I don’t know many times I’ve ended up in conversation regarding the common held belief that Border Terriers ran with Foxhounds and participated in the hunt before the fox was either caught and dispatched, made good its escape, or sought refuge below ground where it was then the sole responsibility of the terrier to either bolt it, direct diggers to its location by baying loudly, or to dispatch the fox underground (often with the help of a second terrier).
While I’m not going to say it’s never happened, I do not think it’s likely to have been common practice. I think confusion arises because people often interpret “has the soundness to follow a horse” with running and hunting amongst the hounds. They seem to understand the terrier might struggle to maintain the necessary pace and suggest the terrier used its intelligence, good nose and hearing, combined with knowledge of the hunt country, to cut corners and keep contact with the pack. It all sounds quite plausible until we start to look at what we do know about terriers regularly worked to fox and other quarry below ground in relation to what we know about the way in which hounds find and pursue quarry and how those in control of the pack are themselves able to keep in contact most of the time.
An experienced terrier will be largely governed by its nose, eyes and ears; memory plays an important part too, so knowledge of the terrain and how best to negotiate it, such as easier places to deal with obstacles, shallow water crossings or where the bridges are, and the locations of the earths, sets and drains which will often be largely hidden, hazards to avoid such as horses or cattle etc. So if allowed liberty to learn everything about the hunt country we have a terrier that has a vast amount of information stored in its brain relating to where many of the underground refuges are but also more than capable of smelling out new ones along the way. No terrier worthy of the name will ignore temptation in front of it, even if it can hear the obvious sounds that a fox has run to ground (the cry of hounds marking is unmistakable and the huntsman would be blowing “gone to ground” on the horn). Terriers out of touch from the pack would go to ground anywhere and everywhere, every country has well known treacherous underground fortresses that have bad reputations as death traps for terriers, not to mention that in these pre locator technology days it was hard enough to find a terrier when you knew where it first entered let alone being missing in action somewhere between the first and last draw (hounds searching for the scent).
What do we know about how hunts managed the issue and why are Borders expected to “follow a horse”? It’s important to remember that there were no horse boxes when the breed was emerging, riders hacked to the meet and back home again. Terriers would either trot amongst the hounds loose, be coupled to another terrier but still loose, trotted alongside the mounted terrierman on a long leader, or be mounted on horseback in a terrier bag. Combinations of all these were frequently used, terriers often being trusted running loose until either the first draw or until hounds were clearly on the scent of their quarry, at this point they would be either held on a leader or placed in a bag, how fast the hunt was progressing most likely the deciding factor.
The distances covered could be considerable for a terrier; it would take a fit one with very good constitution and construction to trot for an hour or more, then follow at a reasonable pace over rough country before being asked to deal with a fox. If the hunt was brisk it might be fortunate enough to get a breather up on the saddle and we certainly hope having helped account for the fox one way or another that it would, if tired and sore, get a ride home too.