Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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The Stable Yard Is Silent

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The hundredth anniversary this summer of the First World War has reminded all of us of that terrible conflict. In England, James Barclay, ex-MFH, tossed and turned through the early morning hours one night this month. Thoughts of the war, the carnage that took its toll on his family members and many horses, and what those years meant to a way of life that was so much a part of the Barclay family ran through his head. He got out of bed, sat down, and wrote this poem. At 6:30 am he finished writing. Twenty minutes later the South Wold Foxhounds came up his drive on summer exercise, making his world right once again.

The stable yard is silent, no equine friends, no ears twitching over the doors.
Where have they gone? They have gone to Europe to fight a war.
Will they be back to graze the summer pastures green?
Will they be back to see the autumn mist and hear hounds running?
Will they be back to enjoy the fifty minutes across the grass?

They and their Masters have gone to defend our freedoms.
In mud and wire they toil, no end in sight,
But the thought of hounds running and their cry deep in their veins,
Make our horse and human friends dream, dream of
A cold winter’s night, hacking homewards with the moon up high.

Melvin Poe Dies at Home at Age Ninety-Four

melvin.90thMelvin Poe at his ninetieth birthday celebration / Douglas Lees photoThe world of American foxhunting lost one of its best-loved and most highly respected personalities with the passing of huntsman Melvin Poe, age ninety-four, on Saturday September 13, 2014. That’s the sad news. The good news is that Melvin was able to ride his horse and hunt his hounds to the very last year of his life.

In foxhunting circles he was referred to simply as Melvin. Everyone knew who you were talking about. He’s been a fixture in North American foxhunting for more than sixty years and a celebrated legend for most of that time. He’s immortalized in a dramatic oil painting by Wally Nall; he made the cover of UK’s Horse and Hound in 1991; he starred in Tom Davenport’s 1979 foxhunting video documentary, Thoughts on Foxhunting, narrated by Alexander Mackay-Smith;  he was the subject for Peter Winant’s wonderful book, Foxhunting with Melvin Poe, The Derrydale Press, 2002; and in 2011 Melvin was inducted, along with his brother Albert, into the Huntsmen's Room at the Museum of Hounds and Hunting in Leesburg, Virginia.

Melvin grew up in the Virginia countryside. He was the boy to whom his friends turned to identify trees, birds, and animal tracks. His father, uncles, and brothers were all enthusiastic hound breeders and hunters. Melvin and his contemporaries represent a vanishing breed of countryman who knew the woodlands intimately and all that grew and thrived therein. And baseball! Melvin and his brothers loved baseball and participated in organized league play into their adult years.

"Dr. Joe": An Appreciation

joe rogers.portrait2.lees"Dr. Joe" Rogers, MFH / Douglas Lees photoDr. Joseph M. Rogers, who died March 8 at his beloved Hillbrook farm near Hamilton, Virginia, was of a rapidly disappearing breed of Virginians whose financial resources made possible the pursuit of a mission to preserve the countryside before it passed from reality to a lithographic memory.

These Virginians did not keep score with coin. The acquisition of land was not an egotist’s pursuit, and its preservation was not a beauty contest. Land was acquired and cared for because it represented an irreplaceable resource. That it provided the setting for pursuit of agricultural business and field sport was a cherished benefit, not a root rationale. To do otherwise, he believed, was to leave God’s earth to the vagaries of the marketplace.

“Dr. Joe,” as he was known by all, was at heart a man of that earth. He admired a craftsman who could build a proper four-panel fence or shoe a horse as much as he respected a man who made his fortune in business. In many cases, more so. He took pride in being able to train one species of canine to be capable of pursuing another much craftier, quicker, and agile species—a sport called foxhunting, in which the hunted had nearly insurmountable advantage over the hunter. It is a picturesque sport, photographed, illustrated, written about, and otherwise memorialized. But it was also a lot of hard work when you were in charge of bringing the show to the field.

Michael L. Strang, ex-MFH, Rancher, U.S. Congressman

Mike Strang 2Michael Lathrop Strang, ex-MFH of the Roaring Fork Hounds, died at home on his ranch outside Carbondale, Colorado on January 12, 2014. Born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on June 17, 1929, his family moved to Colorado in 1932, to a ranch they purchased in the mountains above Golden. Times were tough, so the family made ends meet by bringing eastern kids out west for “summer camp” at the ranch. Mike developed his passion for horses early in life caring for the string of ranch horses that were used to work the cattle and outfit the campers. The family used a team of draft horses to cut and rake the hay they put up and to skid Ponderosa pine logs off the mountain to their sawmill. Mike’s father also raised Thoroughbred racehorses.

Mike and his brother, Bart, were home-schooled by their father until they went to Princeton University. Mike took time off from his studies at Princeton (’56) to serve as a lieutenant in the Army from 1950 to 1953. It was while training future officers at the army’s Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia that he met Ben Hardaway and developed his passion for hounds and foxhunting.

Trainer, Foxhunter Tom Voss, MFH, Dead at Sixty-Three

voss.tom.leesDouglas Lees photoTom Voss, MFH of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt died suddenly on January 21, 2014 at his home in Monkton, Maryland. He had served as Joint-Master of the hunt since 1993.

In the larger world of horses, Voss was best-known as a top trainer of racehorses both on the flat and over fences. Starting as an amateur timber rider, Voss began training professionally in 1973. He trained the 2010 Eclipse Award steeplechase champion Slip Away and was a five-time leading trainer on the National Steeplechase circuit, capturing that title in 1997, 2000–2002, and 2011.

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.

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.