One of Cumbria’s oldest traditional sports is in danger of dying out because too few young people want to become involved.
Hound trailing is one of the county’s oldest sports. It developed as a way of keeping the fox hounds fit when the hunting season was over, though the dogs today are a different breed, leaner and lighter, and their coats are clipped to give them extra speed. They race around the fells, not on paths but across the roughest and toughest ground, following a scented trail, a pungent mixture of aniseed and paraffin.
The sight of the hounds racing to the finish at country shows throughout the summer seasons is a thrilling experience, but there’s a danger that the trails soon be a thing of the past.
“We are struggling to get young people interested,” says Ambleside’s Lynn Garrity who is not only an owner and trainer but also, with husband Paul, a bookmaker taking bets at hound trail fixtures as well as horse races and point to point races.
“A lot of the older characters in the sport have died, and there are too many different distractions for young people today.”
Lynn and Paul’s own hounds, Songbird and Huntman’s Hope, were respectively puppy champion and senior trails runner-up two years ago. She has been involved with hounds since she was a little girl. “My uncles and grandparents had hounds, and I always loved being outside and watching them run. It’s such a buzz.”
The racing season runs from April till October, with the big South Lakes event being at Ambleside Sports on the last Thursday in July. There are up to six fixtures a week across the county, attracting as many as 70 dogs, racing in different categories. And betting is keen, with half a dozen bookies likely to be present at Ambleside Sports, and bets of up to £500 being placed.
Jak Hirst, chairman of Ambleside Sports, said: “The hound trails are such an iconic fixture at our event every year. The excitement, for spectators as well as owners, is fantastic. It would be a tragedy if we can’t find a new generation of enthusiasts.”
What’s needed, says Lynn, is people to come forward to own and train their own dogs, as well as more visitors turning up to watch the races. “It is quite demanding. The dogs need to be walked for two or three hours a day and they need a special diet. But it’s so much fun. And when they retire from racing, the dogs are the most lovely family pets.”
Anybody wanting to participate in the running of hounds must be a member of the Hound Trailing Association and have their hounds registered. Some owners like to breed their own puppies, others buy them from a breeder. Puppies begin their training at six months and by the end of the year they are racing on practice trails against other pups. By the start of the season proper in April they are ready for the real thing. Contact http://www.houndtrailing.org.uk for more information.
- Trail hounds need a special diet, but each owner works out their own. Some are guarded secrets, though Lynn Garrity says that hers are fed a mixture of carbohydrates and protein – pasta and rice, fish and eggs – and are partial to toast, banana and cold tea for breakfast. Before a race they’ll have a light diet of Weetabix, rice pudding, egg and honey.
- The hounds are trained from puppies to follow the scent of aniseed and paraffin, being coaxed into following it over ever increasing circles.
- The one to watch this year at Ambleside Sports is the puppy, Jenny’s Aura.