By Katrina Arnold
Nic Wheeler died on 3 April, while out with the Coakham Bloodhounds of which he was senior master and huntsman, aged 69.
As a child, Mr Wheeler learned to ride at Beauport Park Riding School in Hastings before getting his first pony Magpie. Magpie lived in the garage and Mr Wheeler and his sister Jane used to ride on the beach and while he was at school, he hunted with the Blean Beagles. He went to the East Essex Hunt in 1973, then the West Kent in 1976, where he was huntsman.
He became a member of the Coakham in 1989 and took over as huntsman in 1990, remaining so until he died. That year was the beginning of his greatest achievement, the breeding and schooling of the most magnificent pack of bloodhounds.
Mr Wheeler was a consummate horseman. He competed successfully at Burghley Horse Trials and was a leading point-to-point jockey in his day. He would often boast that the most he had ever paid for a huntsman’s horse was lunch for four in the local pub, and he once bought a horse for a pound. Exceptionally elegant on his horse, his picture was featured in Horse & Hound as an exemplar for the perfect position over a jump. That said, he was never heard to demean anyone else’s ability and he was fond of saying, “Remember you hunt for your own enjoyment and not for the astonishment of others.”
It was not always sunshine and laughter; when the pressure of hunting bloodhounds through a wood bristling with deer fell heavy on his shoulders, he could let loose a stream of colourful invective in order to galvanise action. However, the day always ended with his familiar catchphrase, “Well done, everybody, well done!” directed to his adoring hounds.
In later years, Mr Wheeler mellowed considerably. He had a wicked sense of humour, a twinkly eye, and a pinchant for slightly dubious jokes.
It is pleasing to know he died doing what he loved and, by all accounts, he probably never even knew the end had come. There are some wonderful pictures of him laughing and smiling minutes before it happened so although those who knew him are sad, he died a happy man.
The thoughts of all of the hunt’s followers, past and present, are with his stalwart wife, Sue, who supported him in everything he did.
Rest in peace, Nic Wheeler. “Well done, everybody, well done!”
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