The Blue Ridge Hunt was organized in 1888, but this gently rolling grassland in the Valley of the Shenandoah echoed to the music of hounds, the huntsman’s horn, and the rhythm of galloping horses long before that time. A youthful George Washington regularly followed the hounds of his friend and employer Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax nearly three hundred years ago over the very same hills and fields and along the same twists and turns of the Shenandoah River as do the Blue Ridge hounds today.
One day some years ago while recuperating from whatever had me grounded at the moment, I decided to follow my home pack, the Blue Ridge foxhounds, by vehicle. Fortunately, Chris Howells had an open seat, so I climbed into his blue pickup truck.
I knew that whatever would be seen of the action that day from any vehicle would be seen from Chris’s truck first. Every road follower wants to ride with Chris. If there’s no room, they do their best to follow him. Chris knows the country and how the foxes run.
Chris hunted the Blue Ridge foxhounds from 1973 to 2001 during the Mastership of Judy Greenhalgh. Since his retirement from the saddle, Chris has been following hounds on the roads for another almost twenty years. He serves as the principal road whip and remains a valued and knowledgeable member of the staff.
The following article was first published in the November 1983 edition of "Horseplay" magazine. –Ed.
The early morning light shows a solitary figure on his way to the kennels, a terrier at his heels and a can of Pepsi in his hand. Christopher P. Howells, huntsman for the Blue Ridge Hunt in Boyce, Virginia, is about to start another busy day. Hounds greet him with an enthusiastic din, but turn quiet as he speaks to them in his soft English accent and sees to the feeding.
Years have passed since I was resident and MFH of two hunts in England. Now, as a married and ex-MFH in Virginia, I reflect on my fourteen years of English hunting. All the dark moments—rain, rain, and more rain, difficult farmers, and monumental mistakes—have faded now, leaving me with thoughts of good friends, outstanding hunts, great hedges and walls, and lovely hounds.
A winter storm blanketed the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on a hunting day for the Blue Ridge Hunt. The gently falling snow quietly covered the drabness of the frost-killed rolling fields and bare trees. It also produced rosy cheeks and a soft, white covering upon those hardy souls who embraced the temporary beauty of a wintry day in the woods and fields.
Posted January 26, 2020
Cleveland Bay owners, breeders, and fanciers were privileged to travel back in time to recreate the heyday of this handsome, versatile, yet endangered breed of equine on November 16, 2019. The reunion combined with a meeting of the Blue Ridge Hunt is so appropriate at Farnley Farm in White Post, Virginia.
In the 1930s and 1940s the late Alexander Mackay-Smith bred both pure Cleveland Bay horses and partbreds at Farnley for use as field hunters. He remains the only North American breeder to have exported a stallion back to the UK from whence the breed originated. His stallion, Farnley Exchange, still appears in the pedigrees of most Cleveland Bays living in the world today.
Mackay-Smith’s daughter, Hetty Mackay-Smith Abeles, and her family welcomed the Blue Ridge Hunt subscribers, guests, and seventeen purebred and partbred Cleveland Bays to Farnley for the annual event. Mackay-Smith was a Master of Blue Ridge in the mid-twentieth century. Mrs Abeles and her family continue to breed their well-known Farnley Ponies there, based on bloodlines started and proven as early as the 1930s.
The author, as we reported in our last issue, is the new huntsman at the Camargo Hunt (OH). During his career, Andy Bozdan has served as huntsman in England, Australia, and the U.S. Recently, he’s been whipping-in at the Blue Ridge Hunt (VA). Foxhunting Life asked Andy what it’s like to carry the horn again and be The Man in Front!
So, after a couple of seasons whipping-in to Graham Buston at Blue Ridge Hunt, I took up the horn again at the Carmargo Hunt in Kentucky and Ohio. I can remember one or two of my friends jokingly asking if I’d remember how to blow the horn, or get on the right side of the horse, etc. But it is, for sure, very different when you take on a pack and suddenly ... your it!
Everything becomes your responsibility, and very quickly you have to make decisions on the care of the hounds, how best to hunt the country, and plan ahead with a breeding program. To be honest I’ve been so busy since I arrived here that I have barely had time to stop and think!