WHILE in England, the houndbloggers were lucky enough to make a quick visit to the Thurlow Hunt’s kennel near Newmarket. The kennel is state of the art, and the hounds, predictably, were elegant and expressive. The hunt’s Masters, Robin Vestey and Anne Fenwick, and huntsman Chris Amatt kindly spent about an hour showing us around and talking hounds.
The hunt’s origins are ancient, but it has existed in its current form since 1992. Its country contains a lot of plough, and that’s a factor in the hunt’s breeding program, said Vestey. Asked what the hunt hoped to add to its current pack through breeding, he said, “It’s more what we hope to reduce.” Then he explained that one aim of the current breeding program is to produce hounds without heavy shoulders. That’s to help hounds get through deep going like plough. The pack already has courage and an ample supply of “try so that’s not an immediate worry!
Vestey clearly spends a lot of time pondering hound pedigrees, and he also regularly judges hound shows. That’s a good way stay abreast of what other hunts are breeding, what’s working and what isn’t, and what stallion hounds and bloodlines look like they’ll make good prospects for the future. Vestey noted that hound breeders shouldn’t be overly concerned with fashion, as other things–like the hunt country their hounds must cross, for example–are more important to the performance of the hounds where it counts: on the hunt field.
The Peterborough dog hound champion each year is always a popular candidate for breeding, but Vestey also warned that extensive breeding to popular hound or bloodline also can have a downside in reducing the gene pool by limiting outcrosses down the road.
Huntsman Chris Amatt also had some interesting things to say about dog hounds versus a bitch pack. His view is that the males are quicker to get “stroppy,” or uncooperative, when they feel disappointed or interfered with, whereas bitch packs, in his view, are more tolerant. He also feels that dog hounds tend to see the main point of the chase as catching what you’re chasing; bitch packs, he feels, like the hunt for the chase’s sake.
On the same day we visited the Thurlow hounds, we also got another special invitation: to visit racehorse trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam at his training stable in Newmarket. Chapple-Hyam’s yard is the second-oldest (the oldest belonged to Charles II!) but is the oldest still in use, as Charles II’s former place is unoccupied and has, sadly, fallen into disrepair.
We thought it was such a beautiful yard that we’d include it here, even though, strictly speaking, it’s not hound-related (but he does have a terrier, does that count?).
Chapple-Hyam’s yard was built in the 1840s. After he moved in, he found the bell that belongs in the clock tower abandoned in a horse stall. Now he plans to restore it. But any renovations are complicated. The yard is on the historic register, meaning he has to get government approval for any repairs or restoration he does to it.
The houndbloggers are heading home tomorrow with four new hounds in our luggage. But we still have some accounts to write up from our visit to England and will be sharing those (with photos) in the not-too-distant future.