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.
As I close my bookshop and open a new chapter in my bookselling career, Norm has asked me to say a few words about my almost half century of selling horse books.
Ever since I received Somebody’s Pony for Christmas 1952, I’ve cherished and collected horse books. After earning an M.A. in art history and starting a publishing career, I began selling out-of-print books in my two fields of interest, horses and art. I named the business Blue Rider Books after a group of German artists who often painted horses. I found some books in nearby book barns, ran some classified ads, mailed out a list, and so it all began—100-plus catalogues, dozens of trade fairs and horse shows, and tens of thousands of books ago.
When the COVID pandemic and executive orders from the Governor of Virginia forced cancellation of Orange County Hounds’ primary annual fund raising event—the barn party held at Board President Jaqueline Mars’ legendary home—OCH Board leaders Jane Bishop and Emily Hannum put their heads together and scheduled instead a Vixen’s Meet. Given the strong showing October 15, 2020 at Stonehedge in The Plains, Virginia, the ladies like it.
Ladies from a dozen hunts turned out in support of Orange County: Belle Meade Hunt (GA), Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds (PA), Cloudline Hounds (TX), and De La Brooke Foxhounds (MD). From Virginia were ladies of the Blue Ridge Hunt, Casanova Hunt, Loudoun Fairfax Hunt, Middleburg Hunt, Piedmont Fox Hounds, Rappahannock Hunt, and Snickersville Hounds.
Saturday, September 19, 2020 was a bluebird day indeed for horses, horsemen, and spectators to be racing, riding, and cheering at Blue Ridge Hunt’s postponed spring point-to-point. Except the latter—the spectators— were sadly absent.
The ground was hard, but the ancient thatch of grass on the Woodley racecourse provides a thick natural cushion for horses. Nine races were run: hurdles, flat, then timber. Of the nine races, trainer Neil Morris entries won three—Maiden Hurdle, Open Hurdle, and Novice Rider Flat.
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.