THE RIDER WITH THE LITTLE BUGLE
Michael writes about his first job as huntsman in Canada with the Wellington and Waterloo Hunt and later as whipper-in of the Lake of Two Mountains Hunt. He also recounts his experience
playing polo in Saratoga and Jamaica and the how he came about forming the Montreal Polo Club.
It makes hilarious reading from the almost inevitable late arrival at the meet, to the equally inevitable booze up afterwards. There can be no doubts whatever that anyone, either from America or Britain who has been fortunate enough to have had an 'Irish Week' will enjoy this book immensely, Spending a lot of time laughing out loud."
Horse and Hound. England.
I read this book on the train and became the most unpopular man in the carriage. I suppose there is nothing more annoying than traveling to London with a stupid man in the corner who is giggling fatuously or roaring out loud. This is a very funny book.
Michael Sinclair-Smith has created a foxhunters dream come true bedtime story.
Spur. Virginia, USA.
Being an avid foxhunter myself for 27 years this book was certainly a delight. A must for all libraries.
The Corinthian. Toronto, Canada.
Chapter 2 - An Introduction to the Hounds
After six weeks of hot walking I realized that I was not cut out for a horse trainer's life and decided I had to do something else. I had seen from Baily's Hunting Directory that the Toronto & North York Hunt was nearby, so one evening I telephoned a Mr. Pickwick, the Huntsman, to see if he needed a whipper-in. Although he couldn't use me, he was very kind and helpful and promised to let me know of any jobs that came up.
I was hard at work mucking out a stall a few days later when I noticed a long white Cadillac pull up next to the barn. A tall, grey-haired man got out and spoke to one of the grooms, who pointed in my direction. He walked over.
"Are you Michael Sinclair-Smith?" I nodded in surprise.
"Fred Pickwick gave me your name, told me you wanted a job in a Hunt."
''Yes, that's right.''
"I'm Gordon Haas, Master of the Wellington & Waterloo Hunt in Hespeler."
We shook hands."So you're over from England, eh? Great place, great place, I was over there in the forces just after the war, had a terrific time. Have you hunted there much?"
''A fair bit,'' I said bending the truth a little. ''I really enjoy it!''
"Good, I need a Huntsman," he said. "Think you could do it?"
"Er.. .don't you mean a whipper-in?" I said hesitantly.
"No, a Huntsman," he peered at me closely. "What's the problem?"
"Well, I've had no training, I've never hunted a pack..." I muttered.
"You'll learn! You'll learn! Anyway, we're a new club, most of our members have hardly done any hunting, they won't know the difference!"
His enthusiasm was contagious. I looked at the seemingly endless row of stalls still to be mucked out, then back at him.
"Well do you want the job or not?"
''When can I start?'' I said.
A week later, Gordon picked me up and took me to Fred Pickwick for a three-day crash course on how to be a huntsman. Every morning we exercised, fed and cleaned out the hounds then, in the afternoon, we would ride out so that Fred could show me how to handle them.
At the end of the training Gordon returned and we drove to his farm in Hespeler where he installed me in a flat above a small farmhouse. It was luxurious accommodation after the bunkhouse and I didn't have to get up at five a.m. He took me around the stables and showed me the five horses with which I would be working. Four were nice big bays and mine was a huge pure-white grey. The newly-built kennels inside the barn were empty.
"We're going to pick up the hounds tomorrow," he said briskly, looking through the wire mesh of the small run. "The whipper-in will be turning up in the morning and a van for the hounds will be delivered tonight, so we're all set! Hunting starts around here in May, which will give you six weeks to learn all about it!"
With that, he thrust a package into my hands. In it was a shiny brass horn and a small red book called Hunting by Ear. I swallowed nervously and smiled at him with what I hoped was calm professionalism.
The Cadillac cruised majestically up the tree-lined driveway the following morning, except for the crunch of gravel under its tires it made no noise as it glided past. Stopping in front of the barn the door swung open and Gordon slowly pulled himself out. He was slightly subdued.
"I'm sorry Michael, but the whipper-in did not turn up this morning, can't think what happened to him," he said.
I found out later that the so-called whip was just an old odd-job man and chronic drunk who knew nothing about horses and hounds and had not put in an appearance because he was out on a binge.
"Never mind, we shouldn't have too much trouble picking up the hounds between the two of us."
Like the whipper-in, the hound truck was another euphemism, an ancient van half-eaten by rust with a section of chicken wire tied behind the seats to keep the hounds in the back. It sat dejectedly outside the barn. I got in and kicked over the starter motor. After a few unhealthy coughs the engine sprang into life with a deafening roar coming from the battered exhaust. I engaged the transmission and jerkily followed the Cadillac out of the drive.
An hour and a half later we arrived at the Toronto and North York Hunt Kennels in Aurora, where we were greeted by Fred Pickwick, dressed for action in a white coverall.
"Morning," he grunted. "I've got your six couple already chosen, they're in the end pen over there with all the other hounds. You'd better drive your truck right up to the doorway, make it easier to load them."
He took out a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles and carefully placed them on the end of his nose, methodically curling the sides around his ears.
"Now let me see," he mused, peering at a grubby piece of paper in his hand, "I've six dogs and six bitches for you.
He opened the wire gate and instantly all the hounds started barking and howling.
"Shaddup!" he yelled, and the volume decreased considerably. As soon as we entered the enclosure, I was greeted by a friendly little bitch who was so excited she wet herself as she jumped up on me frantically wagging her tail. I pushed her down and she subsided to the ground where she lay on her back with her top lip hanging back in a silly grin, waiting to have her tummy scratched.
Fred gave a snort of laughter. "That one knows she's yours -her name's Babbler, she'll add lots of music to your pack."
We coaxed her out of the pen and into the truck, where she sat looking bewildered for a moment before starting to howl in a heartrending tone. This was too much for the other hounds who were already suspicious of what might lie in store for them, and they shuffled into a tightly-packed mass in one corner of the pen.
"Sailor! Sailor, come here!" Fred bellowed to a large hound who was trying to make himself invisible behind the others. Despite his efforts, we eventually grabbed him and bundled him into the truck, where he was anxiously inspected by Babbler before joining in her chorus.
Next on the list was a huge hound called Remington who was made of sterner stuff; he dug in all four paws and growled fiercely, staunchly resisting our efforts to pull him towards the truck. Eventually we picked him up bodily and hurled him in, where the other two consoled him with solicitous licks.
Anxiety had turned to terror among the remaining hounds, who looked at us white-eyed from their huddle as we continued pouncing on each quivering body and throwing them in. As we progressed our job got harder and harder. Each time we opened the door to throw in a hound, the ones inside frantically tried to escape. We yelled threats and roughly pushed them back, and in frustration they snapped and growled ferociously at the in-coming hound.
At last we were finished, with our twelve hounds safely ensconced in the truck; by now they seemed resigned to their fate and sat quietly jammed together in a black, tan and white heap. I climbed into the truck and was almost overcome by the humidity. The inside stank, as I did, of rotten meat and hound excrement.
Soon we were on the highway heading west towards Hespeler, and twenty minutes later the hounds started to relax and move around the back of the truck.
The hot fetid breath of 12 hounds engulfed me. In the mirror behind me I saw Babbler wanting to be sociable. She tilted her head to one side and started to lick my neck with her long wet tongue through the chicken wire.
Now while I love dogs in general and hounds in particular, her breath in the confined space was just too much to take, so I leaned forward to escape. Unfortunately, she had decided she liked the taste of my neck and strove to develop the friendship further but the chicken wire presented a major obstacle. She sat back and seemed to be surveying it. Then, with an exploratory nose, she shoved at the bottom of the wire which was tied down with binder twine and wouldn't give. Another shove at the top was also unsuccessful, but when she investigated the right hand side she managed to bow it in slightly. Wagging her tail with delight, she closed her eyes and poked her head through the gap and ignoring my yells and slaps slowly slid with a wiggle on to the passenger seat beside me, grinning with satisfaction.
Another inquisitive bitch called Winsome was nosing at the wire through which her friend had disappeared and she soon found the same weak spot and shoved her way through despite my ineffectual attempts to stop her. The two of them sat happily next to me on the front seat, pink tongues lolling as they surveyed the passing scenery. Their attitude suggested that they were accustomed to riding in comfort rather than associating with their inferiors in the back.
All might have been well if the rest of the hounds hadn't followed their natural pack instinct and rushed to join their adventurous comrades. With ten hounds pushing and clamouring at the wire the retaining binder twine broke and they tumbled through the gap.
Instantly the cab of the truck was swarming with hounds, furiously wagging their tails, as excited as schoolboys who had got into a theatre through an unlocked fire door. The hounds rushed around and investigated the confined space. Suddenly they were under my legs, sitting on my lap, licking my face and standing with their paws on the dashboard gazing through the windows. I knew I had a real problem.
I brought the truck down to a crawl on the slow lane of the highway and tried shouting at them, but that only increased the confusion as the tails wagged harder in their efforts to appease my wrath. There was no way I could push them back through the wire and even if I had been able to, I had no means of repairing the hole. Opening the cab door was out of the question - I had a horrid vision of them streaming out onto the busy highway and getting killed or lost in strange countryside.
The only thing to do was to press on regardless. I leaned forward until my nose was pressed against the windscreen, which was the only way I could gain an uninterrupted view of the highway ahead. Gripping the steering wheel, shoulders hunched against the onslaught of the milling bodies on my seat, I crammed myself into the corner of the cab and drove onward with determination.
A blue car packed with a large family slowly passed me in the left lane. I caught the eye of a woman next to the driver. She turned away then did a double take with an expression of total disbelief. She must have said something to the others, for they all turned and gaped at me, slowly shaking their heads.
Two of the big male hounds confined in the small space became belligerent and started to fight. With one on the floor and one on the seat, there was not much room for the others who tried to move away from the combatants. In my efforts to preserve my precious few square inches I pushed and shoved at them, with the result that the truck swerved across into the middle lane. Sawing at the wheel, I over-corrected and shot back into the inside lane, screeching the tires.
This action could not have come at a worse time, because it attracted the attention of a police patrolman, who was sitting in his parked car on the grass median. I saw him stiffen and give my vehicle a hard look as I passed by; my worst fears were confirmed when minutes later the police car with brightly flashing red lights, drew alongside. I smiled ingratiatingly as I started to slow down, wondering how the hell was I going to talk my way out of this one.
At that moment a hound, pushing under my legs, lifted my foot up off the brake and stood on the accelerator at the same time. With a roar from the battered exhaust, the truck bounded forward and overtook the police car on the inside.
"Oh no!" I groaned as I saw the grim expression on the police officer's face as he fell back behind me. With a few well-placed slaps and loud curses, I managed to remove the offending hound from under my legs as the police car again overtook me, this time with siren wailing.
I slammed on my brakes as he cut in front of me which sent the hounds flying. I involuntarily released the brake and with a bang hit him in the rear. Sirens, like trumpets and other wind instruments, have a most disturbing effect on hounds - it sets them off howling in sympathetic unison. With a belligerent expression and revolver drawn, the policeman stalked warily towards me. He was greeted by my passengers who were now in full voice. He hesitated for a second, stunned by the deafening noise and the sight of me buried under so many hounds.
"What the hell is going on here?" he shouted over the din.
I wound the window down a fraction and stuck my nose through. The patrolman reeled back as the humid stench from the hounds wafted towards him.
"I'm very sorry officer," I gasped "But I'm taking these hounds to a kennel in Hespeler - the bloody things have broken through from the back and there's nothing I can do until I get them home!"
"You can't drive like that!" he exclaimed.
I made a wry face. "If you have any suggestions, officer, I would sincerely appreciate them." With that, I disappeared under another wave of restless hounds.
He was momentarily dumbfounded, then inspiration struck.
"Let's see your driver's license and registration" he demanded, resorting to his training.
I managed to push the hounds off me and extricate my wallet. As he put his hand through the window to grasp it, a friendly hound licked his fingers. He hastily drew back and I saw his shoulders slump - he was a defeated man. He looked at me in distaste, as if to say: What can of worms am I opening here?
"Here!" I said, offering my wallet to him again."No!" he snapped, stepping back. "I've changed my mind, I don't want to know. How much further are you going?" "About ten miles," I said. "Well, go. Just go! And for God's sake, don't tell anyone you've seen me!" With that, he turned and strode purposefully back to his car; lights flashing, he did a U-turn across the median and with a screech of tires took off like a scalded cat away from me in the opposite direction.
The following morning I crunched through the freshly-fallen snow over to the kennel to check on my charges. Gordon had instructed me to wait for the arrival of the whipper-in before exercising them, so all I could do was look at them through the wire mesh of the run. They were all ready and eager for their morning exercise, tails wagging and heads cocked to one side, waiting for me to let them out.
Curse the whipper-in, I thought. They needed exercise, but without help to control them they might get lost. Oh well, at least I can feed them. Lying in the barn close to the kennels were two dead calves that had been dropped off by the farmer next door to provide some free food for the hounds. I poked at one of them with the toe of my boot - it was as stiff as a board and covered in straw. I searched around the kennels for skinning knives, but could come up with nothing more effective than a hoof pick. I went over to the house and managed to find a blunt carving knife and an old Gillette razor blade. Armed with my skinning tools, I returned to the kennels where all the hounds were clamouring impatiently at the wire netting. Squatting down, I seized the calf by a foreleg and gingerly made an incision with the razor blade into the frozen hide; I freed a flap of skin and pulled it back, sawing away with the ancient carving knife. A freezing draft whistled through gaps in the sliding doors of the barn which hit me in the small of the back as I bent over, chilling me to the bone. From the drifts outside the doors the snow blew in in little gusts, laying a fine icy powder over me and the black and white hide of the calf. I got into a mechanical rhythm of saw and pull, saw and pull and the skin came away from the carcass with agonizing slowness.
Two long hours later I had finished and I straightened up slowly with aching back and sore, bleeding fingers. Kicking the hounds back, I opened the door and threw the carcass into the kennels; with ferocious growls, the hounds fell upon it and it disappeared under a wave of black, tan, and white. I couldn't believe it. Two hours of backbreaking work vanished before my eyes as within seconds the hounds consumed the whole thing - all that was left was the skull that two big dogs angrily fought over. Cold and weary, I stumbled back to the house where I consoled myself with a hot bacon-and-egg breakfast.
For the remainder of the day, I felt overwhelmed with guilt every time I passed the kennels and saw the hounds pacing restlessly around; they were used to being exercised twice a day and looked at me pleadingly. I went to bed that night, feeling as badly as a father who had forgotten his child's birthday.
The following day, the elusive whipper-in still hadn't turned up. I couldn't bear the pained looks from all those beseeching brown eyes any longer, so, throwing caution to the wind, I decided to exercise them myself.
Picking up my long thonged whip, I walked over to the kennels, having decided to let them out one at a time so that they wouldn't take off. What a terrific din they made when they saw me coming. They barked and howled and waved their tails as they clustered around the door and jumped up against the wire in their eagerness to get out. I undid the latch and was just about to call for Babbler when Remington, the largest dog hound, threw himself at the gate sending me sprawling on my back in the mud. In a flash, twelve hounds stampeded through the door, across my prostrate body and out of the barn.
Panic-stricken, I leapt to my feet and ran to the barn door in time to see the hounds fanned out across the snow-covered fields, galloping off in all directions at top speed. Suddenly I felt sick. What had I done? I could hear the joyous barks fading in the distance as the hounds disappeared from view into the woods.
I started to run after them, but with every step I sank through the snow up to my knees. While they could sprint lightly over the crusty surface it would not support my weight. Giving it up as a bad job, I walked back to the house in low spirits wondering how I was going to break the news to Gordon that his hunt was now lacking its hounds. I had a
sinking feeling it was also going to be lacking a Hun tsman. I called his office to tell him the bad news.
His secretary answered the phone. "Is Mr Haas there?" I asked hesitantly. "I'm afraid he's out for the morning and will not be back until two o'clock," she said.I left a message for him to call me and hung up. I had visions of the usually benevolent Gordon purple with rage, shouting: "You're fired! Hear me - fired! Pack your bags and leave forthwith!"
In a daze, I went over to the barn and began to muck out, half-heartedly loading the manure into a wheelbarrow. When it was full, I trundled it out to the yard - to my astonishment and delight, who should be sidling across it but Babbler! With ears hanging low and tail tucked in between her legs, she looked at me out of the corners of her eyes as if in apology. I called to her and bent down, and her abject expression changed to an ingratiating grin. I put out my hand and stroked her head and she immediately threw herself down, turned turtle and offered her pink tummy to be scratched. I looked up as a movement caught my eye; Bashful and Charmer, both with heads hung low and eyes averted, slunk past like first year nurses tiptoeing past Matron's office late at night. Across the field I could see Actress, Wisdom and Witness sauntering towards the barn. They all stopped when they saw me, then, nervously twitching their tails, they too started slinking.
It was obvious that I would slow them down if I stayed in view so I left the gate to the kennel open and returned to the stables. After an hour, all had returned except Sapper; I went outside and looked for him. In the middle of the field I caught sight of him, trotting nonchalantly along as if he hadn't a care in the world. Suddenly he caught sight of me and stopped dead in his tracks. Then he dropped down into the snow, trying to make himself as small as possible. I played along, and, pretending I couldn't see him, strolled back to the stables from where I could see him through a window. It was better than a Walt Disney cartoon. He scurried across to a tree and hid for a few seconds, then a nose would appear while he checked out the lay of the land. Deciding it was safe, he scuttled over to the next tree and hid again. Slowly the nose came around the trunk as he appraised the situation. He made a dash to the corner post of the paddock and crunched himself behind it. Again, I could see the black nose turning this way and that as he checked that I wasn't around, then he plucked up his courage and made a dash to the barn and disappeared. Quietly I opened the door and walked past the kennels just as he slunk around the gate like a snake. He saw me and froze, his legs bent and his tail hard between his legs, his ears drooped and he squeezed his eyes closed. It was as if he thought, Oh no, I've been caught!
"Get in there!" I growled. He straightened up and looking out of the corners of his eyes shot past me into the kennel. When Gordon called back at two o'clock, he asked "Any problems Michael?'' 'Oh no, Gordon - no problems" I said. "I just thought I would let you know that I have exercised the hounds for the first time, and all is well.'' "That's great news" he said. "Keep up the good work!".