‘May’ I mention foxhunting?

 So I haven’t posted for the longest time, but in my defence I’ve had PhD corrections to do and without a shadow of a doubt that’s made this last year of teaching the toughest in my 21 year career in education.  If any of you out there are thinking of doing a PhD, think again, and then a third time, and then a fourth and a fifth, if you still have the ‘fire in the belly’ then do it and don’t look back.  Churchill is supposed to have said ‘if you’re going through Hell…keep going’, that one will be useful for you I can assure you.  I’ll let you know if it was all worth it when I have my final result.

Anyway, to the subject of this post, I’ve been thinking about doing a piece on fox hunting for some time but with an election imminent and fox hunting back on the political agenda this seems to be the moment. Yet again this sport is being used as ammunition by politicians who give the impression they know very little about it. The Countryside Alliance and other pro-hunting lobbies want to see the back of the Hunting Act 2004 and at least the relaxation of the rules on hunting animals with dogs. Unsurprisingly, Theresa May’s Conservative Party (do you see what I did there?), nervous about a hung Parliament, has seized on that as a vote winner in rural areas. This has the left wing, in particular the Labour Party using the issue as a stick to beat the Tories, Jeremy Corbyn recently referring to the sport as ‘barbarous’ apparently.

I want to talk about this from the point of view of an ordinary common-or-garden horse rider, I know a lot of those and I know a lot of them who go hunting, ‘following the hounds’.  I’ve been doing the same a couple of times a year for the past 17 years myself. I’m also a socialist, a member of the Labour Party, the thing is I don’t ‘get’ the hunting debate because I have never, ever and never would hunt foxes and most of the horse riders I know who go hunting wouldn’t either. They’re not ‘posh’ either by the way, most leisure riders are in my experience keeping horses on a shoestring, doing without cars on HP and foreign holidays for the love of horses.  The puzzle is I don’t hear the point about it not really being about foxes at all in the rhetoric from either side.  The hunts I ride with use bloodhounds following a pre-laid scent, not foxhounds and bloodhounds that couldn’t catch a cold by the way.  I’ve lost count of the time spent waiting for the ‘whipper in’ to go and find the floppy-eared canines that were lost somewhere.  I have also personally witnessed the pack stand stock still when commanded ‘hold’, to let a hare run right through the middle of them, and that’s exactly what they did.  This is the thing, the point of hunting is no longer, if it ever was, to kill foxes.  It’s to test the skill of the riders and their courage, not to mention the stamina and manageability of the horses.  The terrain is tough, the pace fast and the ditches, hedges and fences a real challenge.  You have to have some serious cojones to do it  at all and I might add the biggest tend to belong to the women riders, and I’ve seen plenty of humans injured but no defenceless animal prey, none in 17 years.  The pro-hunting lobby like to go on about countryside traditions and ‘townies’ not understanding the ‘country way’.  Sometimes the need to control the fox population comes up, that’s a red herring if ever I encountered one, hunting with hounds on horseback is the least efficient method of pest control I can think of, bar none.

The nub of it all is this, all of the tradition and pageantry that goes with fox hunting, all of the excitement, danger and skill development that was originally gained from hunting animals, can now be had from hunting people.  Volunteers laying a scent of course…much as we would like to be hunting ill-informed, self-serving politicians, that’s frowned upon. So why is this point never made?  Why are the arguments still all centred around such as whether hunting foxes is cruel or not, necessary or not?  When that’s no longer the point of the sport at all?  Perhaps the answer is that those who would gain political advantage would rather not have a debate on the real issues, just on irrelevant ones that are nevertheless easy to print headlines on and raise passions about.  Funny that, hope they don’t do that on any other important social issue………..

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About Jonathan Glen Merritt

Senior Lecturer in Law and Criminology, Deputy Head of Research and a member of the Sports Law Unit at Leicester De Montfort University School of Law, UK. PhD due for completion 2016 with a thesis concentrating on the field of governance and disciplinary structures in equine sports. Also competing as an owner and rider with British Dressage. Obviously all views expressed are author's alone except where a guest author has contributed.
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