IT’S that time of the year when difficult decisions have to be made. Do you drag yourself away from the roast turkey, mince pies and television on Christmas afternoon to prepare your horse for hunting on Boxing Day?
Or do you settle for another bowl of sherry trifle and promise yourself you’ll get up an hour earlier in the morning and do the job then?
Either way, Boxing Day is traditionally hunting’s big day of the year and everyone wants to look their smartest. Although one thing is for certain.
If you have a grey horse and spend ages washing and plaiting the night before, come the dawn it will have rolled in something foul and there will be stable stains where 12 hours before there was detergent whiteness. Out will come the water and shampoo once more.
It’s a scene that will be repeated in thousands of households across the land, because hunting is attracting more followers than ever before.
Paradoxically, since the Hunting Act was passed in 2005 – which was supposed to sound its death knell – riding to hounds has become more popular.
On Boxing Day, 13 packs of foxhounds, harriers and beagles will be meeting across Worcestershire and Herefordshire, most of them at 11am.
Across the UK, 314 registered hunts will be out with more than a quarter of a million people expected to attend the meets, which range in venues from stately homes to country pubs, town centres and village greens.
Clare Rowson, Midlands regional director for the Countryside Alliance, said: “Boxing Day meets are always an important part of Christmas, whether you are from a town, a village or a rural community. This year the support for freedom, tolerance and repeal of the Hunting Act will ensure that Boxing Day meets are bigger and better than ever.
“With growing support from MPs and candidates of all political parties, the hunting ban is on borrowed time. The political tide is changing and the repeal of the Act is becoming increasingly likely.”
In fact, support for hunting has grown following the passing of the “banning” legislation, as ever more ways have been found to get around it. Hunts such as the Worcestershire, which will be meeting on Boxing Day at its traditional venue the Raven Hotel in Droitwich, now regularly attract mounted fields of more than 100 and even the smaller outfits are having to restrict the number of mounted followers.
Audrey Steel, Worcestershire Countryside Alliance chairman, said: “We will all be hunting within the law on Boxing Day to prove what a stupid and devisive bit of legislation it is.
“Everyone is welcome to come along and watch. There will be shiny horses, dappled hounds, red coats, black coats, mounted and foot followers, all the elements of one of the great traditional scenes of the British countryside.”
That is, of course, provided they all manage to crawl out of bed early enough on the day after Christmas.
BOXING DAY MEETS:WHERE TO SEE THE HORSES AND HOUNDS
Albrighton Woodland: Hagley Hall, Hagley, near Kidderminster.
Worcestershire: the Raven Hotel, Droitwich.
Croome & West Warwickshire: Broad Street, Pershore.
Clifton-on-Teme: the Hop Pole, the Square, Bromyard North Cotswold: Broadclose, High Street, Broadway,11.45am
Golden Valley: the Town Clock, Hay-on-Wye, 10.45am North Hereford: the Square, Leominster.
South Hereford: the Tump Inn, Wormelow, 10.45am.
Ledbury: the Feathers Hotel, Ledbury, 10.45am.
North Ledbury: the Bell, Bosbury.
Radnor & West Hereford: Burton Hotel, Kington.
Ross Harriers: the Garway Moon, Garway.
Wyre Forest Beagles: the Barneby Arms, Bredenbury, Bromyard, midday.