Boxing Day Hunts still attract the crowds, demonstrators and violence, but why?
Sixteen years after hunting was banned the unnecessary Boxing Day Hunts gather and take place on the pretext of preserving rural tradition and these attract the inevitable controversy and conflict which has accompanied them since the Hunting Act 2004 was introduced.
The Act was supposed to stop hunting and settle all the arguments once and for all, but as with most animal protection law it has failed dismally and we still must put up with all the nonsense caused by the red-coated individuals who use every excuse to continue their hobby and flout the law and escape prosecution.
One such “hunt” gathers each year in the picturesque Kentish town of Tenterden, once my childhood home, where every 26th. December at around 10 a.m. I had a birds-eye view of the hunt from my bedroom window when they noisily assembled outside 70 High Street where we lived above my father’s shop.
The annual day of chaos has economic benefits for the town and is therefore welcomed.
Although an extremely picturesque sight it also caused chaos as thousands of people from all over the district piled into the usual sleepy town and gridlocked it for two hours or so until the Hunt, suitably imbibed with drinks from the Vine Inn Public House next door, cantered through the melee to the sound of horns like the charge of the Light Brigade to cheers and waving from the onlookers. This annual chaos is of course welcomed by the town because of the economic benefits involved.
I watched this annual event from about 1957 until I left home in 1975 and it was noticeable that its attraction never wavered, while my attitude against hunting became more established despite being countryside bred. During my informative years as a youngster demonstration was almost non-existent and little thought given to the ethical and moral issues of hunting as it was just a lot of fun the day after Christmas.
Four decades on, it is clear that the popularity of these festive hunts is on the increase with more people than ever attending, but why do the hordes continue to descend in this way. Is it to support the Hunt or because they are purely viewed as family entertainment?
The Hounds have always been the biggest draw
From my bedroom it was always obvious that the hounds were the biggest draw with everyone including me wanting to get close to pet them even though they smelled rank due to the poor conditions they are kept under, something most of us were unaware of. They were noisy, boisterous, cheeky and naughty and appeared to be having a great time.
The horses were also a draw, but in hindsight it is difficult to understand why we all stood around, often in freezing weather, for an hour waiting for a group of red and black-coated horsemen and women to finish a morning drink outside a pub.
Boxing Day hunts attract the crowds in ever-increasing numbers.
I no longer have any real association with Tenterden and rarely if ever visit because my father’s shop closed in the late eighties and both my parents have died, but the scenario shows that nothing has changed over the last four decades and despite all the campaigning and hunting ban we are even more happy to support such events despite what they stand for.
The Boxing Day Hunts are just a spectacle for most, but for hunt supporters they are an important way of keeping the debate in the public eye until that Nirvana in the future when hunting is legalised again.
Lets take the hounds out of the equation.
The law makers missed a golden opportunity to put an end to all this violence and mayhem towards both humans and animals on both sides of the debate. All that was needed was to make it illegal to participate in a drag hunt and to own, breed, keep or let loose packs of more than two dogs onto any land whether private or common for any purpose.
Arguments that the dogs (and horses) would all be killed as they are unsuitable as pets was always groundless as there will always be an animal lover on hand to devote their energies into saving them if required.
There is no reason why the meeting up of hunts cannot continue in order to maintain the postcard images and spectacle. There is no harm in allowing them to meet up outside a local village pub on horseback for a few drinks dressed in their red and black finery for the sightseers to clap and cheer as they ride off at the sound of the horns. They can still continue enjoy an exhilarating gallop across the countryside in search of wildlife, but let us dispense with the hound pack and drag hunting and the use of the poor creatures as bargaining chips to continue hunting.