Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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What's New in Hunting Head Wear?

H2000-NavyH2000 / Courtesy Charles OwenCan a foxhunter make use of modern materials and technology for a safer riding experience, yet maintain the traditional look of the hunting field? This has been an ongoing challenge.

With foxhunters representing but a small subset of the total market for riding helmets, it makes good business sense for helmet manufacturers to strive to distinguish and brand their product offerings with stylish new shapes, medallions, stripes, and other decorative touches, none of which resembles anything that would have been acceptable in the hunting fields of even twenty years ago.

Correct hunting attire of the early twentieth century called for men and women field members to wear hunting derbies, with men switching to top hats when in formal attire. Later in the twentieth century, both men and women field members were moving toward the wearing of the iconic hunt cap in the field, traditionally correct only for Masters and staff. The rationale was that hunt caps, covering more of the head, were believed to be safer than derbies and top hats. In the interest of safety, most Masters put up little resistance to this migration.

We recently published a story about Caroline Treviranus, whose accident during the 1978 Three-Day World Championships rapidly spurred equestrian organizations to mandate the wearing of approved safety helmets during competition. So it was that when Caroline started managing my hunting stable some years later, I was still wearing the traditional hunt cap in the field.

Constructed of laminated fabric stiffened with shellac and glue, with no chin strap to keep it on my head in the event of an unscheduled dismount, it provided scant protection compared to the new approved helmets. Caroline, in the interest of job security (and perhaps even my health), commenced nagging me about wearing a safety helmet with harness to go hunting.

Mediocre or Superior Hounds: A Choice

nodh.klmKaren L. Myers photoEach year we hear grumblings at the hound shows questioning whether those hunts that consistently win all the ribbons are being sportsmanlike by continuing to show their hounds in all the classes. Truth be told, I have been guilty of those grumblings, but I was flat out wrong.

On the flip side, I have even heard some winning Masters express hesitation about entering their hounds in certain shows because they feel funny about dominating the ring. They shouldn’t. They are doing us a service.

If the premier breeders of foxhounds don’t persist in putting their best hounds in the ring for all to see, how will we acquire the visual standard—that mental picture—to guide us in our own breeding programs?

True, more hunts would win ribbons, and members and Masters might feel better, but what would happen to the foxhound as a breed when lesser examples pose with their trophies? We need a North Star—a constant standard—toward which to strive if we want to breed the best foxhounds we can.

The better question is why do certain hunts consistently breed the winning hounds.

Liam Neeson Steps Aboard; Help Share His Opinion

 nyc carriage horse

City dweller Liam Neeson, who also happens to be a respected actor, has stepped up to defend the iconic horse-drawn carriages in New York City by narrating a lightly-funded but well-made YouTube video titled “Save New York Horse Carriages.” What, you might ask, has that to do with foxhunters who mostly choose to live far from the bustling city, in the quiet countryside, where horses are part of the everyday scene?

As editor of Foxhunting Life, I try to be ever watchful that my personal feelings don’t overly influence the content of this website, the mission of which is to inform and entertain our readers about foxhunting. At times, though, at least in my mind, the borders blur between foxhunting and certain issues of the day.

The New York City carriage horse controversy is one such issue. Just this year, FHL has published four news stories on the subject,* and early this month I devoted my Blog to a related commentary.**

While our statistics inform us that these articles have been read by numerous people, only one reader—a lady in Ireland who is completely mystified by the mind-set of those opposing the carriages—has yet troubled to write a Comment after any of them. The silence notwithstanding, I cannot conclude that the NYC carriage horse issue doesn’t relate to us, our passion for horses and hounds, the natural world, and the foxhunting life.

They Just Don't Get It

norman.karen.farnleyKaren L. Myers photoThere are numerous unrelated constituencies roiling the pot in the New York City horse carriage controversy, and all of them—from stakeholders to politicians to the news media—express strong opinions on one side or another.

There are the animal rights activists who don’t believe animals should work, real estate developers who see big profits in renewing the stable property for higher-income use, politicians elected with the help of large donations from those who would ban the carriages, carriage drivers who are threatened with loss of livelihood, tourists and romantics who feel that iconic images of New York City should be preserved, and true horse people who are saddened to see any traditional horse activity lost to contemporary life. It’s the latter group that is the least understood.

Why We Cover the Hunt Races

NormanMy answer to the question is threefold: first, the very notion of the point-to-point race originated with foxhunters; second, many of our great field hunters have come from the ranks of the timber horses, and conversely many of the best steeplechase horses have their start in the hunting field; and third, most of the steeplechase jockeys are foxhunters as well.

As Catherine Austen reminds us in Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder, “Hunt racing has its roots firmly lodged in the hunting field. Point-to-pointing started when two hunting men, Edmund Blake and Cornelius O’Callaghan, challenged each other to a race in 1752 for four-and-a-half miles across country from Buttevant Church to Donraile Church in County Cork. They jumped everything in their path, and by keeping the steeple of Donraile Church in sight (steeple-chasing), the two men kept to the planned route along the banks of the Awbeg River. The same line can still be taken while hunting with the Duhallow Foxhounds now.

“Amateur jump racing evolved from there....”

All Fox Pens Are Not Equal

norman.karen.farnleyHunter (and foxhunter) Robin Traywick Williams recently addressed the fox pen issue in an article published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The subject has been in the news recently as the Virginia House of Delegates considers phasing out the practice of penning. (See Phase-Out of Fox Pens One Step Closer in VA, as reported in Foxhunting Life last month.)

In her article, Williams claims that for a few of the 37 pens operating in Virginia, activity is relatively light. Only a few hounds are in the pen at any one time; the fox population in relation to the size of the pen mirrors the density found in nature; and the vixens within are able to reproduce. This activity level would conform to the fox pen’s use as a training aid for young foxhounds.

In perhaps 12 of the pens, however, activity is heavier year-round. Competitive foxhound trials are held with many hounds in the pen at the same time and for longer periods; the fox population in one pen is 10 times the population density found in nature; fox mortality rate is high; and with no limit to the season, vixens are not reproducing.

How Disney Inspired the MFHA Conservation Award

mickey mouseIt was the Disney Company that inspired the creation of the Chronicle of the Horse/MFHA Conservation Award, but for the wrong reasons!

And it’s most fitting that George Ohrstrom III was presented with the Conservation Award at the 2014 annual meeting of the MFHA, for he is connected through his family to the genesis of the award. Ohrstrom currently serves as co-chairman of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), the respected and influential Virginia-based conservation organization that the Ohrstrom family was instrumental in forming in the 1970s.

The PEC gained national attention when they demonstrated how local grassroots efforts—combined with a clever strategy of enlisting the support of the nation’s most prominent historians—defeated the Disney Company’s efforts to build a theme park in Virginia’s historic countryside in the fall of 1994. At the time the PEC went to war, Disney had already quietly amassed political support in the Virginia legislature, had seduced the local Chambers of Commerce and real estate boards, and had secured the rights and promises of approval to the land they wanted, on the eastern border of some of Virginia’s prime foxhunting country.

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