English fox hunting is a sport that has been misunderstood for years. Many Americans have no idea of what it’s all about – and quite a few Brits have the same misconceptions.
You’ve probably seen pictures of fox hunts. English riders decked in red jackets, riding large jumping horses, following long-eared hounds. You probably haven’t seen the end results of those hunts, though. The idea is for the hounds to sniff out the foxes, and the riders to follow to the action and make sure the dogs don’t chase the fox off the land they’re allowed to hunt on. But traditionally, the riders didn’t kill the fox. That was left to the dogs, who would attack and kill the fox when they cornered it.
That brutal climax was the big reason for the push in Britain to ban the hunts. But the idea that it was a sport only the filthy rich could enjoy didn’t help its popularity, either.
But former Prime Minister Tony Blair admits the ban was one of the biggest mistakes of his political career. He says now that he didn’t understand all the ramifications of the ban. He knows now that it wasn’t simply a sport for the landed gentry. It was a way of life for many rural people – rich and poor alike.
But since the ban, those rural folks have found ways to keep the hunt alive. They’ve modified how they train their dogs, so the dogs don’t catch and kill the foxes anymore. In fact, instead of chasing foxes, most hunts involve the dogs chasing a pre-laid scent trail. When foxes do appear, the dogs chase the foxes into the open, where a rider now shoots the fox, to kill it more quickly and humanely.
The changes have allowed the hunt to continue, but a little more understanding of the rural way of life may have kept the ban from being enacted in the first place.