THE Golden Button Race in Gloucestershire is a great test of horse and rider but I saw nothing to rival the hedges at the South Tyrone Foxhounds meet in Castlebay, many often faced with wire.
Granted the Golden Button does have the speed factor, and the additional danger of being brought down by fellow competitors and loose horses. We had two Golden Button finishers in the field, former National Hunt jockey, Cheltenham winner, and now equine dentist Jason McKeown, and fellow finisher Mark English, who has still to collect some bets waged that he would not finish!
What a way to finish the season on the shores of Lough Neagh, with serious old fashioned huge hedge jumping in very testing conditions. Gates were jumped as they were met, wire taken in their stride, jumping onto roads and off roads, it was action-packed from start to finish. One could only admire the quality of hunting horses and talented riders crossing country. Hunt chairman Stephen Hutchinson, point-to-point producer Wilson Dennison and joint-master Tony Weir will be sorry they missed it.
Of course there were fallers, and the odd concussion, but that is a normal day for the South Tyrones. In other sports like horseracing or rugby, some would be stood down and certainly others would be sent for a HIA (head injury assessment). Hard on the heels of the pack all day was huntsman Ryan Carvill and honorary whipper-in Shane Crabbe, who must have the best hunter in Ireland with so much scope and ability to attack even the most enormous fence and jump onto a road and ‘turn on a sixpence’.
Louth huntsman Lloyd Parr helped with whipping duties on the day. Joint-master and racehorse trainer Andy Oliver, whose wife Saffron was upsides him all day, kept the followers in contact with Carvill’s superb pack of hounds who were really on song. There are no hiding places in South Tyrone for any follower looking for an easy option, and visitors with a hunter that is not athletic and brave would unfortunately be relegated to the road!
Some South Tyrone followers would be unlikely candidates for the caring profession, as you are expected to ride a direct line, and any fallers are encouraged, or should I say shamed, into remounting as quickly as possible.
Paul Kinane has lasted a remarkable 16 seasons so far as honorary whipper-in which says a lot for both his durability and his ability to maintain the quality of horsepower to face the challenge year after year.
However, Paul has had his share of injuries recently with a rib injury hunting, then a fall off one of his two-year-old racehorses, and to compound it all, when only back hunting I understand and without his wife Amy’s permission, he hit a tree jumping a hedge, the stirrup broke and snapped his ankle. He has been fitted with a cast and a boot, and the only question he was asked was would the boot fit in the stirrup so he can get back hunting immediately. Some sympathy!
Kinane was following by jeep, driven by Andrew Reid who would give World Rally champion Sebastian Loeb a good run for the title. His father Lesley was holding on tight and Kinane in the back seat rode every hedge with the same enthusiasm as if he were on a horse, but admitted that it was not his preferred way of following hounds.
At one stage, Andrew drove backwards after overshooting a vantage point, and a man tending his garden waved at him, astonished thinking he was seeing things! The volume of Tayto Crisps consumed in the jeep that afternoon would have made hunt chairman Stephen Hutchinson, the owner of Tayto UK, proud.
South Tyrone joint-master and racehorse trainer Andy Oliver leading the followers away from the South Tyrone Foxhounds meet at Castlebay \ Noel Mullins
The female set, known as ‘The Vixens’, Saffron Oliver, Ciara Malcomson and Sinead Curren, were always to the fore as were Jason McKeown, Jordan Parr, show jumping rider James Reid, Johnnie Mulligan, Daniel Cassidy, Tommy Parr, Matthew Carvill, John Keys and Mark English on another of Shane Crabbe’s hunters. This fellow is the real deal and for sale, but is probably sold already such was his performance on the day.
Also following were Dympna Kiernan and Lloyd Parr Jnr, Harry Clements, Michelle Kelly and Charlie McPoland and Anthony McEvoy, both of whom I last met hunting in North Galway.
The first draw was along the shores of Lough Neagh and the 21½ couple of hounds took no time to find in Laurence O’Neill’s farm, running a wide circuit of the large covert, on towards Lough Neagh but he doubled back and crossed the Killycroppy Road by Glen Watters’s farm. Then he crossed another road to Brady’s and through Tommy Sheppard’s, Andrew Liggott’s and right to the shores of the lake again, but had no option but to turn back and to ground in Tommy Sheppard’s. This was a run of three miles in deep going for 45 minutes and one nameless concussed follower.
They hacked over the main road to Glen Watters’s valley and found a brace. One crossed by the huntsman, literally flying at speed, while the main pack set their sights on his pal for Drumkerran two miles away with some huge hedges, lined with wire, to be crossed with Ryan Carvill and Shane Crabble leading the way. The fox swung right-handed over Bowden’s Hill and down the other side crossing the road into Watter’s in a line for the back of Stewart’s Hall.
Meanwhile, Shane Crabbe took his own line over a huge hedge onto a narrow road that looked impossible with Jordan Parr and Mark English, riding another of Shane’s quality hunters, committed. Remarkably, the three horses landed square, managing to turn immediately without losing balance.
Further on there was a series up upright gates that they had to jump twice, and five strands of wire to test the followers which Saffron Oliver cleared in style. This fox and the pack screamed down the valley towards Robert Crawford’s over Mickey Duffy’s and to ground in a stick pile. It took two farriers, Shane Crabbe and Evan McKillion, working flat out to replace all the lost shoes. This run we clocked at four miles in 40 minutes.
The next draw was at the back of Stewart’s Hall before crossing the road and drawing The Lady’s Mile, where hounds found at the back of Plunkett Duffy’s. This fox crossed the road into Robin Watters’s and onto Kenny Newell’s and after a fast two miles they lost him, so home was blown. Indeed, horses and riders had enough by then as the heavy going began to tell, sapping stamina.
What a day!
Huntsman Ryan Carvill produced probably the best day of the season to bring it to a close. Aside from the temporary fencing on the day, it took a further two days to complete the fencing as they had crossed so much country.
The hunt was reformed in 1960 after disbanding in the post war years and they hunt South Tyrone, North Monaghan and North Armagh over varied country of stiff hedges, wire and drains.
Chairman: Stephen Hutchinson
Joint-masters: Andy Oliver and Tony Weir
Huntsman: Ryan Carvill
Whippers-in: Paul Kinane and Shane Crabbe
Field-master: Andy Oliver
Honorary Secretary: Naomi Buchanan
Honorary Treasurer: Denis Canavan