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.
It’s a week and a half since huntsman John Harrison was suddenly faced with, then miraculously dealt with what could have been a horrendous outcome of that day’s electric storm. A bolt of lightning struck the power meter at the Deep Run Hunt kennels and the building burned to the ground.
We’ve all heard how, with flaming shards falling from above, John was unable to reach hounds to free them from their pens. Needing another way in, he took a tractor to the perimeter and used the bucket loader to smash a way through, saving virtually all the foxhounds. The nightmare that ‘could have been’ was mercifully averted by John’s quick thinking and bold action.
Eric Myer, DVM, is currently in his sixty-sixth season of foxhunting. And not just with one hunt. No, no. If that were the case, the hunting season would be far too short to suit him.
At eighty-two, Eric begins his season in mid-July up north near Rochester, New York with the Genesee Valley Hunt. His wife Martha has roots in Geneseo, and the couple has a summer farm there. Then, in mid-October, when the Piedmont Fox Hounds are well into their cubhunting season down south in Virginia, Eric and Martha return to their Boyce farm in the Shenandoah Valley.
Matthew Mackay-Smith, internationally-renowned equine veterinarian, medical editor for EQUUS magazine, lifelong foxhunter, competitive endurance rider, and historian, died on December 8, 2018 in Berryville, Virginia. He was eighty-six.
Matthew possessed one of the most brilliant, ravenously curious minds I've ever encountered. A pioneer of equine surgical procedures, Harvard man, crazy brave foxhunter from age eight to eighty, mapper of colonial roads, 100-mile endurance rider, wordsmith nonpareil, coiner of riotous witticisms, knower of seemingly everything, mentor of seemingly everyone. In a world peopled with the narrow-focused, he was Jeffersonian in breadth. (Matthew was, in fact, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson.)
By the north-western banks of the Shenandoah River, just under the sweep of the Blue Ridge Mountains, huntsman Beth Opitz, MFH, Thornton Hill Hounds (VA) readies to move off to the first draw with her pack of Penn-Marydel foxhounds. Husband and Joint-Master Erwin Opitz (in scarlet) helps to keep the pack together.
The joint-meet at the southern-most end of the Blue Ridge Hunt country at Blue Ridge Master Jeff LeHew’s beautiful Shannon Hill fixture was held on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. It was new country for Thornton Hill’s Penn-Marydels, and a different experience for the Blue Ridge hosts who regularly follow their Crossbred pack of Modern English and American lines, but also includes some pure Old English, pure Fell, and crosses on these bloodlines as well. (See “A Level Pack or a Team of Specialists?”)
The sheer beauty of a level pack of foxhounds is indisputable. There is a uniformity of appearance and traits, and such a pack tends to run well together. But isn't there another option?
Why not a pack consisting of foxhounds of various types, welcoming the unique attributes of each hound type? Breeders know that no single type offers all the best attributes we want in a pack; hence the English-American Crossbred. But within those two categories there are still more individual types with more concentrated attributes that could allow each type to contribute at the appropriate stage of any hunt just when needed.