Waiting to be slipped on a crisp clear day
A brief outline by Margaret Baxter (secretary)
Ash Cottage, Blencow, Penrith, Cumbria
phone - 017684 83686
Hound trailing has been carried on in Cumbria for about 200 years, and it is still a very popular sport. All those actively involved in it are locals and, if I may use the expression "working class". We have about 1,000 members, and nearly every day of the week between April 1st and October 31st there is at least one trail meeting, consisting of 3, 4, 5 or 6 separate races for hounds of differing abilities. On some days there may be 4 or 5 meetings in different parts of Cumbria, but 6 days in the season are kept for special major trails, and on those days there are no other meetings.
people running hounds in the trails have to be members of the Association, and their hounds have to be registered. The hounds have to be properley-bred trail-hounds, and all puppies are earmarked when they are about 6 weeks old so that they can be identified. Some owners like to breed their own puppies, others buy them from a breeder. Early training starts when the puppy is about 6 months old. One person holds the puppy while another walks away dragging the trail rag and carrying some "bait" (a bit of meat or cake). He walks maybe 200 yards, then calls the puppy to him. Eventually the puppy associates the scent on the ground with the bait, and it will then follow a longer trail with corners, jumps, etc. In a proper trail, the trailer (the man with the rag) walks towards the hounds, so the puppy has to be taught to run past a trailer without pausing to sniff at him. By Christmas time, most young puppies are running about 10 minutes, and people start to get together to run their puppies against each other. These trails are called "practice trails", and they continue, getting longer gradually, until the start of the season.
Proper trails have time limits of 15-20 minutes for puppies and 25-45 minutes for seniors. (Seniors are all hounds older than puppies, ie 2 years and upwards.) There are also 9 other grades of trail such as Maidens, Restricted, Veteran and Non-Winner. These lower grade trails are run on the "dead rag", which means that the same scent is used without a new one having to be laid.
The trails are laid by two trailers who carry the rags to half way and then walk away from each other, one going towards the start and the other towards the finish. The start and finish are always near the actual trail-field where everybody parks, so in effect the trail is more or less circular. The trail rags are made of woollen blankets, and they are dampened every few minutes with the mixture, which the trailers carry in plastic bottles. The mixture is mainly paraffin with oil of aniseed to give the scent. A gallon of paraffin plus 4 oz. of aniseed makes enough mixture for a senior trail and a puppy trail. The mixture has to be made up by an officially-appointed chemist.
When the trailers are both within sight of the trail-field, the runners are lined up and each has a coloured mark put on its head or neck by the starter (to prevent hounds being substituted half way round!). The collars are removed, and at the signal the hounds are slipped, going off past the trailer. The owners watch them through binoculars, and maybe have a bet with one of the bookmakers on the field. When the minimum time is up, the timekeeper shouts, "Trail", and everybody goes to the finishing line. When the hounds come into sight, the owners shout and whistle, and hold out their bait-tins. The judge and his 6 helpers stand at the end of the finishing tape, and one helper (catcher) goes to each of the first 6 hounds as instructed by the judge. We also use a video camera in case of tight finishes. Dead heats are surprisingly common even after a race of 8 miles or so.
The wins amd "tickets" (places) all count towards various championships and points competitions.
The vast majority of trail-hounds live in kennels at their owners' houses. They are walked twice a day, and during the season they may run three times a week, if they stay free from injury. They are all clipped during the season with electric clippers, perhaps every 2 weeks and are often bathed. They are fed either an all-in-one racing meal or a mixture of meal, meat and vegetables. The feeding of trail-hounds is often a closely guarded secret, handed down through the families. Trail-hounds look lean, but they carry no fat and wouldn't be able to run if they were overweight. They are usually kept rugged-up in their kennels, and when walking about on the trail-field.
- Mrs G Farron - 01946 861604
- Mrs M Baxter - 017684 83686
Other opportunities to watch hound trails can be found in the listing of Country Shows (most include trails).
"The negligence of nature, wide and wild." - J Thomson