Over the stable door: Up with the dawn to ride with hounds

The cubbing season is in full swing. I love the early morning meets. Dawn is just emerging and the mist lies low in the valley bottoms. The world appears peaceful and unspoilt. For the sake of missing a few hours sleep, the reward is priceless, with time to do a day's work afterwards.

The Pendle Hunt has no puppies to introduce this season after we moved kennels last year. Due to the lambing season, we finish in late February but are able to start in early autumn as our country is predominantly cattle and sheep. Most Yorkshire packs have a high volume of arable land and they must wait until harvest has finished before starting.

My first outings this season have been aboard youngsters new to the hunting field. Those for hunt service need to take to it reasonably quickly in order to have a future in the job. Not all horses are suited to hunting but most learn to love it.

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Braveness, patience, stamina and sensitivity around hounds are qualities needed to make a decent hunt servant's horse.

The Pendle country is mainly pasture with long steep hills where speed and stamina are vital. The Yorkshire Dales may be famous for its dry stone walls but to jump them takes a brave and careful horse tough enough to tolerate conditions throughout a long season. The hunt tend to favour predominantly blood horses for that reason.

The qualities needed for a top class hunting hound are similar to those of a hunt horse. They need correct confirmation for speed, versatility and ease of movement and to take them through many seasons without injury. My favourite hound, Panda, was described by the judge, after winning at Peterborough in 2008, as a near perfect Harrier. All credit to huntsman Richard Lloyd, who spends countless hours deliberating with

the senior master about breeding lines.

The problem he faces when trying to breed the perfect hound is the country. "A hound can start out with an athletic correct frame, but after constantly jumping up and pushing themselves off the walls they become solid in front and heavy in the shoulder which hinders their speed," he explains.

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"Fifteen years ago, these hounds could hunt for maybe six seasons. Now we aim to breed them narrower in front so they strengthen up as they get older and last longer. It seems to have worked. Now they hunt for nine or 10 seasons."

A Whipper In's job is to keep count of the hounds and retrieve any straying from the pack while hunting. The law is strict and regulations make our job increasingly difficult but we must ensure the huntsman can work within its legal boundaries. Hounds are always counted in pairs (couples) and it is tradition to take an odd number out hunting. There can be up to 21 and a half couple, so I never hunt with a hangover anymore.

Richard has every reason to celebrate this week after becoming a grandad. Little Grace Lloyd was born on Sunday. He is overjoyed despite believing himself far too young for the position. I hope he doesn't start riding in a manner as befits his new title.

With my son Felix, I visited Otley poultry sale recently to find a replacement for the deceased Percy. Felix purchased a silkie cross bantam, naming her Henny Penny. She struts around the yard like a poodle with bouffant quiff and yellow furry feet.

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She was the only chicken to be sold alone – she had fallen out with her caged companion. That should have acted as a warning to me. Not even the dog has escaped her indiscriminate beak.

Jo Foster trains horses at Brookleigh Farm, Menston.