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Hunting Sketches Anthony Trollope

How to Ride to Hounds

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Now attend me, Diana and the Nymphs, Pan, Orion, and the Satyrs, for I have a task in hand which may hardly be accomplished without some divine aid. And the lesson I would teach is one as to which even gods must differ, and no two men will ever hold exactly the same opinion. Indeed, no written lesson, no spoken words, no lectures, be they ever so often repeated, will teach any man to ride to hounds. The art must come of nature and of experience; and Orion, were he here, could only tell the tyro of some few blunders which he may avoid, or give him a hint or two as to the manner in which he should begin.

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Let it be understood that I am speaking of fox-hunting, and let the young beginner always remember that in hunting the fox a pack of hounds is needed. The huntsman, with his servants, and all the scarlet-coated horsemen in the field, can do nothing towards the end for which they are assembled without hounds. He who as yet knows nothing of hunting will imagine that I am laughing at him in saying this; but, after a while, he will know how needful it is to bear in mind the caution I here give him, and will see how frequently men seem to forget that a fox cannot be hunted without hounds. A fox is seen to break from the covert, and men ride after it; the first man, probably, being some cunning sinner, who would fain get off alone if it were possible, and steal a march upon the field. But in this case one knave makes many fools; and men will rush, and ride along the track of the game, as though they could hunt it, and will destroy the scent before the hounds are on it, following, in their ignorance, the footsteps of the cunning sinner. Let me beg my young friend not to be found among this odious crowd of marplots. His business is to ride to hounds; and let him do so from the beginning of the run, persevering through it all, taking no mean advantages, and allowing himself to be betrayed into as few mistakes as possible; but let him not begin before the beginning. If he could know all that is inside the breast of that mean man who commenced the scurry, the cunning man who desires to steal a march, my young friend would not wish to emulate him. With nine-tenths of the men who flutter away after this ill fashion there is no design of their own in their so riding. They simply wish to get away, and in their impatience forget the little fact that a pack of hounds is necessary for the hunting of a fox.

I have found myself compelled to begin with this preliminary caution, as all riding to hounds hangs on the fact in question. Men cannot ride to hounds if the hounds be not there. They may ride one after another, and that, indeed, suffices for many a keen sportsman; but I am now addressing the youth who is ambitious of riding to hounds. But though I have thus begun, striking first at the very root of the matter, I must go back with my pupil into the covert before I carry him on through the run. In riding to hounds there is much to do before the straight work commences. Indeed, the straight work is, for the man, the easiest work, or the work, I should say, which may be done with the least previous knowledge. Then the horse, with his qualities, comes into play; and if he be up to his business in skill, condition, and bottom, a man may go well by simply keeping with others who go well also. Straight riding, however, is the exception and not the rule. It comes sometimes, and is the cream of hunting when it does come; but it does not come as often as the enthusiastic beginner will have taught himself to expect.

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Hunting Sketches
Anthony Trollope

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