Tuesday, 4 November 2008

St Hubert's Hunt

Readers of the Krumlov Expats blog will have already read a post about the hunt posted by Salamander. Unlike Salamander who was one of the “huntsmen”. I attended only as a spectator, which I hope justifies my writing a post on the subject on the grounds that my take will be somewhat different.

The “hunt” took place in the wonderful parkland surrounding the Cerveny Dvur Asylum. Cerveny Dvur was formerly a chateau and is now a hospital treating alcoholism and drug addiction, nevertheless the extensive parkland in which it sits is open to the public and moreover offers information boards (in English as well as Czech) on the creation of chateau, landscape and park features. This alone would justify a visit to Cerveny Dvur, with the result that in addition to the “hunt” spectators there were also people who had come simply to enjoy a walk in the grounds and who could blame them.

Well that is the setting – now for the topic of the blog. You may have noticed that I keep talking about the hunt in quotation marks. With all due respect to Salamander and the other members of the hunt, I really didn't get the impression it was a hunt at all, not that that is a bad thing particularly. Like Philip Wilkinson who commented on the Expats blog I am familiar with the Cotswold Hunt, which may not now hunt foxes nevertheless still does charge across farmland (presumably as a drag hunt) jumping any barrier between them and their “prey”. I have seen them jumping large gates and Cotswold stone walls and I have seen the damage this sometimes causes. The Cotswold hunt horses are massive – real hunters – and they need to be. Not so the St Hubert's hunt – where none of the horses were particularly large and some were mere ponies. This was possible because this “hunt” was perhaps more similar to a gymkhana or horse show, with relatively low fences constructed specially for the occasion. There were various equestrian games, including the main event chasing someone in a plastic fox mask. It had therefore an altogether different atmosphere. There was a delightful amateurishness about it all – the man commenting on the tannoy and trying to fill in the gaps, the small brass band, the grins on the riders faces, it was along way from the thrill and seriousness of the British hunt. I was reminded of village fetes, my companion commented that all they needed was a stall selling jam and cakes. All of which seemed rather strange given the Czechs' love of hunting, shooting and fishing, on which I have commented in the past; but then I suppose real Czech hunting is probably more of a solitary affair.

The crowd was, one suspects, mostly made up of friends and family of those involved and cheered the winners, clapped the losers and took lots of photos and videos. A stall provided goulash, coffee, the ubiquitous sausage and bread, as well as sweets for the young members of the audience. Unusually for the Czechs (and it would have been unusual too for a British hunt) there was no beer or alcohol of any sort on sale – a consequence of being in the asylum's parkland – and yet people did not object and got on with the business of enjoying themselves. The audience was very egalitarian, unlike the “county” set that one associates with British hunts and the event even included a session of singing round a campfire

But then I rather suspect I am bringing my own prejudices to this. When I was young my parents scrimped and saved for me to go to a local private junior school. There I found myself among girls who seemed to live and breathe ponies and riding. There was never any question that my family could afford (or for that matter would prioritise) riding lessons or the costs of having a pony. I found myself on the outside of that set, it was my first experience of British class system. I in turn made it very clear that I did not want a pony and rejected all things horsey, I had other more important things to do, like writing poetry. Nor for that matter did I want to go on the skiing trip, another activity the Czechs enjoy, I don't think I even bothered to take the letter about the trip home to my parents. So when I was asked at the Czech hunt if I fancied learning to ride, I automatically said no. Even now I cannot bring myself to do it.

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