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I will NEVER give up the thrill of the chase


Caitriona Murphy (third rider from right and below): 'My heart beats
faster when I catch a glimpse of a fox'

Caitriona Murphy (third rider from right and below): 'My heart beats faster when I catch a glimpse of a fox'

Caitriona Murphy (third rider from right and below): 'My heart beats faster when I catch a glimpse of a fox'

It's the adrenalin that does it for me. The thrill of the chase induces a physical response within me. My heart beats faster when I catch a glimpse of a fox slipping quietly out of a covert. My eyes dart around, trying to follow his trail as he loops and winds his way across the countryside. My ears strain to hear the magical sound of hound music rising from a valley.

This rush is without doubt a primordial feeling that harks back to the days when humans tracked and killed animals to ensure their survival. Hunting has been part of the human psyche for thousands of years, like it or not.

However, in 2010, the adrenalin rush is not based on the prospect of securing an essential meal but, instead, the challenge of crossing unknown territory on a horse that I have bought and trained for this very job.

The sheer physical challenge of jumping drains and dykes, crossing rivers and streams and clearing ditches and wire fences is what I live for. It's the ultimate test of my horse's bravery and dexterity, as well as my own skill at staying onboard through the toughest of trials.

For me, the rush of blood to the head I get out of hunting is no different to the adrenalin that fuels bone-crunching tackles in any contact sport, the breathtaking rush a parachute jumper gets when he jumps out of a plane or the primitive survival instinct that sees a boxer take blow after blow to the head in the ring.

Yes, unlike other games, my sport can result in the death of an animal. But death occurs every single minute in the natural world -- the animal kingdom is one massive web of predators and prey.

Surviving in the animal kingdom is not a walk in the park -- a predator eats animals lower down on the food chain until it is itself killed by a predator higher up the ladder. Simple as that.

When hounds kill a fox, it is a quick, clean death. One bite to the jugular and the fox knows no more.

Hounds hunt the scent of a fox, following the lingering trail of an animal that is already two or three fields ahead of the pack. For a hound to even catch up with the fox inevitably means the fox was either injured or sick.

Sarcoptic mange is a common affliction in foxes, caused by microscopic mites that burrow deep under the skin. The fox's reaction is to bite and scratch constantly, resulting in self-inflicted open wounds. Mange causes hair loss, dehydration, lethargy and conjunctivitis. The end result of mange in a fox is a slow, lingering death after a period of around four months.

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Which would you prefer: a quick, clean death or a painful deterioration towards death from multiple infections?

The anti-hunt lobby would like to portray me and other hunting supporters as nothing more than bloodthirsty psychopaths with no regard for the fox.

I would argue the opposite is true -- no one admires a fox like a hunt supporter. Incongruous as it may seem, one of my favourite sights is a fine, healthy, strong fox, with a glossy coat and bushy tail.

I admire their skill and cunning at outwitting hounds and, in some cases, their sheer bravado. I once watched an audacious fox, having laid a false trail for hounds by looping over and back several fields, sit boldly on an exposed railway line overlooking the hounds to admire his handiwork. After observing the hounds gallop in endless circles, he calmly trotted away home down the railway line.

The anti-hunt lobby accuse me and other hunt supporters of not caring for animals. If they only knew what proportion of my wages is spent on animal care.

We currently have seven horses, three dogs and five hens -- that's 15 mouths to feed everyday besides our own. Between vet bills, farrier bills, feed, vaccinations, antibiotics, bedding and housing costs, I guarantee you I spend more on animal care than the anti-hunt lobby realise.

Earlier this week, I spent a sleepless night caring for a pup with a suspected twisted gut, after poulticing the torn knee of one of the horses. How dare anyone accuse me of not caring for animals!

As for this claptrap about hunting people being landed gentry, the vast majority of us are still pinning our hopes on the Lotto every week. We work five days a week, pay taxes, take salary cuts and pay mortgages like the rest of you. There are very few silver spoons in the hunting fraternity, trust me.

One of the most infuriating aspects of some anti-hunt groups is what I call their lunatic fringe -- the people who believe animals should have the same rights as humans. These are the people who justify violence towards fellow humans in the pursuit of animal rights.

I simply cannot fathom the twisted reasoning that an animal is equally or more important than a human being.

Thankfully here in Ireland the lunatics are still very much on the fringe but nonetheless, their presence is ominous.

However, the anti-hunting brigade appears to be over-populated with another breed -- the hypocrites.

The very people who rant and rave about a fox, stag or hare being hunted are the very same people who go home to a steak in the evening. They are the same people who eat chicken sandwiches, ask for extra bacon on their breakfast bagels and relish a salmon terrine. Guess what? Animals were killed to fill your belly.

At the end of the day, death is a part of life. Even if hunting were banned in the morning, foxes, stags and hares would still die. There are no fairytales in the animal world.

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