Magazine article The Spectator

Shock Therapy

Magazine article The Spectator

Shock Therapy

Article excerpt

Just before the end of the season, I am hunting once more. Roosevelt was right about freedom from fear being the big thing. Fear is always somewhere in the background in hunting - unless you are a lunatic - and when you return after injury it is in the foreground. In strength and health, the saddle is a seat - comfortable, commanding, secure. In convalescence, it is a perch - jolting, temporary, precarious. When your blood is up, you can gallop along a tarmac road in hot pursuit. When it is thinned by staying indoors, you shiver, and wonder if you will fall off at the meet.

The physiotherapist said, 'You can go hunting again if your horse doesn't pull much.' I had forgotten that Sancho does nothing else. Being a columnist and therefore a natural tilter at windmills, I should logically have called my horse Rosinante, but instead he is named after Don Quixote's servant. This suits him because, in the great tradition of master/servant relationships, he's in charge.

Today, in particular, where we meet on his home ground, he does precisely what he wants. This means that, for the first few fields, his bucking is occasionally punctuated by a canter, rather than the other way round. As hounds work their way through a dense covert, Artemis the Master passes the time by taking us round a circuit of fences in and out of the wood behind them. Sancho is mad for it: the only thing that checks his career is the horse in front. The final fence in the sequence is a steep drop out of larches and into a field. Last season it put the Barrister into a gorse bush and this time it sends the Member of Parliament rolling across the turf. Sancho, uncontrollable, jumps it so big and staglike that I have the illusion of flying, bounds forwards into the field and then swerves left like a rugby player. I am still there. The shock therapy has worked. Fear is banished, and I'm free at last.

For the rest of the day, I can reaccustom myself to the subtler pleasures of the sport. After the long period of dry cold, and before the more recent wet and grey, this is a single day of perfect spring. Spring hunting is not classic hunting - the warmth tends to impede the scent, lambing begins to contract the amount of country available; the sense of life waxing marks the season's wane. …

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