Denya Clarke, who hunted from childhood in Virginia, was an A-Pony-Clubber, and now lives and hunts in Ontario, posed a question about foxhunting in Ireland. She writes:
“Several of us are interested in hunting in Ireland, but it seems a matter of pride to the Irish to boast about the speed, dreadful weather, jumps onto roads, formidable ditches, intimidating banks, wire, rain, steep hills, rivers, and rocks that one will face hunting in Ireland. We're not chickens, but do the experts have any suggestions as to where or how to hunt in Ireland that doesn't require doubling (tripling) your life insurance and leaving your up-dated will in the lorry?”
We asked Hugh Robards and Noel Mullins to respond—Hugh, because he showed world-class sport as huntsman for the County Limerick foxhounds for twenty-seven seasons, and Noel, because he is a lifelong foxhunter and one of those guilty Irish journalists that Denya refers to in her question.
I do not think a person who rides well will have a problem. The hirelings are all pretty good and experienced at crossing banks and walls. If they are left to their own devices they will carry a person through a hunt quite safely. Perhaps it would be best for those without their own contacts to stay in a Hunting Hotel such as the Dunraven Arms in Adare, County Limerick, where good hirelings will be found for them by the Manager. This is only an example as there are numerous establishments throughout the hunting countries that offer the same service.
I wondered when this question would be raised. As a hunting correspondent for some thirty years, perhaps I and my peers are partially to blame. To add spice to my reports I always like to capture that exceptional image of a rider jumping a five-bar gate or a wide ditch or double bank. You have to remember that Ireland is the only country to breed horses especially for hunting, so the horses are well schooled to do the work.
But to answer your question, for every image you see of a hunt follower jumping a gate or double bank, many of the followers take more sensible options.
Like other countries there are packs that hunt to ride or ride to hunt, and perhaps the latter are the packs to hunt with, so you can set your own standard in your selection of a particular harrier or foxhound pack that will often hunt the same hunt country.
If you hire from a reputable livery yard, they will take you out the previous day to get you used to your horse and some of the obstacles you can expect to face out hunting. Increasingly, overseas visitors are taking a vacation trail riding where they get an opportunity to cross some natural country with options and where they get familiar with the countryside. If you are unable to come trail riding, I know a very experienced Irish foxhunter who hosts courses in riding safely across country from coast to coast in North America, and he will also escort parties of foxhunters to Ireland.
I have hunted in North America and believe me a coop can often turn you upside down quicker than a double bank! If I can help anybody with their hunting plans please get in touch with me. (Contact Noel through his website.)
Posted July 5, 2013