Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound
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FHL WEEK, Apr. 6, 2023

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Troubling Start to Britain’s Year

Our Hunting World

BFJan15 185kPhoto by Gretchen Pelham.

The new year is only a few months old, but it has been a long one for foxhunters in Britain. To hit the “high notes”, there have been guilty pleas, protests, arrests, national and celebrity outrage, and an updated Scottish ban on hunting. But the worst is that two hunt clubs have disbanded in the wake.

In early December, the last season’s huntsman for The Quorn1, Ollie Finnegan, plead guilty to illegally hunting foxes last year while at a joint meet with The Ledbury Hunt2. How they convicted him was by means of seizing his cell phone and using WhatsApp chats to show texts of his report of that day’s sport. He texted things like, “Only found a brace”, “Had a nice little on him”, and other such communications.

The consequences of Finnegan’s guilty plea? National coverage and a fine.

In the days leading up to Boxing Day, there were many protests against the local communities hosting the large turnout of the local hunt clubs. In local city council meetings, there were protests about awarding permits to close streets for the hunting day. And of course, there were also many protests on the day by members of clubs that call themselves “Hunt Saboteurs” or just hunt sabs.

Hunt sabs have a national network of organized clubs that target the specific hunt clubs in their area. Many wear masks to hide their identity and use aggressive tactics to goad foxhunters into behaving badly for the hidden hunt sab that covertly videos each hostile interaction. They also simply stalk the hunts, constantly videoing in case they capture some wrongdoing by the hunt.

In late December, a group of people was videoed, one in hunt livery, digging out an earth to toss a fox to the waiting pack of the Avon Vale Hunt3. Seven people have been arrested for illegally hunting a wild animal with dogs and causing unnecessary suffering to a wild animal. The video made the national news on a large enough scale that several British celebrities actively drummed up public outrage. The British version of the Master of Foxhounds, the British Hound Sports Association, announced that they were “permanently banning” the Avon Vale from BHSA. The hunt has since disbanded.

In January, a terrier man associated with the Spooner’s and West Dartmoor Foxhounds4 was arrested and convicted of digging out a live fox from an earth. Terrier men, for those unused to the term, follow foxhunts and use Jack Russells or terriers to flush out a fox that has gone to ground. Mark Harris was arrested and convicted not because he killed a fox or hunted a live animal with dogs, he was convicted because the fox chose an earth already occupied by badgers. And because he disturbed an “active badger sett”, he was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine, costs, and a victim surcharge.

Also in January, Scotland passed the “Hunting With Dogs Bill” to ban all trail chasing (called a drag hunt in the U.S.) and to close loopholes that current Scottish foxhunts are accused of using to hunt live foxes. However, even with this new legislation, there is a new licensing system in place to allow for a hunting pack of more than two hounds. So, one has to wonder just how effective this updated ban really is.

However, there is one hunt club that seems to be the first victim of this new Scottish legislation. Fife Foxhounds5 announced that they were disbanding. The Scottish hunt club cited financial reasons for the demise despite the announcement coinciding with the new legislation being passed.

In early February, a video from a hunt sab showed the Cottsmore Hunt6 huntsman approach a metal farm gate with two women who were hunt sabs sitting on top of the gate. The huntsman rode up to the two women and can be heard on the video asking them to move. He can be heard saying, “Please”. The gate was locked, and he stated that he needed to get over the gate. He then turned his horse around a few strides back to canter forward to jump the gate. As his horse begins jumping the gate, one of the women looked at him and then inexplicably moved her body directly into the front end of the jumping horse. She was knocked to the ground and later said that she only had minor injuries.

It is to be noted that the huntsman asked politely, kept his cool, and steered his horse to jump the gate off the side of the ladies. His horse showed immense professionalism by jumping to the side with no drama or hesitation. And when the lady chooses to collide with the front legs to get knocked under the horse upon landing, the horse doesn’t kick out at the lady. He just lands and canters on. However, the news articles use descriptions along the lines of the hunt sab being “flattened”, “trampled”, “struck by the steed”, and “collides heavily”, with no mention of how the hunt sab came to be directly in the path of a jumping horse. They have arrested the huntsman for the incident.

Also in mid-February, the New York Times publishes a piece on the state of British foxhunting (The New York Times). The piece, showing both sides of the conflict, was picked up by international news, including Bangkok.

These instances and crimes are getting international attention from multiple news sources and from British celebrities. Most of the news sources are obviously clueless about the sport of riding to hounds or even country living. The publications routinely make obvious mistakes over simple matters, like calling a farm gate a “metal fence”.

From the outside of the United Kingdom looking in, it seems that the punishment for a conviction is paltry compared to the press coverage that is generated. It generates press coverage because it’s treated like a scandal instead of a misdemeanor. A propaganda war between the urban and rural lifestyle that is exploited by the press and political parties simply because it can be played out as captivating as a soap opera.


1 The Quorn Hunt, one of the best-known hunts in England, was founded in 1696.  Its name is from the Leicestershire village of Quorn where the hounds were kenneled from 1753 until 1904.

2 The Ledbury Hunt was founded in 1846 on the Hereford and Gloucestershire border in England.

3 The Avon Vale Hunt was based in Wiltshire, England. Formerly known as Captain Spicer’s, the hunt club was formed in 1912.

4 The Spooner’s and West Dartmoor Foxhounds are based in Dartmoor, England. They were formed in 1873.

5 The Fife Foxhounds was formed in 1756 and based in Scotland.

6 The Cottesmore Hunt’s founding date is assumed to be around 1666 and hunts mostly in Rutland, England. The name comes from the village of Cottesmore where the hounds used to be kenneled.

Originally published on March 9, 2023.

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