As the Cheshire Farmers Drag Hunt season draws to a close at the end of March, most of the farmers have their sights fixed on another equestrian event. Easter Tuesday is a very important date in the High Peak calendar, as it sees the annual renewal of Flagg Races. Flagg is a point to point meeting, so called because historically the horses raced from one point to another with no predefined course, and one particular owner is hoping for better luck than last year. Steve Evason and his fellow owners entered Quantum Theory for a race in 2011, but the horse had to be withdrawn as the ground was unsuitable. Quantum Theory is a hunter, trained by Gary Hanmer in Nantwich, and the horse prefers “good” ground rather than “firm” that can be jarring on the legs.
Last year’s disappointment has not put Steve off, however. “I like Flagg because it is an old, traditional point to point,” he explained. In fact Flagg is unique in its tradition, as it is the last meet that features the Hunt Members race over natural hunting ground. The race starts in open country, between the villages of Flagg and Pomeroy, and finishes on the racecourse itself.
For Steve, racing is just one part of his involvement with horses, as from his farm in the Cheshire village of Ashley he is also involved in hunting and eventing. He is a Master of the Cheshire Farmers Drag Hunt, a position that he has held for around two years, although he has been involved in the Hunt for much longer than that. “It all started with my wife Ruth who got involved with the North East Cheshire Hunt in 2000. When the Cheshire Farmers Drag Hunt reformed Ruth joined them, and I followed behind, mainly taking pictures.” Steve went on to explain his own active involvement. “I joined the Hunt in 2007 with the attitude that if you can’t beat them you might as well join them. I was asked to become Chairman around four years ago, as my business as a building contractor allowed me to make use of the administrative side, then two years ago I became a Master of the Hunt.”
Sadly, Ruth died of cancer in February 2010, but Steve is determined to carry on her legacy. The farm is as busy as ever, with two racehorses, one eventer, 2 retired horses and three hunters housed in its stables. “It’s a big production that needs passion and commitment. There is an army of people that get involved, and it should never be considered a hobby, this is definitely a way of life,” he explained, demonstrating a good deal of the obvious passion.
To the uninitiated the Drag Hunt could appear to be a lot of people dressed up on horses racing this way and that led by a pack of hounds, but that is far from the case. “Each Hunt is arranged by the Masters and Huntsmen and is meticulously planned,” said Steve. “We lay a scent that the hounds follow. We can make the Hunt as easy or as difficult as we like so that everyone who wants to can get involved, and we have a good relationship with the owners of the farms that we visit, built up over many years.” The Hunt runs a “Fallen Stock” service to remove dead cows and sheep from local farms, and in return the farmers give the Hunt access to their land.
The hounds also play a big part in the Hunt, and incidentally, you should never refer to them as “dogs”! The Cheshire Farmers Drag Hunt has 20 couples, which is 40 hounds. They are called “couples” because they are joined by a leather strap so that the younger hound has to follow the lead of its more experienced partner, and that is how they learn what is expected of them. The hounds work on rotation, with as many as twelve couples on each Hunt. As with all of the animals involved in the Hunt, the hounds should not be considered as domesticated, as Steve explained. “They are essentially a pack animal and do not make great pets.”
Although his passion for all things equestrian is obvious, Steve does have his preferences. “I tend not to get too attached to the racehorses as they do not actually live on the farm,” he admitted. “The exception was Ballyeightra Cross as he actually spent his summers here, outside the training regime of his trainer. I get the most pleasure out of hunting, as I actually get to ride,” he continued.
Although he is an experienced rider, Steve acknowledges his own limitations and the value of a good horse. “With a car if you get into difficulties it is up to yourself to get out of it,” he said. “With hunting, my horse has dragged me out of more awkward situations than I care to remember”.
Many of the horses that pass through his hands can be used in more than one discipline. “Racehorses often turn into eventers after their racing career has ended,” Steve elaborated. “They have the intelligence and the discipline for the eventing and dressage competitions. Our old racehorse Logarithm was a pointer who won at Bangor, and then he became a useful eventer.”
The Cheshire Farmers Drag Hunt covers a wide area, from Warrington to Enden in the Staffordshire Moorlands, and from Tarporley to the Peak District. If you see them passing by please give them a friendly wave of encouragement, or better still, get yourself along to Flagg races for a real flavour of the equestrian life.
For more information on the Cheshire Farmers Drag Hunt visit www.cfdh.org. For more information on Flagg Races visit www.flaggraces.co.uk.