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.
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What follows is foxhunting’s version of musical chairs.
Once again the time of year has arrived when hunts and huntsmen contemplating change make their decisions known—one to the other. Foxhunting Life will feature at least some of these huntsmen’s personal transitions through the coming months.
Guy Allman, popular huntsman for the Blue Ridge Hunt (VA) for the past three seasons, received an offer he couldn’t refuse. He’ll return to England—home for him and his wife, Fran—to carry the horn for the Bicester with Waddon Chase Foxhounds. Guy will succeed huntsman Patrick Martin, who is retiring after twenty-two seasons hunting the pack.
The condition, fitness, and biddability of the Blue Ridge hounds testify to Allman’s work ethic. He spends a great deal of time training puppies early on, so by the time the season starts they are ready to enter, off the couples, all at once. On the first day of the season, every hound to be entered is out with the pack. And it’s a big pack, typically twenty-five to thirty couple, virtually every hound in kennels capable of walking on four legs.
Also on the first day of hunting, every hound is fit not only for the chase but for the late-summer weather as well. Allman wants hounds as oblivious to the heat as he appears to be. There are to be no excuses.
Stuart Grod—popular field member of the Fairfield County Hounds (CT)—has retired after forty-three consecutive seasons hunting in the first flight. A retirement party was held in Stu’s honor at the hunt’s clubhouse on November 22, 2014, where well-known food and travel author Michael Stern read a poem he composed for the occasion.
"Build a bridge with your hands on the mane;"
"Trot smooth as you head for the jump;"
"Go light when your hands hold the reins;"
"And don't crowd on the lead horse's rump:"
Just some of Stu's tips I've acquired
Since I started to ride with you folks.
I'll miss you up there, you strange country squire
With your bright eyes, your wisdom, and jokes.
The recently held Theodora A. Randolph Field Hunter Championship in Virginia is a unique competition. It differs from the more usual one-day hunter trial in which foxhunters ride individually over a course of obstacles, often including lead-overs, trot fences, fast gallops, and hold-hards.
In the Theodora A. Randolph Championship format (see Susan Monticelli’s report in separate article), field hunters are observed by mounted judges for several days during a series of actual foxhunts behind different packs of foxhounds. The judges’ task during these hunts is to select those horse/rider combinations they wish to see in a final day of competition. The finals, held each year at Glenwood Park in Middleburg on the morning of the Virginia Fall Races, consist of a mock hunt following a Field Master over a course of obstacles, and then individual tests similar to those in a hunter trial for the final ten or so selected.
While some avid and capable foxhunters believe that foxhunting is not a competitive sport and decline to participate, and while I can appreciate and respect their view, I also see benefits from these competitions. From one aspect, it’s a great value. If you want a hunting holiday in Virginia, you get to hunt with four different packs for an entry fee of not much more than the cost of a single cap at some of these hunts. And parties all week to boot!
In a hark back to bygone days, the Theodora A. Randolph Field Hunter Championships combine a whirlwind week of foxhunting and socializing against a backdrop of sporting estates, well-bred foxhounds, and passionate foxhunters. Always held the last week of September and ending the first weekend of October, this year's event attracted seventy-four entries with a brilliant card of hosting hunts: Orange County Hounds, Blue Ridge Hunt, Loudoun Fairfax Hunt and the Piedmont Foxhounds. Judges ride alongside the field to observe the competitors in action before selecting several riders each day, based on how well their horses performed, for the finals on Saturday. Every hunt hosted a tailgate, and there were social functions every evening.
Foxhunters from twenty-two hunts and eight states rode in the event: Andrews Bridge, Belle Meade, Blue Ridge, Bull Run, Casanova, Deep Run, Elkridge-Harford , Farmington, Glenmore, Hillsboro, Keswick, Loudoun Fairfax, Lowcountry, Middleburg, Newmarket-Middletown Valley, Old Dominion, Orange County, Palm Beach, Piedmont, Snickersville, Warrenton, and Whiskey Road. Riders came from Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The six judges were Helen Brettell, Middleburg; Snowden Clark; Liz McKnight, ex-MFH, Elkridge-Harford; Ginny Perrin, MFH, Deep Run, and the husband-and-wife team of Lincoln Sadler and Cameron Sadler, MFH, Moore County.