Shilling takes up foxhunting in middle age and finds adventure and thrills—and gets an insider's view of one of the great conflicts of contemporary British society.
London Times columnist Shilling is an accidental hunter. While casting about for a new hobby, the unrepentant urbanite decides to try a few horseback riding lessons. (This despite her lifelong aversion to exercise.) When she finds herself at the Rooting Street stables, under the frighteningly capable tutelage of one Mrs. Rogers, however, Shilling suddenly realizes that she desperately wants to become an accomplished rider, and that it will be far more difficult than she’d imagined. Moreover, she wants to go foxhunting, a goal that will give meaning to the hundreds of lessons and the endless expenditure. Thus, over the course of some years, she acquires a horse of her own and eventually rides out with the Ashford Valley Hunt in Kent—a feeble horsewoman, perhaps, but a dogged one. Shilling is equally determined to make clear to the reader the myriad seductions of what is now a banned pursuit in England, although her book was published before Parliament’s February 2005 decision. She presents the deep involvement with the countryside that hunting brings, the intricate relationship of human and hound, the camaraderie of those who understand the siren pull of the hunt and the ongoing conflict between anti-hunting activists and the Countryside Alliance, along with a great deal of foxhunting history. The whole is spiced with humor. Shiller, who is ambivalent about killing a fox, wonders at one point if her new hobby is akin to “poor, mad Zelda Fitzgerald and her loopy attempts to train as a ballet dancer.”
An excellent lesson in the history and culture of a most English pursuit.