This time three years ago, I hadn’t jumped a single thing for almost ten years. This season, I am happily jumping hedges that my horse and I can’t even see over the top of. Crazy? Most likely. But when the adrenaline is pumping, and an inviting-looking hedge is looming directly in front of you — well, what’s a girl to do?
The sheer joy of hunting comes from far more than just dressing up in a smart coat and shiny boots and drinking port. It’s the simple pleasure of being out in the field, watching the hounds do what they do best, and enjoying the pure beauty of the sport. One of my favourite memories this season is of watching the hounds work through a field of leeks, the only sign that they were there being the little puffs of mist above the crop, and the odd head briefly popping up to double-check its whereabouts.
It’s the thrill of clearing a 5 ft hedge without thinking twice (just kick on, find a nice-looking gap and pray, is my technique). ‘How brave,’ people say, looking at the photographs. ‘I could never do that.’ Well, I never thought I could, either. There may be photographic proof, but my memory has erased the details of the whole fearsome jump, a bit like it used to do with those shocking exam papers I knew I had failed. It’s about jumping our way across David Cameron’s constituency; discovering D-day training sites scattered with replicas of Normandy’s Atlantic Wall, and the true location of James Bond’s Skyfall (sadly, in the film it’s Surrey rather than a remote Highland glen). Those are the little things that make a day perfect.
To a certain extent it’s just the rush of it all, and I probably am an adrenaline junkie of the worst kind. Galloping across country at high speeds may not be the most sensible thing to do, but somehow all thoughts of sanity disappear when the field master takes off. The feeling of being at one with the horse; an animal that, however good a hunter it may be, never leaves you quite sure what it might do next, is one that simply can’t be matched. Why would I put my life into the hands of an immature, six-year-old Irish gelding? There’s only one answer: I must be mad.
I only hunted once before the ban on foxhunting came into force. My father, being the kind of person that he is, decided that if Blair’s hunting legislation was going to be enacted, the least we could do was lend some support. So off we went on a pair of hirelings; me aboard a tiny Exmoor pony, and him on something that should really have been pulling a brewer’s dray. Today, I’m out hunting every weekend, and any other day that I possibly can — and I’m far from the only one. Since the ban came into place, ten years ago on 18 February, the number of people who hunt regularly has grown to around 45,000 — an increase of 5,000 over the past ten years. And if their experience is anything like mine, who can blame them?