Last weekend I spent the day at the Fernie Hunt Team Chase in Tur Langton, Leicestershire.. For those unfamiliar with Team Chasing, it’s a cross-country horse race in which teams of four riders compete against the clock, and against the other teams. They are measured not on the first man (or woman) across the line, nor on an average time, but on the time of the third rider. This allows each team to lose one horse on the way round — and given the size of the fences, it’s perhaps a surprise that so many make it round. But it also puts a premium on team-work. There’s no point in a star rider coming in minutes before the rest of the team.
The Tur Langton course (hat-tip to Sally O’Sullivan of O’Sullivan Farms, who generously makes the land available) forms a natural amphitheatre, providing spectators with a wonderful view. One can see most of the thirty fences from the car-park. I sponsored the 21st fence, “Helmer’s High Jump”, which was appropriately challenging (see picture); and also the Foot-Race — a fun event over part of the course, slipped in at lunch-time between the main Team Chase races.
The teams have colourful names. The main event was won, appropriately, by a team calling themselves “Relentless — Fight the Ban”, while the horse and rider in my picture are from the Cunning Stunts (careful with that one!). Check the saddle-cloth.
It was a cold and windy March day, but the rain held off and we even had a fair bit of sunshine. A great day for walking the course. The event illustrates a point often made by supporters of hunting, that the hunts are at the centre of much rural social life, whether the Hunt Ball, the farmer’s dinner, the point-to-point, or the famous Fernie cabaret evenings. Couldn’t you do all those things without, ahem, actually hunting foxes, ask the antis? Well yes you could. Just as you could have church socials and coffee mornings and whist drives and the Mothers’ Union without actually having the Sunday Service, but what would be the point?
Last week, the Indy ran a story revealing — shock horror! — that hunt supporters planned to help the Tories during the General Election. Quite how the Indy can make a shocking exposé of what most of us have known for years, I don’t know. I remember at the last General Election canvassing in Whitby with my good friend Robert Goodwill (then MEP, PPC, now MP) in the most appalling weather conditions, and apart from the two of us, I think all the rest who had braved the storm were from the hunts. We are grateful for their support, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.