Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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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.

Maryland and Virginia Lawmakers Consider Sunday Deer Hunting

nodh.klmKaren L. Myers photoA bill to allow the hunting of deer and other wildlife on private property and state waters on Sunday has been passed by the Virginia House of Delegates and sent on to the state Senate for their consideration. Proponents of the bill cite the falling numbers of hunting licenses issued in the state, and believe that Sunday hunting will help stem the loss in revenue.

Maryland lawmakers are also considering the hunting of deer on Sunday, but seemingly for a different reason—the culling of the expanding deer herds.

There is resistance in both states to the enabling legislation. Some of the resistance comes from predictable directions—anti-hunting activists, hikers, trail riders, religious leaders—yet some of the resistance comes from a surprising quarter—foxhunters.

Bobby Joe Pillion Loved to Hunt

bobby pillionBobby Joe Pillion, 1989, after judging the first Piedmont-Midland Foxhound Match / Douglas Lees photoRobert Joseph “Bobby Joe” Pillion died at home in Millwood, Virginia on January 12, 2014. He was seventy-nine.

“I just love to hunt,” he often said.

That’s how he concluded just about every foxhunting conversation we had. I can see him saying it, with a shake of his head and a thoughtful smile.

Bobby Joe was one of the most beautiful horsemen I have ever seen crossing the country. He whipped-in to the Blue Ridge Hunt for more than thirty years, riding nimble and athletic Thoroughbreds of such a uniform type that people trying to describe any new horse of that sort would simply say, “That’s a Bobby Joe horse.” In fact, you never knew which horse he was riding because they all went the same for him.

Bobby Joe was chosen to be a judge for both the 1989 and the 1991 highly publicized foxhound matches between the Piedmont and the Midland packs, both held in the Piedmont country. The matches were fashioned as a modern replay of the Great English-American Foxhound Match of 1905 and held in the same country. Sporting journalists came from England as well as the U.S. to cover the matches.

The Legitimate Sport of Drag Hunting

norman.karen.farnleyKaren L. Myers photoThe sport of drag hunting started as a competitive race in early seventeenth century England, developed into a fast dash over intimidating fences in early twentieth century North America, and evolved in more recent years into an artistic attempt to simulate live hunting.

Since foxhound packs that run a drag scent—either exclusively or periodically—account for about seventeen percent of all MFHA-Registered hunts in North America, we’re devoting much of this issue to a comprehensive view of the sport and its history, with observations, comments, and recommendations from some of today’s best practitioners.

Bay Cockburn, ex-MFH, Race Rider, Huntsman

bay cockburn.leesDouglas Lees photoBay Cockburn, ex-MFH, hard-riding huntsman, and former winning steeplechase jockey and trainer, died of complications from melanoma on December 25, 2013.

Confined to a wheelchair for the last fifteen years of his life as the result of a riding accident, Bay was an aggressive race rider and had been referred to as the Evel Knievel of all huntsmen. He represented the epitome of invincibility in the saddle until one fateful day, while exercising a hunter over a straightforward coop that he had jumped countless times, he fell and was left paralyzed from the chest down.

He stayed in the game as best he could, training steeplechase horses, and despite the wheelchair, he continued to live the only way he knew how: full speed forward. I saw him at the races one day propelling his motorized chair, rocking perilously over the lumpy ground across a hillside until it finally toppled over. Friends rushed to right him and rearrange him in his chair, and he continued his hurried progress to get a glimpse of his horse at the next fence. Just another of many falls to ignore. Bay maintained his training license and remained active through 2013.

Bay rode in sanctioned races and point-to-points from 1991 to 1997 with twelve sanctioned wins to his credit. I saw him steal a race down the stretch at the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point one year. He was lying second trying to overtake the leader. He anticipated just when the jock in first place would turn around to check on him. His body went quiet as if he had resigned himself to second place. The jock in front checked on Bay, was satisfied he had the race won, turned back to the wire and went to sleep. Bay got into his horse like a whirling dervish and passed his victim just before the wire.