Have you ever met an ice hockey playing, hound hunting Englishman? If not, meet Neil Amatt. The 29 year old was quite literally born into the sport of foxhunting and is proud to be a third generation professional. Hailing from Newmarket, roughly 60 miles from London, Amatt spent his childhood engrossed in country pursuits of hunting, shooting, and racing. He landed in the US six years ago, going to work for Midland Foxhounds and spent the last season whipping in to Guy Allman at the Blue Ridge Hunt in Boyce, VA. As of May 1, he will be joining the Piedmont Fox Hounds, Upperville, VA, as First Whipper-in.
e-Covertside: Your family history runs deep with hunting. How did you decide to pursue it professionally? Where did you work in the UK?
Neil: I started with my dad, who is huntsman for Newmarket Thurlow. His cousin is huntsman for Beicester-Whadden Chase, which is one of the oldest packs in the world. It was a trade I had previous experience with, I enjoyed it, and it was and is part of life.
I spent four years as second whip to Anthony Adams at Heythrop, and then three years at Fernie before moving to America.
e-Covertside: What inspired you to come to the states?
Neil: I came to live the American Dream! There wasn’t a future for hunting in England the way we did before the ban, with all the restrictions and always having to look over your shoulder. I also appreciate new experiences and meeting new people and sought a better quality of life.
e-Covertside: Did you experience any “culture shock”?
Neil: What did Shaw say? “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” Georgia became my American home. I made a lot of good friends and my American family is there. My friend Brian Brantley, who played at the college level, introduced me to ice hockey, and I was able to get some folks interested in hunting through the league I played in. People had no idea the hounds were even there!
e-Covertside: What differences have you found between hunting in Georgia and hunting in Virginia?
Neil: The heat! Georgia is more of a low scenting state. The soil is dry and the air is very humid, so scent rises very quickly and you need low scenting hounds. Midland has crossbreds. Coyote scent is much more potent than a fox, but it dissipates quickly.
e-Covertside: Name three things you never hunt without.
Neil: One, my whip; two, my stock pin that was a gift from Brian Pheasy many years ago; and three, my horse.
e-Covertside: What are your goals for the upcoming season with Piedmont?
Neil: I want to do the best I can for (Piedmont huntsman) Spencer. Never stop learning. Anyone who says that they know it all is a liar. In many situations, I can fall back on my previous experience to help the huntsman and hounds improve the day. Split second decision making is important.
We took a lot of road trips at Midland, so I was able to hunt a lot of different country in the US, from the southeast to Kentucky and as far west as Nevada. Piedmont has some of the nicest country in the US. I’m especially looking forward to working more with the hounds.
e-Covertside: Any memorable experiences you’d like to share?
Neil: One Christmas Eve at Fernie, I was called up to hunt hounds and had a crashing fall in front of the field of nearly 200 horses!
E-Covertside: Do you have hobbies/interests outside of hunting?
Neil: Ice hockey, of course. I can’t skate backwards very fast unless someone is pushing me. I’m a huge Washington Capitals fan and absolutely love University of Georgia Bulldogs football. I also play football, I mean soccer, and coached in a league for kids under ten years of age when I lived in Midland.