Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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Blue Ridge Hunt

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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.

Website:  www.blueridgehunt.org

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Denya Dee Leake shot this dramatic photo and recorded the cry of hounds with her smartphone. Hounds found a fox near the kennels, sang all the hound music that one could wish for, and pushed their quarry hard through the course of the morning in a huge circuit and finally to ground back near the find. A fine school for the young entry and an exciting start to the Blue Ridge Hunt's 129th season. More than twenty riders and staff, along with car followers, braved the early hour start on the morning of September 3rd, 2016.

guitar4 kleck smallGuitar, oil on canvas, by Nancy KleckI want to talk about a horse. After nearly fifty years of hunting—around North America, Canada, Ireland, and England—on my own horses and on countless strange horses for the first time, I speak from some experience. Most of the horses have been darn good, even many of the strangers. A memorable few of the strangers have been especially good! Very few, thankfully, have been rank or dangerous. But I have to talk about one horse in particular—one of my own.

His name is Guitar. Yes, that simple. He’s registered with the Jockey Club just that way. Plain dark brown, sixteen-hand high, he was bred by the late Bill Backer of Smitten Farm in The Plains, Virginia. He’s by Our Native out of Royal Pastime by Tudor Grey. Sixty-four percent of Our Native foals were winners, and fifty-three percent of Tudor Grey grand-foals were winners. Guitar was bred to race, but he was never even put in training—no tattoo. My good luck.*

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We see every color of horse in the hunting field. And while foxhunters really shouldn’t care about color, I’m guessing that many riders have a preference. Right or wrong, I know I do. In this photo, several horses of varying colors are crossing the country well. We may be missing more colors than we care to, but we hope you’ll get the idea.

karel.nmf.3.kleckKeeping up with the Blue Ridge hounds in Virginia are (L–R) Cyrus (a paint) owned and ridden by Karel Wennink; Guitar (a “black-pointed bay”) owned and ridden by your editor; Hot Rize (a “black-pointed bay” and winner of the 2014 Virginia Gold Cup) owned and ridden by Russell Haynes; and Very Berry (a roan) owned and ridden by Jef Murdock, MFH, Old Chatham Hunt (NY). / Nancy Kleck photo

Colour by Edric G. Roberts

The old saying, so often repeated,
That ‘there never was yet a good horse
Of a really bad colour,’ is greeted
With a shrug, as a matter of course;
To the past it is now relegated
As the lore of some old-fashioned school,
Which believed in tradition that rated
An exception as proof to the rule.

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brh16.prima facie.smithwick.murphy.leesMaiden Hurdle winner Prima Facie and rider Jeff Murphy (center) keep in touch with the field the first time around. / Douglas Lees photo

March 12, 2016 saw the sixty-seventh running of the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point Races going off on the hunt’s normally scheduled weekend for the first time in four years, the three previous race meetings having been postponed because of winter weather conditions. With the weather and the footing close to ideal for horses and spectators alike, the meet, usually the third in the series, also served as the kick-off for the 2016 Virginia point-to-point season.

Jimmy Day-trained entries won two of the three hurdle races: Amateur/Novice Rider with Bruce Smart’s Dai Bando and the Open Hurdle with Daybreak Stables’ Manacor. In the Maiden Hurdle Race, Day's horse, Zol Zayne had to settle for second place, as he did last year in the same race. The Maiden Hurdle was won by Celtic Venture Stable’s Prima Facie, trained by Eve Smithwick, MFH and huntsman of the Snickersville Hounds (VA). Jeff Murphy held Prima Facie to the pace he wanted and patiently stalked the leader much as he rode the same race last year on winner Bedizen. Murphy took the lead from Hardly Patient on the final turn, accelerated to the last fence, and flew it cleanly for a convincing win.

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farnley.fred.grahamSedgefield Master and huntsman Fred Berry (left) visits with his pack of Penn-Marydels. Blue Ridge huntsman Graham Buston (right) was his guide for the day.  /  Nancy Kleck photo

The Sedgefield Hunt, founded in 1927, hunt a pack of Penn-Marydel foxhounds in the Piedmont region of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. We are a small hunt, but we have big fun, and we love our hounds. Last November we took a road trip to Northern Virginia to hunt with Blue Ridge and Thornton Hill. Six members, ten couple of hounds, eight horses and Ellie Mae, my mule, hit the road.

Fred Berry, MFH and huntsman, and his wife Elaine went up first and had a great day with Blue Ridge and their magnificent pack of Modern English and Crossbred hounds. On our day with Thornton Hill, which also hunts Penn-Marydels, the packs were put together. In our final outing with Blue Ridge, Fred was invited to hunt our Penn-Marydels. I'm told that for 275 years—from the time George Washington hunted with Lord Fairfax over that same country—the local foxes had never before heard a pack of Penn-Marydels in full cry!

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