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January 5, 2009

On the Boxing Day trail

By Spear's

The draghunt and trailhunt that have replaced the banned foxhunt are twice as popular

“Heaven!” I thought, sipping mulled wine astride my horse at 10:45 a.m. So many people turned out for the Boxing Day meet of the Wheatland Hunt, it looked like a festival or even the warm-up to a rave.

Yet a more enthralled-than-dutiful silence descended over the gathered throng as the fieldmaster stood on the back of a truck to take the microphone and deliver what can best be described as a stirring political speech over his megaphone.

“Repeal!” was the rallying cry as we were movingly entreated to sign the Countryside Alliance’s petition to repeal the Hunting Act that came into force in February 2005, banning foxhunting.

Described as illiberal, impractical and prejudiced, the ban has only resulted in 7 convictions for illegal hunting (5 of them for hunting rats), while it consumed eight years and 700 hours of Parliamentary debate and is consuming thousands more hours of nearly impossible policing. Though I agree with all these points, I wonder whether repeal would do hunting a disservice.

The draghunt and trailhunt that have replaced the banned foxhunt are twice as popular as the original sport ever was, with riders and supporters. Some say this is because so many people are outraged by the trampling of civil liberties that they have joined the sport in droves in protest. But this ignores two important factors: it is now more fun and with a cleaner conscience.

Trailhunting is far faster and more exciting than foxhunting because the hounds (and the horses following them) set off running swiftly hot on the trail of an artificially laid scent; there is none of that faffing about while the hounds try hard to scent a real wily fox and the riders slowly lose sensation in their toes and catch pneumonia in the pouring rain.

What I and the other riders are there for is a grueling day of galloping and jumping across the countryside and the ensuing camaraderie as we share our hip flasks. I’d rather not witness the brutality of a fox being shredded by a pack of hounds, and I’m quite relieved there is now no chance I will.

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Yes, I believe the hunting ban was motivated by class prejudice; yes, it is impractical and illogical and almost unenforceable. But this Boxing Day’s jubilation that this would be the last Boxing Day meet under the ban may well be premature.

Would David Cameron actually be well-advised to reopen that Pandora’s Box and risk doing a disservice to the sport’s popularity? Probably not.

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