Hound exercise or roading? Both these terms can be used to explain the early season activity, but I prefer hound exercise because that is exactly what it is. I often refer to the 8th Duke of Beaufort’s book written on hunting for the Beaufort Library. The beginning of one chapter advises that to learn about hunting, “Find a Huntsman of note and use All your powers of observation to see what he does, then use All your powers of intelligence to reason why he does them.” With this in mind, I will take a look over a couple of articles at how hunts conduct various aspects of our sport and note the changes that have taken place over the last few decades. These will be my own observations, and readers may reason why their hunt operates in a particular way that best suits them.
The author getting his pack fit for fall. Photo by W. B. Manning.
Hound exercise or roading is a supplemental method of training and exercising the pack. Most huntsmen will walk out twice a day. At different times of year the morning exercise will differ in miles covered and time out of kennels. At the end of one season, the training for the next has already begun, with the young entry walking out on couples. This soon progresses to them all integrated with the pack and off couples.
At the next stage, normally early summer, the progression is on to covering a greater distance at a pace more suited to a hound jog. In more recent times, bicycles have replaced ponies or the one hunt horse for a couple of reasons: 1. They are cheaper to keep, and 2. They don’t run away when you have to get off to see to a young hound. Hounds need to be reasonably fit before the start of hunting. This limits lameness and strains, plus gives hounds a more comfortable entry on hot August or September mornings in thick cover. A young hound will soon lose interest and give up if not fit and the pace is too hard. This will not bode well for later seasons when he is maturer and the mainstay of the pack. The summer exercise mornings also offer the opportunity to show hounds the many sights, sounds and smells they will encounter on a morning's hunting, which later they will have to ignore.
This has brought about another change in staffing. Hound exercise in the hot summer months would traditionally be early, leaving kennels at 6 a.m., even 5:30 a.m. on hot mornings, requiring at least 2-4 staff in kennels and stables. With some packs cutting back and relying more on amateur whippers-in, these early starts on a daily basis are not possible. Fewer days and later start times have had to be a compromise, though this may affect what can be done and achieved in training and fitness of a pack.
The term “Roading” again is exactly what you would think - exercising on roads and tracks with horse or bike around the hunt country. The road work will harden hounds' feet and keep the nails short while building up muscle and fitness. The hunt coverts should be avoided at all cost, allowing the foxes sanctuary until the season opens and hunting commences. There is no point hacking around coverts holding hounds up preventing them from entering covert, then expecting them to draw a few weeks later. Or even thinking that any self-respecting fox will stay in a covert that hounds have been exercised around.
Many hunt members enjoy the invitation to participate. Photo by Emily Wiley.
Another change has been allowing a field of hunt members to follow. Normally only hunt staff, Masters and their grooms would be out on exercise mornings. Later, autumn hunting (formerly "cubbing") would be by invitation of the Masters, and only after opening meet would a field of members be allowed to follow. This has come about more by financial needs of than hound management. I am open as to whether it is a good or bad thing that members participate. It has, however, caused changes which I will leave to others to debate, one being that members do not always wish to stay to roads and tracks but prefer to ride cross-country. Most also are not fond of the early starts that avoid the worst of the heat! I believe that as long as one keeps to the purpose of “hound exercise and training” then it can be beneficial. If the tendency is for a more riding club agenda, rather than a hound one, however, I fear the benefits of the summer exercise may be lost for the following season's hunting.
With all this in mind, the challenge for a huntsman is still the same - to produce a pack of hounds fit and schooled enough for the first morning's meet (again the term "cubbing" has been misunderstood, and the more modern term of "autumn hunting" is now more commonly used). Over the past few decades on both sides of the pond, the early season approach to entering hounds has changed, and I will leave for you to decide how this has affected the training of young hounds learning their trade before the start of the season and for future seasons.
The one common factor is that we all enjoy our sport and there are as many opinions as there are hounds.That in one respect is a plus: Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same? I will conclude this article with one thought. Whichever pack you follow, and at whatever time of year, “Use all your powers of observation and all your intelligence to reason what is happening.” I can guarantee you will find it more interesting than just galloping along.
Christopher Burrowswood is huntsman at Windy Hollow Hunt (NY). He was previously a Master and huntsman in the U.K. and has over 44 years involved with Foxhounds, Fellhounds and Beagles.