Spend a day at the Shellard Shoot in Somerset and you may well see Dragon on the beating line, ridden by shoot owner Frank Shellard
A horse moving with a line of beaters isn’t a sight you’re going to see much these days. In fact Frank Shellard says he is probably the last person riding on the beating line in the UK. (If you know anybody else, please get in touch.)
I asked him what the advantages were, in these modern days of ATVs.
“Plenty. Quite simply I can get around the shoot much more easily, put the guns out and get to the beating line with much greater flexibility when I’m on Dragon. I’ve been beating from the back of my horse for over 15 years now.
“Dragon’s presence doesn’t spook the birds, so I can get around without distubing anything.
A better view
“I’m also up high, so I get a really good view of what’s happening and in tall crops like maize I can see the beating line and flushing birds.”
Frank told me that back in the day, gamekeepers often used horses to pull the game cart to the drive and then got into the saddle to control the beating line. The practice fell out of use with the advent of small tractors which were then used to take the day’s bag home.
Winston Churchill was a horse lover and said: “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
It’s a statement that Frank agrees with. “In a very therapeutic way Dragon relaxes everyone with his presence, including me. I used to hunt and to me a horse connects all country sports together.”
That apart, Frank admits to enjoying the showmanship of turning up at the shoot on his mount. “Most people react with surprise and then they want their photograph taken with Dragon and me. When Guns return for another season’s shooting they always want me to ride on their day.”
So what does Dragon think of his shoot days? Well, he seems to enjoy the whole experience. He’s not in the slightest bit perturbed by the sound of gunshot because as a foal, he spent his time in a field by the clayshooting ground.
It’s not all work either. When he’s away from the beating line Dragon likes nothing better than playing football with his stable play ball.
Frank pointed out that riding a horse was a lot ‘greener’ than using a vehicle. We then got onto the subject of conservation. He farms 100 acres organically and in addition to maize for gamebirds, grows quinoa upon which small birds enjoy feeding and leaves kale to run to seed “because that’s what the finches like”.
Last year he and others raised £3,500 for a woodcock tracker, following the bird all the way to Russia and, extraordinarily, back to the same field again.
The Shellard Shoot
If you’re looking to learn to shoot, the Shellard Shoot is a friendly place to learn with excellent tuition. If you’re learning from scratch you’ll start on the clayground in the morning and then move onto your first pheasant drive in the afternoon. You can find more details on the Shellard Shoot here.
If you’re more experienced, there are 10 drives offering both partridge and pheasant and of course time in the clayground is never wasted. We’ve also written a full review of the Shellard Shoot if you want to know more.