I must confess that I’ve plagiarised an article written by my good friend Rory Knight-Bruce. But as we are in it perhaps he won’t mind!
To many, and this includes those who ‘hunt to ride’, they ‘ain’t nothing but a hound-dog’, a friendly face at the meet and then a pack in the distance, their presence only occasionally acknowledged by the huntsman’s cheer and horn. To the hound purists, however, they are the very foundation of the hunt, both on and off the hunting field, and no one, save the huntsman, his Masters and staff, take more pride in them than their puppy walkers.
Like the hounds themselves, puppy walkers come in all ages and from all backgrounds. Some have done it on their farms for generations, others, wishing to show more commitment to their hunting, have brought them home perhaps as a companion to young children.
‘The best fun ever’
Traditionally, puppies go out to walk at 10 weeks old in midsummer and stay with their families for anything from four to six months. “They get a massive variety of experience, like a child going to nursery school,” says Daniel Cherriman, Pytchley huntsman for the past 10 seasons and due to become Joint Master and huntsman of the South Shropshire this month. Cherriman had 20 puppy walkers at the Pytchley. “Good puppy walks do not necessarily make good hunting hounds, and the walkers accept that. What their immense contribution is, is to give the puppies a rounded education, to be steady on all manner of farm animals that might come their way.”
For many puppy walkers, the tradition is handed down the generations. But for schoolmaster Chris Pattison-Dick and his partner, Sue Brace, it is a relatively new experience. He is chairman of the Cresselly hunt in Pembrokeshire, which has been in the family of Joint Master Hugh Harrison-Allen since 1789.
“We rented some ground off Hugh and I think one of the unspoken conditions was that we would walk hound puppies,” says Pattison-Dick. “They certainly get to see other animals as on our smallholding we keep sheep, goats, chickens, geese, ponies and donkeys.” He also has a schoolmaster’s eye for well-being. “We feed chicken which are donated to the kennels and we have seen how their coat condition has blossomed dramatically,” he says.
So the consensus amongst puppy walkers seems to be that feed of a mixture of biscuits and flesh is desirable, regular exercise, company and routine. Their reward is that totemic occasion of the summer, the Puppy Show. “We would regularly have 150 come to a marquee on the lawn,” says Hugh Harrison-Allen. “It is a way of thanking the farmers and friends but, most importantly, the puppy walkers.”
“We haven’t won a cup yet,” says Chris Pattison-Dick, not at all downhearted. “I think we might have done with our couple in 2020, but sadly it was cancelled.” Since then they swept the board at last year’s Puppy Show winning nearly every prize!
No one knows this better than Captain Ian Farquhar, who hunted both the Bicester and four-day-a-week Duke of Beaufort’s hounds from 1973 until 2018. In his study is a framed, anonymous poem, which brings home the importance of the hound to the huntsman, the Masters, puppy walkers and anyone wishing to have a greater understanding of and commitment to hunting:
Who mourns the soul of a hound when he dies?
Who even knows that he’s gone?
The Master, the huntsman, they miss him perhaps,
And the farm where his walking was done.
When I rang Farquhar to talk about puppy walking, he recited to me the whole poem by heart. “Community and the hound are two great things about the countryside,” he told me. “And the puppy walkers stand at the very heart of both.”
Not only are we lucky enough to have an army of noble puppy walkers but we are so fortunate to some of our bitched whelped away from the kennels. Keith Goldsworthy, an extremely successful breeder of whippets, kindly had a bitch to whelp and these puppies are now 3 weeks old and bouncing. (I pity poor Jack, the huntsman, to tell them apart as thy are all snow white.
If any of you would fancy walking a couple of puppies (single ones are a nightmare!) please do get in touch with our huntsman, Jack Harris, on 07715 655473 .