the riding and the racing game and those two big Cheltenham hopes Sprinter Sacre and Long Run had reinforced the lesson at Newbury on the Friday. Sprinter Sacre may still be a novice but he crosses a fence with such a monstrous mixture of spring and control that it’s not madly over fanciful to think that he might develop into a jumper of almost Tingle Creek excitement. With Long Run’s much more workmanlike victory it was not only his improved jumping that lifted the spirits but the obvious relish which Sam Waley Cohen went about proving his critics wrong.
It would have been easy for Sam to have got into a public spat with his media and chat room critics but to his great credit he has pressed on regardless never pretending that he is anything but a highly committed amateur who knows the riding responsibilities of living his dream have to be matched with the growing demands of running his business. He has already, with last year’s King George VI and Gold Cup double followed by Oscar Whisky’s Grand National second, done what no amateur has ever done before. Listening to him and to ultra professional Barry Geraghty after his own master class on Sprinter Sacre, you could warm your hands on the sheer pleasure that their rides had given. It was as it should be.
But on Saturday one thing wasn’t. Whilst almost everybody else including all the children wore the approved helmets which are compulsory in all cross country events, the master and hunt servants continued the “flat earth” tradition of wearing the old style hunting caps. I am very happy with most hunting traditions, my father, grandfather and uncle were all MFH, but time has surely run out on this one. Or do we really have to wait to have a hunt bankrupted by a massive insurance claim from some head-fractured hunt servant suing on the hard-to-answer grounds of not being equipped with sensible safety equipment?
I first wrote about this in the Sunday Times, heaven help me, way back in January 1982 with a picture of my then 7 year old daughter and a first line, which must still apply to hunt servants today, of “is her head worth protecting?” The conclusion then and now is that to not wear the approved helmet is either ignorance or vanity. After all this time it can’t be ignorance and vanity can demand a very high price. That’s no fun at all.