Hound trailing is a traditional Cumbrian dog sport now also practised in other areas of northern England as well as Ireland. Trail hounds, originally Fox Hounds, follow a cross-country course of approximately ten miles marked by an aniseed and paraffin oil trail.
The sport is regulated by a number of hound trailing organisations and is a form of gambling, similar to horse racing. Participants will gamble on the outcome as well as compete for prize money.
Hound trailing originated in the 18th century, when a dispute arose as to which of two foxhunting packs was the fastest. Later years saw the addition of the aniseed and paraffin scent trail. The Hound Trailing Association, LTD (HTA) was set up in 1906 as the first association to oversee trails. This was later followed by others such as the Borders Hound Trailing Association, BHTA, in 1933, the Yorkshire Hound Trailing Association, YHTA as well as Irish associations in County Cork and County Kerry.
Originally, hound dogs were fell foxhounds. Over the years, selective breeding has been used to improve the speed of hounds used in the sport. The Hound Trailing Association has stated that foxhounds can no longer be accepted as participants in trails due to their relative lack of speed. However, foxhounds crossed with trail-hounds are acceptable as a way of improving the stamina of bloodlines. A foxhound trail-hound cross will take roughly three generations to regain the speed required to be competitive.
Retired hounds, hounds that interfere with other hounds in races and hounds that are naturally too slow to be competitive can be retrained as pets and rehoused.
Modern Hound Trailing
Owners of hounds register them with one of the various hound trailing associations and also pay a fixed member's fee. The hound trailing season runs from 1 March to 31 October each year. Trails occur several times a week during this period.
The association will get permission from any farmers and landowners over whose land the trail may run. Owners and supporters will gather at the start of the trail, often along with stalls for bets to be placed and stands for food and drinks to be sold. Trailers will drag a rag soaked in aniseed, paraffin and oil across the course, leaving a scent trail. The dogs will then be lined up, held by their owners until the starting flag. They will then be released to follow the course, which often takes between 25 and 45 minutes. The first back is the winner, with rosettes, ribbons and cups as well as prize money being awarded to those achieving good positions in particular races or overall league tables. The sport is highly competitive, and some dogs have been deliberately injured on the trail by owners to give their own dogs a better chance on future trails.