17 MARCH 2007, Page 82

Man in tights

Michael Kallenbach, a recent convert to hunting, finds that

dressing up is more than half the fun

Idecided to take up hunting rather late in life — it was after hours of sitting in the Press Gallery listening to MPs from both sides of the House droning on about whether or not it should be banned.

Although in my early fifties then, I decided to gather the facts first hand: was this something only for toffs, as the Labour backbenchers cried out, or was it available to a cross-section of the population as the Tories argued. The more liberal-minded pointed out that while you may not like the sport or even those who enjoy it, that was certainly no reason to ban it. But ban it they did and, ironically, more people are now hunting with hounds — within the law — than ever before.

I signed up with the Royal Artillery Hunt, an army-supported hunt that operates in and around Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. There is hardly any jumping, but the galloping, fast and furious, makes up for it.

I found myself competing with equally inexperienced, mostly pimply-faced new army recruits who were fearless. The trouble was that at my stage in life I wasn’t as bold or brave — there were many occasions when I would get on my mount wondering whether I would arrive back at the stable block in one piece. Would the air ambulance be called out on my account?

Nevertheless, it was an excellent initiation; and like others before and after me, I soon found myself obsessed with hunting and all its paraphernalia. The trouble was I lacked a ‘mentor’ — someone who would fill me in on what to wear and, more importantly, what not to.

For starters, never wear sunglasses when out hunting and always say ‘good night’ when going home — even if it’s in the middle of the afternoon.

But dressing up for hunting was another matter. I became like a nerdy schoolboy aiming to please both the matron and headmaster. I relish the idea of getting my kit ready the night before, making sure my boots are the shiniest.

One of my first acquisitions was a pair of tights: for those I went to my local M&S. Before telling the assistant what I needed, I had to confess that no, I wasn’t a crossdresser, but it was for the cold and wind. A pair cost £5 then and they have lasted several seasons.

What others wear under their jodhpurs or breeches I don’t really want to know, but a hip flask filled with homemade sloe gin or, even better, a supply of The King’s Ginger Liqueur (£14.45) specially made for Berry Bros & Rudd (www.bbr.com) is ideal to help against the biting cold. It is brandy-based and became famous during the reign of King Edward VII as a warming drink after His Highness’s morning carriage rides.

I found my hip flask while trawling through an antique shop on a recent visit to Germany — Hitler banned hunting there ages ago. I then went to Calcutts (www.calcuttandsons.co.uk), just off the A34 between Newbury and Winchester, where Ian Compton arranged for a special case to be made for the flask for £90. Some years ago, the firm took over Henry Keat, which for hundreds of years has been making hunting horns, and Mr Compton says they produce more than 300 a year, which says all that you need to know about Labour’s hunting ban.

My hunting coat, a gem and a bargain at £50, came from one of the jumble sales that every hunt organises annually to help raise funds for their coffers. But when it came to hunting boots, I waited patiently for the twice-yearly sale at Swaine Adeney Brigg (www.swaineadeney.co.uk) on St James’s Street in London, and snapped up a terrific pair, with ankle to knee length zips at the back, a snip at just over £100. The store has recently been refurbished, and like Mr Compton, Ian Eastwood, the general manager, says that sales have been booming since the hunt ban, particularly in the saddlery department. ‘Most of the packs are still going strong,’ he says. And to top it all, I splurged and forked out £400 for a bespoke hat by Pateys in southeast London (www.pateyhats.com).

When it comes to my horse and tack, two highly competent New Zealand Olympic eventers, Tim Price and Jonelle Richards, look after me. They are both experts when it comes to searching out the right tack and their latest find was a combined martingale/breastplate (£140) from a firm in France called CWD (www.cwdsellier.com).

Now we all simply need to wait for the Tories to win the next election and ban the ban.