The Belle Meade Hunt was whelped by a group of horsemen who had been meeting for regular trail rides. Their usual route from Stagecoach Road took them to the Rock Dam and finally to the Boy Scout Cabin, where they often stayed for a cookout and sometimes an overnight and homeward ride in the morning. These are familiar landmarks to anyone who has visited and enjoyed the hunting at Belle Meade.
The organizational meeting to establish the hunt was held in August of 1966 at the home of James E. Wilson, Jr in Thomson, Georgia at the behest of William Preston Smith. Mr. Smith suggested the name Belle Meade after his family home in Virginia and suggested that Confederate Cavalry yellow be adopted as the hunt’s colors. Mr. Smith also designed the Hunt’s emblem. Mr. Wilson was elected president.
From the moment Codie Jane Hayes became aware of the world around her, she took to hounds. She progressed from crawling to toddling among the pack of Penn-Marydel foxhounds bred and hunted by her grandfather Jody Murtagh, Jr., ex-MFH. She was a wunderkind, totally at home with hounds and crazy about them. From the way hounds take to her, she was born with a gift—that coveted invisible thread connecting her to hounds wherever she goes.
In August 2014, Codie, twenty-two, became the professional huntsman for the Golden’s Bridge Hounds in North Salem, New York. This position at any hunt entails huge responsibilities, but after a glimpse into how she spent her childhood and teen years, there’s no doubt that she has been training to be huntsman since she came into the world.
The Belle Meade Hounds in Thomson, Georgia will once again stage their annual Hunt Week—Gone Away with the Wind—this season from January 18 to 24. As before, the week will be fun-filled with hunting, parties, a hunt ball, and the camaraderie of the field.
As a bonus, this year’s affair will feature a fascinating presentation by special guest Dr. Stanley Ghert, Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology and a Wildlife Extension Specialist at Ohio State University.
Dr. Ghert, who has enthralled foxhunters at MFHA meetings over the years, will talk to Belle Meade Hunt Week attendees on Thursday morning, January 22, about his special subject of research—the coyote. This much-aligned animal has survived and even flourished over the past hundred years despite the best efforts of the federal government to eradicate it.
Early in the twentieth century, at the behest of western ranching and agricultural interests that were losing stock to predators, the U.S. Government instituted program after program designed to erase the wolf, grizzly bear, mountain lion, and coyote from the landscape. The programs were mostly successful in their purpose. The wolf, grizzly, and mountain lion were driven nearly to extinction. The coyote, however, was the one predator that not only survived the pressure, but increased its population and its range, slowly expanding eastward and covering now the entire country. How it did that is one of the mysteries of the animal world.
Professional huntsman Larry Pitts was recognized at the recent MFHA Staff Seminar held in Lexington, Kentucky, April 12 to 13, 2014. After a dinner for the two hundred attendees, Larry was presented with the annual Ian Milne Award for his exceptional contributions to the sport of foxhunting.
While the sport of foxhunting may, as many say, revolve around the foxhound, I suggest that the heart and soul of our sport is the professional huntsman. Professionals like Larry preserve the superlative foxhound bloodlines for breeding, and they maintain the standards for the care and training of hounds in kennel and the handling of hounds in the field. All hunts—whether high-octane or small farmer’s pack—and all huntsmen—whether professional or amateur—benefit from their breeding acumen and their examples of practice.
Here is a real-life example of how the professional huntsman exerts his or her influence upon our sport in kennels far beyond his own. Epp Wilson, MFH and huntsman of the Belle Meade Hunt (GA), reached back to his teen years and his first meeting with Larry Pitts in this vignette.
Snow may have crippled Atlanta, but the few inches that fell in Thomson, Georgia during Belle Meade's second annual "Gone Away with the Wind" Hunt Week (January 26 to February 2, 2014) did little to dampen the great foxhunting and lavish southern hospitality. The first day we arrived was warm and sunny, a welcome respite from a frozen Maryland. I was returning for a second awesome adventure with Belle Meade Hunt and had encouraged two more of my fellow Marlborough Hunt members to come down. Jayne Koester and her amateur-radio enthusiast husband Fred enlivened their trip by talking to all the Ham radio operators near Interstate 95 as they drove south. Following them was Gwen Alred, a member of both Marlborough and Potomac Hunt clubs, who also decided getting out of a frigid Maryland was a good idea.
Monday at 3:00 pm, after warm greetings from our southern hosts and welcoming remarks from MFHs Epp Wilson, Charlie Lewis, and Gary Wilkes, we quickly trotted across the road from the kennels and moved across open cattle fields. I was riding first flight behind my good friend, Belle Meade Field Master Jean Derrick, and it felt wonderful to be cantering across soft ground in informal ratcatcher attire!
“My name is Dalton Reeves, I’m eighty years old and a retired high school football coach and teacher, originally from South Carolina,” our huntsman said, introducing himself to his field of foot-followers—mainly foxhunting guests and members participating in Belle Meade’s “Gone Away with the Wind” Hunt Week—some of whom were out beagling for the first time.
“I’m very happy to hear that I’m following an eighty-year-old huntsman,” I replied. “It means I’m not likely to get left too far behind, the prospect of which has been worrying me.”
“No worries,” Mr. Reeves assured me. “I’ve got two knee replacements and one new hip; I don’t travel too fast any more.”
That said, by the time Mr. Reeves brought the beagles in four hours later, I had been back to the deer camp meet three times to stick my boots into a fire blazing in an outdoor pit to thaw my toes. I also had a bite of breakfast and took a side trip with John McNeil, Sr. to the Rock House—thought to be the oldest house in the state of Georgia—previously a part of the McNeil property, over which the beagles were hunting, but now in the hands of the historical association. In between my retreats to comfort, I enjoyed along with the rest of the field several hours of hound music—some with voices that represented the beagle version of the booming “aroos” of the Penn-Marydel foxhound.