Festival of Hunting Inter Hunt Relay battle is on as 2021 champions return to defend their titles

The Festival of Hunting returns to the East of England Showground on Wednesday 20th July, with the hotly contested Inter Hunt Relay a not to be missed spectacle.

In 2021, the Senior championship was secured by Bicester Hunt with the Whaddon Chase team, made up of riders Emily Taylor, Andrew Clark, Cecily Holland and Lucy Holland MFH, whilst the Junior title was claimed by the ‘Beaufort Cubs’ from The Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt, comprising Rosie Bush, Tom Beatie, Belle Edwards and Poppy Clark.

Susie Beecroft, Chef d’Equipe of the BHWC, explained the preparation that goes into forming their relay team: “We invite everyone interested to come to training and sort it out from there. Many hunters are not in work during the summer which make it more difficult and some horses just can’t cope with the changeovers. And then there are the criteria, which can be difficult to meet – it is not always easy to find someone to make the heavyweight requirement, or as the teams get older, someone who is under 25! The key is having fun though and whilst we’re undoubtedly competitive, I couldn’t do it if we didn’t make it enjoyable.”

The Bicester Hunt with Whaddon Chase – winners of the Senior Inter Hunt Relay 2021 – photo credit Tim Scrivener

The Bicester Hunt teams train at least once a week around a range of obstacles, but Susie recognises that luck plays as much a part of the day as all the training sessions. “The teams all love practicing and competing in the Inter Hunt Relays as they are such fun. And, as a result, we have great hunt team camaraderie, with the juniors supporting the seniors and vice versa. I think there is an element of pride, too, in representing our hunt and doing our best to do well. We all love the Festival of Hunting as it’s such a great day out, and the atmosphere around the competition ring is brilliant. And, we always have a great and well-attended hunt picnic.”

Attending the Festival of Hunting exceeds an entry to the Inter Hunt Relay, explained Susie. “If the Festival is about anything it’s about the hounds. To see the discipline and exactness of how they are shown is amazing. And, then there’s the shopping – I don’t think there’s a better place to get hunting kit and memorabilia!”

The Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt’s junior team will also return to contest their title, supported by their senior team. Nicky Bush, The Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt said: “We started having regular practices a few years ago and it is amazing how these help; anyone is welcome to come to practices and they are a lot of fun too, often followed with a BBQ. It is a huge honour to represent The Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt in the Relay Team and Selina Hopkins, our Chef d’equipe, puts the teams together, ensuring that everyone who wants to gets to compete at some stage. Some ponies don’t take to it but others are complete pros!”

The Duke of Beaufort’s Cubs after winning the 2021 Junior Inter Hunt Relay – photo credit Tim Scrivener

Asked why The Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt enters the Inter Hunt Relay every year, Nicky said: “Gosh, the Inter Hunt Relay is fun, both competing and watching. We have had years where we’ve not made it through the first round and other years of winning but they have all been incredibly good fun. You really never know what is going to happen and we have also formed great friendships travelling as a team, and often have supporters joining us too. Our team are still in contact with the runners-up last year, they got talking at the prize giving and still keep in touch. It is such a team-building experience both within our hunt but also with other hunts.”

“The practices give you the obvious preparation time with handovers but they also allow you to double-check what order works for the ponies. You have to remember the ponies aren’t robots, Last year we had two ponies who didn’t like getting too close in a handover, as soon as we realised and swopped the order so those two ponies weren’t next to each other we had the dream team,” explained Nicky.

Nicky was also keen to point out another key consideration: “The mothers have also been busy shopping for new dresses in preparation for the Festival of Hunting!”

With 32 teams entering each draw in a knockout-style competition to find out the quickest and most skilful team of four riders, the Inter Hunt Relay, sponsored by Honri Hats, is a fast and furious watch.

Host to the prestigious 134th Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show, the Festival welcomes Foxhound packs from across the country to this distinguished competition, which also hosts classes for Beagles, Harriers, Basset Hounds, Draghounds and Bloodhounds. With such a range of hounds competing and on display, the Festival of Hunting is one of the largest shows of working scent hounds anywhere in the world. The top rosettes went to the Vale of the White Horse (VWH) and Heythrop Hunts in 2021, and they will return to contest their titles this year.

Whilst primarily a foxhound show, the Festival of Hunting offers something for everyone in the wider hunting community, with the 3rd Hunt Staff Benefit Society Young Handler Class becoming a popular competition for youngsters already volunteering their time in hunt kennels.

Spectators are well-served too, with this year’s ‘Local Larder’ food and drinks suppliers promising a range of opportunities to enjoy catching up with friends and acquaintances from across the hunting community. There is also a range of retail trade stands, with everything from high-quality hunting apparel to country clothing, art and gifts.

The Hunt Picnic competition returns for another year, with Country Life Chief Subeditor, Octavia Pollock, and Guild of Food Writers award-winning food writer, Jenny Jefferies, lined up to judge the hotly contested lunchtime event.

Admission to the Festival of Hunting will be by prior online ticket sales only with tickets available from mid-April www.festivalofhunting.com.