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.
The Aiken Hounds (SC) needed a huntsman, and Chad Wilkes was available. Sounds simple enough, but it really wasn’t. The story is in the hows and whys of it: the perfect timing, the perfect match, and how it all meshes so perfectly.
In 1914 many of the most adventurous men and women of American sporting legend organized the Aiken Drag—wealthy northerners Louise Eustis Hitchcock, MFH and huntsman; her husband Thomas Hitchcock, known today as the father of steeplechase racing in America; son Tommy Hitchcock Jr., who ranks with his father as one of the greatest American polo players of all time; plus the Belmonts, Vanderbilts, and Whitneys.
Charlie Lewis announced his retirement as Master at the Annual Meeting of the Belle Meade Hunt (GA) after twenty-one years of service. Charlie has whipped-in to Belle Meade huntsmen for fifty years―to Master and huntsman Epp Wilson and before that to Epp’s late father, James, the hunt’s founder, Master, and first huntsman.
Over the years, Charlie has mentored several Belle Meade youngsters in the art of whipping-in, crossing the country, and growing into responsible adults. He served on the Belle Meade Hunt Committee as well.
“Charlie has been the go-to guy for fifty years,” said Epp Wilson. “He will tackle any problem for the Hunt. Whatever the problem or challenge, anyone in the Hunt could go to him and get wise counsel and advice. From landowner challenges, to friction between certain members, to building new hunt barns after fires.
With the close of the recent hunting season, I’m feeling the need for some deep reflection since I fell six times. That’s right—six times—this season! Read on, as I evaluate each fall and its root cause.
Fall # 1: I was behind Ken Trogden when he and his horse, Moseby, took a bad jump over the coop into Gentlemen’s Hill. Ken hit the ground on landing and broke his wrist. My horse, Parker, and I were landing after jumping the coop just as Ken hit the ground and his air vest deployed. Parker spun at the sight and sound. I almost stuck it but, in the end, had to bail. When I ask myself how this ride went, I can hear Barbara Lee, one of my riding instructors, in my head, “You were following too close!” Okay. Mea Culpa.
Three foxhounds from the Shawnee Hounds (IL) finished among the overall top ten scorers (out of twenty-four hounds that completed the trials) propelling Shawnee to first place among the six other competing hunts. Following Shawnee, in order of finish, were Hillsboro Hounds (TN) second and Tennessee Valley Hunt (TN) third. Other competing hunts were Belle Meade Hunt (GA), Midland Foxhounds (GA), Mission Valley Hunt Club (KS), and Bull Run Hunt (VA). The trials were hosted by Belle Meade in their Thomson, Georgia country on January 17-18, 2020.
Shawnee supporters were ecstatic as the results were announced. Not bad for first-season huntsman Kalie Wallace! Shawnee Master and former huntsman Dr. Mark Smith, who has been the brains behind the hunt’s breeding program, handed the horn over to Kalie at the start of this season.
My daughter, Savannah, started riding with Belle Meade Hunt (GA) eight years ago at the age of twelve. I am not a rider. Yes, I have ridden (slowly, on a trail). Riding is her passion, not mine.
However, I am not a mom that wanted to just drop her kid off with a hug and a kiss and a “Have fun and be careful!” So, I started hitching rides with the kennelman in the old hound truck, or in the back of Unit One (another old pickup truck with not very comfortable tally-ho benches in the truck bed), or with pretty much anyone that would take pity and let me ride along.