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.
It was a top-three sweep, not only for English fell bloodlines, but for one Cumbrian hunt in particular. When the recent Bull Run-Rappahannock Foxhound Performance Trials concluded in Virginia over the weekend of October 19–21, 2017, the three top-scoring hounds were either sired by or whelped out of fell hounds from the Ullswater Foxhounds (UK). And three different Ullswater hounds at that.
Another hound finishing in the top ten was also whelped out of an Ullswater hound. At the center of this story is professional huntsman John Harrison, currently in his first season hunting the foxhounds of the Deep Run Hunt.
The fourth Friendship Meet on the Hark Forward Tour of scheduled hunts and performance trials was at Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds in Unionville, Pennsylvania. During the month of September we traveled a distance of three thousand miles and visited nine hunts.
The Cheshire is revered as one of the best foxhunting establishments in North America, renowned for big fences, protected countryside, and a distinguished history. When you hunt here, everyone asks, “Did you jump the line fences?” Yes, we jumped one of the line fences first! Everyone spreads out and picks a panel of three-rail fencing and off you go, foxhunting with Cheshire!
Who do you call twelve hours in advance for overnight accommodations for ten horses and five people when original plans fall through? In this case we were blessed to land on the doorstep of Christine Gracey, MFH of the Eglinton and Caledon Hounds (ON). Completely nonplused at the last-minute plans, Christy and Master Alastair Strachan made arrangements for our caravan of horses and people. We pulled into Sleepy Fox Farm, the lovely hunter barn of Al Borrett and daughter Jennifer at midnight, after a fifteen-hour drive from Illinois.
After two brutally hot days of foxhound performance trials at Millbrook, the weather finally broke. The next stop on our Hark Forward Friendship Tour was a day’s foxhunting with the Golden’s Bridge Hounds (NY), about twenty miles southeast of Millbrook as the crow flies. Thankfully, the temperature had dropped by fifteen degrees. Hounds met at 7:30 am, scenting had definitely improved, and so had the game activity.
Trying something new, I took my digital recorder to record the important snippets of the action and my impressions of the day. This is the same recorder we use to score the hounds in the hound trials. Since it’s hard to remember everything that happens during a foxhunt, I wanted to make the all the action and impressions of the day come alive. Here goes:
Foxhounds from five hunts faced off for the second Performance Trial of the Hark Forward season. The trials were hosted by the Millbrook Hunt in their scenic and mountainous country in the Hudson River valley of New York State, just ten miles west of the Connecticut border, ninety miles north of New York City.
Hounds met on Monday and Tuesday, September 25 and 26, 2017 under conditions reminiscent of mid-summer rather than the early days of autumn. Temperatures rose well into the eighties on both days as riders sweltered and hounds struggled to find quarry in the usually productive coverts. Yet hounds worked as a veteran pack and displayed outstanding work during their brief moments of action.
Each competing hunt had selected the seven-and-a-half couples of hounds from their kennels to best represent them. The thirty-seven-and-a-half couples of proven hounds melded quickly into a single pack (more about that later), reflecting positively on every huntsman: Bart Poole from the Essex Fox Hounds (NJ); Marion Thorne, Genesee Valley Hunt (NY); Codie Hayes, Golden’s Bridge Hounds (NY); Don Philhower, Millbrook Hunt; and Sean Cully, Rose Tree-Blue Mountain Hounds (PA).