Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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Aiken Hounds


Aiken, SC



Website: Facebook


new england14.audrey.ericschneiderGrand Champion Wentworth Audrey 2013, shown by huntsman Kami Wolk, MFH  /  Eric Schneider photo Wentworth Audrey 2013 was judged Grand Champion of Show at the New England Hound Show on Sunday, May 4, 2014. The show was held at Echo Ridge Farm in Lee, New Hampshire and was hosted for the first time by the Wentworth Hunt. Audrey is by a Penn-Marydel sire, Red Mountain Van Gogh 2008, out of an American dam, Keswick Nipper 2010.

Audrey's sire, Van Gogh, has his own history. After a couple of stops in the Carolinas, his intelligence earned him a new home in New England where he could hobnob with all the Ivy Leaguers. More on that later.

Huntsman Charles Montgomery from the Bull Run Hunt (VA) judged the foxhounds. Montgomery knows a good hound when he sees one. As huntsman for the Live Oak Hounds (FL) for many years, he consistently fielded a pack of hounds of which an astounding percentage were hound show Champions and Grand Champions.

Wentworth is a drag pack in southern New Hampshire that changed over from Crossbred hounds to American and Penn-Marydel when the current huntsman Kami Wolk, MFH, took up the horn. Kami explained that Audrey was one of two litter sisters that huntsman David Raley drafted to her from the Moore County Hounds (NC). David, in turn, had received the pair from Katherine Gunter, huntsman at the Aiken Hounds (SC) who bred the litter.

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 bellemeade14.lasthunt.jpgThe author (right) with (l-r) Field Master Jean Derrick and Master and huntsman Epp Wilson at the final meet

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!

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w-dup.carneyWayne-DuPage drag hounds head to covert. / Chris Carney photo

Drag hunting, according to conventional wisdom, is what a hunt does when its country is constricted by suburban development. Sometimes that’s true, but, more often, hunts follow a dragged line of man-laid scent because the Masters want to. And a few hunts have been doing it for more than a century.

Each type of hunting—live or drag—has its pluses and minuses, depending on the needs and priorities of the participants. Drag hunting offers a controlled hunting experience to the benefit of hounds, riders and landowners. With a judicious laying of the drag, hounds are safer because roads and other hazards can be avoided; farmer’s crops are protected from horse’s hooves; homeowners’ lawns and yards are not trampled; and small pets are safe from the attention of hounds (all assuming that hounds don’t riot).

For riders who seek a gallop over fences, drag hunting offers a more efficient use of time, with no standing on a windy hillside while hounds search a covert for a fox (which may or may not be found). Thus the drag-hunting day typically lasts about two to three hours, with guaranteed galloping and jumping, better suiting those with a busy schedule, rather than the three- to five-hour day usually consumed by the ebb and flow of live hunting.

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louise and thomas hitchcock.aiken houndsMrs. Louise Eustis Hitchcock, MFH and huntsman of the Aiken Drag Hunt and Mr. Thomas Hitchcock / Courtesy Hitchcock Woods Foundation

Drag hunting was once a gloriously competitive sport, the roots of which go back to seventeenth-century England. During the reign of King James I (1603–1625), it began as  a sport known as running a train scent. A “drag was laid, hounds were put on the line, and ran it at a racing pace. The horse in the lead at the end of the drag was declared the winner,” wrote the late Alexander Mackay-Smith in his Foxhunting in North America.
Later in the same century, during the reign of King Charles II (1649–1685) , a gentleman could enter his hound or hounds to compete for the Woodstock Plate, a race for hounds following a four-mile drag as a test of both the hound’s speed and its ability to follow a scent. When houndsmen and spectators discovered that the best and, not incidentally, the most enjoyable way to follow the hound race was on horseback, the sport of drag hunting was born according to John Philip Hore in his History of Newmarket.

Even Hugo Meynell, the father of modern foxhunting, played his part in drag-hunting history when, in 1763, he participated in a celebrated hound match in the form of a drag hunt between his Quorn Foxhounds and those of Mr. Barry’s Cheshire Foxhounds. By the nineteenth century, the notion of a guaranteed, sustained gallop over jumps appealed to many sportsmen, especially those who mainly hunted to ride.

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The Blessing of Hounds ceremony of the Aiken Hounds held at Memorial Gate in the Hitchcock Woods each Thanksgiving Day is an annual tradition in this horse-sport-minded South Carolina town. As with many hunts across the country and abroad, the ceremony represents the start of the formal season.

This year Aiken Hunt members will celebrate their one hundredth blessing with an expanded liturgy in the Old English tradition to be delivered by Rev. Grant B. Wiseman, Rector at St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church. The ceremony will start at 11:00 am. As always, the public is invited, and with a larger crowd expected this year, attendees are asked to allow more time for parking and walking to Memorial Gate.

The Aiken Hunt Masters are Linda Knox McLean, Larry Byers, and Joey Peace.

Posted November 22, 2013