My one and only story about hunting

Even now the memory of my day with the Belvoir brings me out in a sweat
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The Independent Online

Since this is probably the last chance I'm ever going to have, here's the exciting story about the one and only time I went hunting. First off, I had better tell you that I'm not a horsey person. If there's a horse around I'll ride it in the same way that I'll light up if everyone else is smoking, but I'm not addicted either to nags or fags.

Since this is probably the last chance I'm ever going to have, here's the exciting story about the one and only time I went hunting. First off, I had better tell you that I'm not a horsey person. If there's a horse around I'll ride it in the same way that I'll light up if everyone else is smoking, but I'm not addicted either to nags or fags.

As a well-brought-up child, I naturally joined the pony club and won a few rosettes at gymkhanas. But growing up I found there were more interesting things around to ride and hung up my saddle. Occasionally if horsey friends invited me, I'd, well, go along for the ride - with friends like Amber, who looks terrific in leather chaps and exercises polo ponies on Ham Common, or Nicky, who was the British endurance riding champion a couple of years back and had three horses that needed exercising in a field near Epsom.

Riding with Amber was scary. Polo ponies are like sports cars. They go from nought to 60 in two seconds, no faffing around with walking or trotting or even cantering. One minute you're quietly adjusting your stirrup, the next you're galloping flat out towards the Kingston bypass.

Riding with Nicky was fine. It was what we had to do afterwards that put me off. I'm trying to think of a delicate way of putting this but there isn't one except for pooper scooping. This wasn't pooper scooping; it was shit shovelling. You probably don't know this, I certainly didn't till I went riding with Nicky, but while well-seasoned horse dung makes great manure for the garden, freshly dropped on grass it is literally poison. Unless you want your horse to starve you have to get rid of it. I have deeply depressing memories of trundling a big wheelbarrow round this narrow field in Epsom with 747s from New York preparing for their final descent on Gatwick roaring overhead.

So, anyway, the years pass and one day a pleasant young publisher turns up at my door and offers me a substantial advance to write a book about the lifestyle of the British aristocracy. It will be called Upper Crust and to research it I will personally participate in all the activities and sports pursued by bona fide blue bloods from time immemorial, nobs like Lancelot, Lochinvar, Lord Lucan, Lady Longford - I think you've got the picture.

It was May so I got stuck in with the Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot, Henley, Cowes, the Glorious Twelfth, and then the season was over, the last deb dance done and dusted and all that remained was hunting. It's got to be a decent hunt, said the pleasant young publisher, like the Quorn or the Beaufort or, best of all, the Belvoir because they meet at Belvoir Castle with its owner, the Duke of Rutland, in attendance. Great pictures.

I read about hunting in Vogue. It said that the Belvoir is the most fearless hunt in Britain with more fatalities than most because they jump anything that gets in their way. I took a crash course in jumping at a stables in Richmond. "The Belvoir?" said my tutor, looking grim. "That could be dangerous, but hang on to the mane and you should be OK."

And so it would in normal circumstances, but when with help I was hoisted on to the horse they'd lent me, a huge nervous bay 19.2 hands with rolling eyes and twitching ears, I discovered that its mane had been cropped to short bristles like a scrubbing brush.

Even now the memory of my day with the Belvoir brings me out in a sweat. It started off pleasantly enough in the castle courtyard with everyone looking as picturesque in their gear as if they had just stepped out of a set of Debenhams table mats. The women riding side-saddle looked particularly fetching all in black with veils. I could get used to this life, I thought, as the stirrup cup was passed round. And then suddenly everything changed and we were galloping over stubbled fields jumping hedges, ditches, haystacks, sheds. I fell off only once, and because there was no one to help me get back on I had to walk the bay to a tree, tie it to the lowest branch, climb the tree and then leap back into the saddle. I lasted three hours and then turned for home remembering to say good night, not goodbye, even though it was only 12.15pm.

Hunting with the Belvoir was not one of my successes, and neither was the book which didn't come out because the publisher went broke. For the record Belvoir is pronounced like the animal beaver. Not that it matters much any more.

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