The leader of the pack gets set to give up the hunt

A HUNTSMAN who worked his way up from mucking out stables to leading one of the largest hunts in the country is retiring after 38 years.

When he replied to an advertisement for “a young lad required to help in stables and kennels” as a 16-year-old straight out of school, Matthew Puffer, 53, could never have imagined he would go on to lead 140 horses on the Pytchley Hunt.

Mr Puffer, who lives at the hunt’s kennels in Brixworth, will retire after six seasons leading the hunt in May.

Comparing the hunt to a top-five Premier League football team, he said: “I am very privileged to be one of the 174 in the country who have got this job with a hunt.”

As huntsman, Mr Puffer is responsible for the hunt’s hounds and leading them out along with paying members of the hunt three times a week.

If the hounds lose the trail laid for them, Mr Puffer is responsible for finding it again.

He said: “It’s a lot of pressure.

“But you come in afterwards and you are over the moon. It’s like scoring a hat-trick.”

But after several nasty falls, the demands of the job and riding for seven hours at a time are beginning to take their toll and Mr Puffer says he has to warm his aching body for half an hour in front of the fire after hunts.

Disposing of livestock for farmers is one of his roles at the heart of the rural community and even on Christmas Day he was called out to a sheep with a broken leg.

To Mr Puffer the most heart-wrenching part of retiring will be breaking the ‘golden thread’ which exists between him and the hounds.

He said: “It’s indescribable. You have to see it.

“I have 100 hounds and I know each of them by name. If I call one name out he comes to me.

“People often ask me, you have got a pack, which one is the leader?

“I answer, I’m the leader. They look up to me. I’m their dad; they are my children – it’s that close. It will be hard to say goodbye.”