Huntsmen on the Move,” published last month.) Nancy Mitchell, who has hunted hounds at the Bijou Springs Hunt (CO) over a period of sixteen years, wants to know the why of it.Foxhunting Life readers demonstrate enormous interest in our articles covering the migration of huntsmen each year at about this time. (See “
“I’m curious to know what motivates this ‘spring dance of the huntsmen,’” Nancy wrote. “What circumstances create this phenomenon? Money? Prestige? Politics? Age?”
We thought it was an interesting subject for our Panel of Experts, so we asked Jerry Miller, MFH, C. Martin Scott, ex-MFH, and Hugh Robards, ex-MFH, to weigh in on Nancy's question.
The County Galway Foxhounds (the Blazers), hunted by Tom Dempsey, had a brilliant day's hunting at Craughwell, finding five foxes and running each one to ground.
The hunt was formed in the early nineteenth century and hunts about thirty square miles of unique limestone wall country. The first Master and huntsman was John Denis, an ancestor of the late Lady Molly Cusack-Smith, MFH, who, neé Molly O’Rourke, hunted the Blazers during World War II. There were many other well known Masters, including Isaac (Ikey) Bell, father of the modern English foxhound; American film director John Huston; and Captain Brian Fanshawe, one of England’s illustrious Masters (Warwickshire, North Cotswold, and Cottesmore) and renowned breeder of foxhounds. Two Field Masters that held office for long periods were Lady Anne Hemphill and Willie Leahy.
The Galway Blazers have some of the very best hunting country in the world. To say it is unique is an understatement, with miles of small enclosures, resulting in often fifty stone walls to the mile and uninterrupted views of hounds hunting. To hunt even once with the Galway Blazers is on most hunt followers’ bucket list.
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!
For once in the thirty-nine-year history of the Maryland Foxhound Club’s annual puppy show, the weather-gods cooperated. On a marvelously sunny day, supporters of twelve foxhound packs and seven foot hound packs met on the lawn of Tim and Vicki Shaw’s lovely home to show the products of their breeding programs. The show is restricted to unentered hounds as well as the stallion hounds and brood bitches that produced these hounds.
With one ring devoted to foxhounds and another devoted to foot hounds, Jeff Blue, MFH of Middleburg Hunt (VA) and Bob Dougherty, MB of Hidden Meadows beagles and ex-MFH and huntsman of the Plum Run Hunt (PA) had a full day of judging to do. A total of 141 foxhounds were entered and 73 foot hounds went through the rings. In the only combined class of the day, nineteen young fox and rabbit hunters paraded before both judges in a really tough junior handler class. No doubt Masters Blue and Dougherty worked their hardest to pin that class!
Talk about experience. Hugh Robards has spent fifty-three years in hunt service. He whipped-in to some of the legendary huntsmen in England—Brian Gupwell at the Eridge (later to become huntsman for the Duke of Beaufort), Percy Durno and Captain Ronnie Wallace at the Heythrop, and Charlie Wilkin at the Wynnstay.
Upon Captain Wallace’s recommendation to Lord Daresbury, MFH of the County Limerick Foxhounds, Hugh moved to Ireland to take up his first post as huntsman. There he remained for twenty-seven seasons showing world-class sport to the Irish—none keener—and visiting sportsmen and women from around the globe.
After parting from the Limerick, he came to the U.S. to help rebuild the Rolling Rock Hunt (PA), remaining there as Master and huntsman until 2007. From Rolling Rock he moved to the Saxonburg Hunt (PA) where he served as huntsman until coming to the Middleburg Hunt last year as first whipper-in to huntsman Barry Magner. (Barry is moving to Australia this season, and we hope to catch our readers up with him in another article.)
“Hugh continually reinvents himself because of his love for his work,” said Juli Robards, his wife. “Transcending change is one of his great qualities, and I’m unabashedly one of his biggest fans!”
Those who have hunted behind him are big fans as well. Tony Leahy, who grew up in Ireland, is first vice-president of the MFHA and serves as Master and huntsman of the Fox River Valley Hunt (IL). “Hugh is without question one of the best huntsmen I’ve seen,” said Tony. “I remember hunting behind him at Limerick, and I’ve seen him do amazing things!”