Yorkshire hunts on the trail of a festive tradition

The trail hunting community across the region is looking forward to the highlight of its calendar this year as it prepares for Boxing Day meets. Boxing Day is the key meet of the year, with an estimated 200 hunts expected to ride out across England, including 20 in Yorkshire.

The county is a stronghold for trail hunting, with long-established hunts such as the Bedale, Bilsdale, Derwent, Holderness, Middleton, Sinnington and Zetland Hunt at the heart of rural communities.

The hunts have embraced trail hunting to comply with the Hunting Act 2004, while keeping the traditions and heritage of the sport alive.

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The Act banned the hunting of most wild mammals – notably foxes, deer, hares and mink – with dogs in England and Wales, subject to some strictly limited exemptions, but did not affect drag hunting where mounted riders hunt the trail of an artificially laid scent with hounds.

The Holderness HuntThe Holderness Hunt
The Holderness Hunt

It involves laying a scent trail across the countryside, either on foot, on horseback, or using a quad bike, for the hounds to follow.

Hounds use their noses to pick up the scent, and deliberate gaps are left, which allows the pack to lose the trail and then pick it up again, demonstrating their skill and mimicking the traditional style of hunting.

Around 12,000 days of trail hunting are held up and down the country during the season, with thousands of participants and followers on horseback, in a car, or on foot.

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The Holderness Hunt dates from 1765 and has members that range in age from under 12 to 70-plus.

Crowds turn out to see off the Derwent Hunt on Boxing Day.Crowds turn out to see off the Derwent Hunt on Boxing Day.
Crowds turn out to see off the Derwent Hunt on Boxing Day.

Sue Ellerington, of the Holderness Hunt, said: “All the traditions associated with the hunt are a part of what makes it special. Trail hunting is for people from all walks of life. Most people who ride out with us are ordinary working people.

“Anyone can join their local hunt, it’s very welcoming and the sense of community is unlike anything else I’ve done.

“My husband still rides out and he’s 70 while we also have quite a few children under 12, older schoolchildren, and students at college and university – it’s probably one of the few hobbies that spans all the generations.”

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As well as the Boxing Day hunt, the Holderness holds other events and socials throughout the year.

Horses and hounds from the Holderness HuntHorses and hounds from the Holderness Hunt
Horses and hounds from the Holderness Hunt

Mrs Ellerington added: “In the summer, there’s the Great Yorkshire Show and we have open days at the kennels and pleasure rides that are open to anyone.

“At Christmas there’s a carol service in a local church followed by a supper. There is a wonderful festive meet on Christmas Eve and on Boxing Day we meet on the Westwood in Beverley. Everyone comes together for these events – the social element is really important.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Damian Readman, master huntsman of the Derwent Hunt. Founded in 1808, it is based in Snainton, North Yorkshire, and the Boxing Day meet, which starts on Brompton Village Green, is often supported by 300 people.

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“It’s a Christmas tradition for a lot of families to come out and follow the hunt. They want to see the horses and the hounds,” Mr Readman said.

“In the winter, there are lots of hunt followers in cars, and many of these are older people who simply wouldn’t be getting out of the house as often ifthey weren’t coming out to follow the hunt.

“We have the trail hunt and then we have a pie and peas supper in the pub or a domino drive. People talk about mental health a lot these days. If it weren’t for the hunt, there wouldn’t be this strong sense of community here. It’s the one thing that brings everyone together.”

Meanwhile, trail hunts across Yorkshire have raised more than £48,000 for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance in the past year.

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Twelve trail hunts across the county, which meet regularly and run numerous social events throughout the year, have raised vital funds for the emergency rescue service.

Fundraising activities over the past 12 months have included a sponsored bike ride, collection buckets at community events, and more.

The Sinnington Hunt organised a clay-pigeon shoot and also holds annual point-to-point competitions with donations going to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.

The Holderness Hunt in East Yorkshire also donates funds raised from collections at its regular meets to the charity.

In addition, tumblers’ club donations are a fundraising tradition, meaning that any rider who falls from their horse during a trail hunt has to contribute £10 to charity on the day.