Archibald Hamilton.

The red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 online

. (page 22 of 22)
Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 22 of 22)
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saddle it is a good thing to pipeclay at once on taking
off the saddle ; the clay as it dries absorbs all the
grease from the sweat, and when dry and brushed
off leaves the linen clean. Pipeclaying after the
sweat has dried is no use except for ornamentation.

The most difficult thing to guard against in hot
weather is an attack of " surfeit " — urticaria or
nettlerash — due to over-heating of the blood. The
only way to avoid this is by very careful feeding;


/Stimulating food, such as beans, peas, and maize,
should be entirely avoided, and an extra allowance
of green stuff given as well as carrots ; but no matter
how much care is taken some horses will develop it
if worked in hot weather. With such, half an ounce
to an ounce of bi-carbonate of soda with the night's


feed is a good thing, as it acts directly on the mucous
membrane and skin. As a cure the simplest thing
is to sponge over the places with a mild disinfectant,
such as Condy's Fluid, and give three or four ounces
of Epsom salts in a mash, and some bi-carbonate of
soda with the feed.

Any compactly built, active, well-bred horse in
condition will soon learn to cross Exmoor as cleverly
as a native, particularly if he is walked at exercise
over deep heather, and among stones, and allowed
to put his feet into a turf pit and a soft place or
two, and find out for himself how unpleasant, but
how easily avoided they are, when he is not flurried
•or excited. A week's exercise ought to be sufficient
schooling for any horse except one taken straight
out of training on the flat ; they have been so long
accustomed and encouraged to go close to the ground
that they take a longer period of hack riding before
they can be trusted to pick their feet up when asked
to go along.

There is no real difference in principle between
riding to staghounds on Exmoor and riding to any
other hounds elsewhere. Every good rider will wish
to be " with them " as near as he can, and a resolute
man properly mounted will rarely fail, but there are a
few points to remember in which hunting on Exmoor
differs in practice from other hunting. No one can
hope to keep for long as close to hounds as it would
be his aim to do in a grass country. Hounds cross
the combes where the deer go, and many combes


can only be crossed by a horse at speed at certain
points where there are paths and well recognised
crossings. To try to take a horse across some of
the deep, awkward combes wherever hounds might
happen to go would inevitably either stop the horse
from exhaustion, or lose so much time that the rider
would most probably never see hounds again. To
entrust oneself absolutely to a pilot is to surrender
half the interest in hunting, but a stranger, riding
generally according to his own judgment, need not
scorn local guidance over an intricate crossing, or
through a wood, or even over a bit of deep ground.
There are always plenty of riders out who know the
moor, and are capable of going as hard as any man
in reason can desire. A stranger will always be wise
to get someone to point out to him a few of the men
who can be depended upon to be in the first flight,
and afterwards, if he see these men, and particularly
the hunt servants, avoiding a bit of ground which
apparently lies in the direct route, he will be wise in
following them ; they know what they are doing and
they do not go out of the way without a reason for
doing so.

,A good many strangers, distrustful of their own
judgment, very wisely rely entirely on following some
well-known member of the hunt. To some of these
a word of warning may possibly be useful.

They should remember that the pilot they have
chosen comes out to enjoy his own day's hunting,
and not for the purpose of piloting people of whom



he knows nothing, so they should not follow him in
such a way as to destroy his enjoyment, which they
may very easily and quite unwittingly do. It is
hardly necessary to suggest that the pilot should
be given room to fall without being ridden over.
But beyond this he should be given room to pull
up suddenly, or alter his course without being
bumped into. It is worse to ride close to the
leading horse's flank than it is to ride stride for
stride behind him, for if the leading horse has to
be pulled out suddenly to avoid a hole a collision is
inevitable. It is no uncommon thing to see some
of those who have suffered most severely from being
unfairly ridden after, plunging down the steepest
places, or galloping over the worst ground they can
find in the endeavour, frequently successful, to shake
off their following. More than one rider, whose
popularity as a pilot has become more than he could
bear, has been driven to ride straight home, losing
the run altogether.

These, however, are extreme cases, but there are
one or two ways in which thoughtless riders may
interfere with their pilot, and consequently with them-
selves, which may probably appeal to them more
directly. In woodlands this is especially so, and
when hounds are out of sight. The pilot may pull
up to listen for hounds, when he frequently is
immediately surrounded by his following, who begin
to chatter loudly. In vain he may move on again
and again trying to listen ; all he can hear is a


discussion as to the demerits of some other lady's
habit, or the vagaries of the speaker's motor-car.

Given room, and given a chance to see and hear
where hounds are, and what they are doing — in short,
to do on behalf of his followers what they distrust
their own power of doing for themselves, and none
of the many good local sportsmen will for an instant
grudge the assistance he may be able to give the

It is no easy matter to keep hounds in sight on the
open moor when they run hard, and the only way to
do so is to follow the old rule and get down to the
bottom of every combe as quickly as the hounds,
for they are sure to beat any horse going up the
other side.

The pull the local man has over the stranger is
that when they have climbed to the surface of the
moor again the former knows pretty nearly where
hounds should be, while the stranger has to search
the whole expanse of moorland and may easily miss
seeing them. There is no place like Exmoor for
learning in a practical way how very small a fold
in the ground will hide deer and hounds and riders
from view. There is always, however, this consola-
tion for the stranger : the staghounds rarely kill a stag
under an hour, while the majority of the runs last
nearer two, and sometimes extend to five or six
hours ; so that a mistake, however bad, is not
necessarily fatal, as it is in a racing-pace gallop of
thirty minutes over a grass country. Even if hounds


are running best pace they rarely run more than five
or six miles without making such a change of
direction as will enable an observant rider, who
may be two miles or more behind, to pick up.

This may seem a somewhat exaggerated statement,
but in the crowded part of the season, when hounds
run really fast over the open, the tail of the field is
frequently two miles behind the pack.

A pair of field-glasses assist one materially, and
those collapsible glasses which go in the pocket are
quite good enough to enable anyone to see what
hounds are doing up to two or three miles off.

Terrible tales are sometimes told of the fathomless
bogs on Exmoor. These tales are frightfully
exaggerated ; there are no fathomless bogs on
Exmoor, though there are a number of places which
are very soft, and will in a wet season give much
trouble if a horse gets into them. The greater
portion of the moor is a peaty deposit over a hard
bed of stone, the depth of the peat varying from ift.
to 3ft., the latter depth occurring only at one or two
well-known spots, and there are a few places where
the action of springs has caused holes in the rocky
bed, and a corresponding thickness of the peaty
covering. When the layer of peat is thoroughly
saturated with water the deeper portions require care
to ride over, because the ease with which they can be
traversed depends mainly on the consistency of the
surface, which in its turn depends largely on the
interlacing and matting -together of the roots of the


herbage which grows on it, generally long sedgy
grass, so that when a horse puts his foot on a place
where the surface is weak the foot may sink in. If
going at a moderate pace, and well in hand he
probably gets off with a scramble ; if going fast he
comes down. It is when a horse flounders into a
fair-sized soft place, and gets his hindquarters in,
that he may be said to be bogged. He then
instinctively, after a struggle or two, sits down, so that
the weight of his body is upheld, or partly so, by the
surface. In this position he may appear to have sunk
to a great depth, but if he is allowed a moment to
catch his wind and recover his nerve, and is then
gently stimulated to farther exertion, he will generally
struggle out with surprising ease.

Most of the ground is liberally Intersected with
drainage ditches which have been cut right through
to the rock ; these show the thickness of the peaty
deposit ; there are but few of them that cannot be
measured with an ordinary hunting crop. The places
which are most to be avoided are close beside some
of the small streams where the action of water has
made deep holes, and out of some of these a horse
might have difficulty in getting without assistance ;
but all these places are pretty obvious and there is
no need to get into them.

The Chains is a much-dreaded tract of wet ground
from which drain out the rivers Exe, Barle, Bray, and
Lynn, besides many smaller waters. It is the highest
ground on Exrnoor, and the wettest and foggiest.


It is in extent about a mile long and half a mile wide,
and it is rarely dry enough to bear a horse and his
rider, though it can generally be crossed by getting
down and leading in places. The depth of peat is
here from 2ft. to 3ft., and it is obvious that if it is so
sodden that the surface will not carry the weight, a
horse cannot go plunging for an indefinite distance
through 2ft. of black, sticky slime. In fact, if a
horse's feet actually sink in ift., a very few strides
will bring him to a standstill. Unless in exceptional
years, like 1906, when the whole moor was baked as
hard as a brick, no one attempts to take a horse
across the Chains, for the simple reason that it is
quicker to go round. All the really bad places are
thoroughly well known, and if a stranger sees none
of the local riders venturing he had better follow
their example.

On heather anyone can ride anywhere, as it is
always sound, but on the long sedgy grass care
must be taken, particularly in avoiding the drainage
gutters, which, being half hidden by the long grass,
are veritable traps for the unwary. On Exmoor,
even more than in most places, it is essential ta keep
a horse together in all his paces, because it may be
necessary to check his speed, or to turn and twist
round rocks or holes at almost everv stride. One
good old Exmoor maxim should always be adhered
to, namely, to take a pull at one's horse when the
colour of the ground changes, as, for instance, from
heather to grass, or from green rough grass to grass


with a reddish tinge in it. This coloured grass
always grows on more or less soft ground, but it can
generally be crossed all right. The only real danger-
flags are the white tufts of cotton grass, which are
only to be found on ground which should be carefully
avoided. In a good many parts of the moor turf has
been dug for fuel from early times, and a half-filled
old turf hole is a very nasty thing to ride into ; it is
generally filled with the blackest of black slime, and
a horse is likely to fall in one ; but it must not be
forgotten that the hard underlying rock is there just
the same, and there are few, if any, of them that a
horse cannot flounder through, though it will be
much to the detriment of smart brown boots and
breeches. Anyone with the usual allowance of
common sense can ride quite safely anywhere on
Exmoor at a slow pace. The only difflculty is when
the moor has to be crossed at top speed, and then
empty saddles are fairly numerous, and riders go
home with tales of their adventures which, after
dinner, grow to magnificent proportions in the

There is only one fixed rule about dress with the
Devon and Somerset staghounds, and that is against
the wearing of pink, which is reserved for the Master,
Secretary, and hunt servants. This used not to be the
case, and at one time from a dozen to a score of pink
coats were to be seen at every meet, but the numbers
dwindled till only three or four regular members of
the hunt were so attired. Where it is necessary for


the whip or Master to take different sides of a combe,
either in a run or when tufting, they are often a mile
or more apart, and the huntsman may be quite as far
from both of them. It is an enormous assistance to
all of them to be able to recognise and signal to each
other, but as long as there were other pink coats in
the field this was impossible. When the numbers
dropped to half a dozen it was an easy matter to
secure that they should be worn no longer, which was
regretted by few, for although the regular habitues
came to the meet properly turned out, some of the
"pinks" that put in an appearance were curious
spectacles. One stout old gentleman caused great
joy to a numerous and rather bored field at Triscombe
Stone many years ago by coming attired in a red
coat, a fancy knitted waistcoat, an immense blue
stock, bottle green breeches, and mahogany tops,
the whole surmounted by a Jack Spragon flat
hat. Though few, if any, regretted the disappearance
of the pink coats, one often meets with expressions
of regret that there is no recognised hunt uniform to
distinguish the regular members of the hunt from
the casual visitors. The subject has often been
discussed, but the great hat question has been
found insoluble. A tall hat is quite impossible, no
one would wear it, and a hunting cap is not the most
comfortable thing on a scorching hot day. Mr.
Bisset never wore one, but wore a curious, soft velvet
hat of his own design. Mr, Basset and Mr. Arthur
Locke, his secretary, wore ordmary felt hats. These


have their advantages, and probably an acceptable
pattern could be selected which would meet the case.
At present everyone pleases himself, save that the
cloth cap is left for the use of small boys. White
linen coats are frequently worn both by men and
ladies, and are very comfortable in hot weather if one
can ensure getting home early. It is never safe to
wear very thin clothes on Exmoor, however hot the
weather may be, for the moment the sun goes down
the temperature on the open moor falls with extra-
ordinary rapidity, and a cold breeze springs up which
may chill the too lightly-clad rider to the bone.

A yearly increasing number of ladies, and nearly
all the small girls on ponies, ride on cross saddles,
and those that do so are loud in praise of the comfort
and convenience resulting. The advantages to those
who find they can comfortably ride in this way are
obvious ; a cross-saddle only costs about half the
price of a side-saddle ; a lady can use the saddle
belonging to the horse, whereas it was always
necessary to make elaborate arrangements to ensure
that the lady's own saddle should fit the horse, it
being as essential for the avoidance of sore backs
that the saddle should fit the lady as that it should
fit the horse ; but, above all, in a country like West
Somerset, where many of the gates are awkward to
open, facility in mounting and dismounting is a matter
of first-class importance.

Falls are pretty frequent, especially in the tail of
the field, but Exmoor is soft, and any serious damage



is of very rare occurrence, but in case a horse does
fall it is well for the rider, if he has let go of his
reins, to lose no time in getting hold of them again.
Exmoor is a large place in which to catch a loose

To get lost on Exmoor in daylight is next to
impossible except in a fog, but now that there are
plenty of accurate pocket-maps, it is a wise precau-
tion for a stranger to carry one, always bearing in
mind that all maps are positively misleading unless
the points of the compass are known. A rough and
ready way to fix the South when the sun is shining is to
point the hour hand of a watch to the sun — half-way
between that and twelve o'clock is South. In a fog,
or at night, little can be done but to go on till a
stream is reached and then follow it downwards.
Water always runs to civilisation eventually. It is
worth remembering, even in a light mist, that it is
essential when in doubt to know the direction one has
come in. If on foot lay a stick down or make two
marks, if on horseback, keep the horse steady and
turn in the saddle to look about. If the direction in
which one has come is lost, the last basis is gone
upon which one can decide in which direction to go,
and this is how most people lose their way.

Crossing the moor at night is not as a rule difficult
in the summer; horses can see better than their
riders think, and it is seldom that there is no light.
Durine hind hunting^ in the winter, when it is some-
times absolutely dark, it is far otherwise, but it is


surprising with what confidence Master and men
ride across it going home with hounds. The
stranger, whether in summer or winter, is better on
the road after dark, for Exmoor is a very nasty place
on which to spend the night.

'■' Now I pray unto every creature that hath heard
or read this httle treatise, of whatever estate or
condition he be, that where there is too httle of good
language, that they of their benignity and grace will
add more, and there where there is too much
superfluity they will also abridge it as may seem best
by their good and wise discretion. Not presuming
that I had over much knowledge and ability to put
into writing this royal disportful and noble game of
hunting so effectually that it might not be submitted
to the correction of all gentle hunters. And in my
simple manner as best I could, and as might be
learned of old and many diverse gentle hunters, I did
my business In this rude manner to put the craft and
the terms, and the exercise of this said game more in
remembrance of all lords ladies gentlemen and
women according to the customs and manners used
in the high noble Court of this Realm of England."
- " The Master of Game."

(Shirley MS.).


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Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 22 of 22)