The fox can relax, the hunt is, until the autumn, at rest. I know the hunting of foxes is all but banned in this country, even though I also suspect that those who live for hunting think of it as only a moratorium and to keep their eye in illicit killing of foxes still occurs when opportunity presents itself.
Over the years my view on hunting has altered from appalled and wanting it banned to recognising that within the colourful and yet rather annoying activity lies necessity and benefit to the countryside. I still oppose the killing of foxes for sporting pleasure, and indeed dislike the term ‘sport’ to be attached to any form of gratuitous violence.
If I had my way I would put the welfare of foxes and the sustainability of their habitat into the hands of the Hunts. They alone have a definite need for a healthy countryside to be able to support a healthy fox population. And in exceptional circumstances and to maintain the right number of foxes for any designated hunt area I would allow them a licence to cull an agreed number of foxes. But the actual hunting of foxes I would not allow. Meets though I would encourage.
Historically hunting people have defended their right to hunt as a kind of retribution against the fox for killing lambs and raiding hen houses. Yet farmers will leave the carcasses of lambs and hens that have died of natural causes in fields for the fox to conveniently dispose of, a kindness that gives a mixed message to an animal whose only desire is to survive. We live in technologically sophisticated times; surely as the ‘superior’ species we can defend our animals, our livelihoods, without resort to gun or the spectacle of the chase? The fox must eat, if only to have the energy to be part of the chase, and it is beholden of us, on the Hunts, perhaps, to ensure the countryside possesses enough of the ordinary foodstuffs that a fox requires so that lamb and hen are less of a temptation.
But where fox-hunting is essential, where it befits a website dedicated to horse-racing, is that there is no better, perhaps no other, environment for young people to hone their riding skills than the hunting field. I would suspect a great majority of the National Hunt jockeys riding today regularly hunted as children. In the past nearly all the jockeys would have learned a good deal of the skills required to ride and jump at speed in the hunting field. Without the learning ground of the hunting field I doubt if Britain could have possibly won as many medals at Olympic Games as have come our way through the decades.
The most persuasive argument for the continuance of the activity known as hunting, though, is the arena it provides for the education of young horses and the second career it gives to retired racehorses. To ban fox hunting on grounds of cruelty to the fox, which undoubtedly is true, is to condemn a large number of horses and ponies to a one-way journey to the slaughterhouse. Yes, racehorses can be retrained for eventing, show-jumping, showing – Denman happily team-chased before his recent retirement from active service – but it is the hunting field, and for many it is a return to the hunting field, where their abilities are best adapted.
Hunting also provides direct and indirect employment to people living and working in the countryside.
The problem that lies within the heart of this thorny issue, the reason why no solution has ever come about to resolve it, is that only two voices has ever been heard in the media – the pro and the anti. Rage and violence make for better news than diplomacy around a table. Hunting people can claim they are providing a service to landowners and farmers until they are blue in the face but it does not take away the fact that it is morally unacceptable in our more enlightened times that to kill for pleasure is wholly wrong. Take away the killing of the fox and the activity known as fox-hunting becomes not only acceptable but a spectacle that brightens the heart of even the dourest critic.
If the present Government repeal the ban on hunting they will be making a great error. Now is the time to make hunting acceptable to all, to remove from its routine that which is repulsive and to allow celebration of all that good about the riding with hounds across the Great British countryside.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.