The hound show season, now underway, provides an excellent opportunity to improve one’s eye for foxhound conformation by judging from ringside just for fun. The exercise not only makes the day more interesting, but educational as well. Especially when you can collar a friendly judge after the class and ask him why he didn’t like the hound you adored, or why he picked a hound you thought was common. (Obviously, you must frame your question such that the judge understands that you are seeking an education and not leveling criticism!)
It can be intimidating to watch a procession of foxhounds enter and leave the ring and wonder how in the world the judge can sort them all out. For example, how does he compare a hound he is looking at to one he saw ten minutes ago? Ten years ago, I asked some top judges how they judged a class, and here's what I learned.
This article was first published in 2013. With an archive of thousands of articles available on our website, we hope you will agree that at least a few are worth republishing!
To the uninitiated, the term whipper-in might conjure images of a callous fellow laying his whip across the backs of hounds for every infraction. In fact, the whip is used primarily for its loud crack as an attention-getter. The explosive noise breaks the concentration of hounds from whatever they are doing that the whipper-in wants to stop.
Professional or Honorary
The world of whipping-in is split into two camps—professional and honorary. The professional whipper-in often fills the position to gain experience and recognition on his or her road to becoming a huntsman. As the title suggests, it is a paid position. The honorary whipper-in is not paid, is generally recruited from the ranks of the hunt membership, and generally does not aspire to become a huntsman. He or she may be a riding member or one of the Masters.
Professional hunt staff in England go through a structured period of apprenticeship. Years there are spent just doing kennel work before even being allowed to walk hounds out on exercise and before even being allowed on a horse. If recommended, they will finally be taken on as second whipper-in to a hunt. After a few moves, they may be recommended to fill an opening for a first whipper-in somewhere else. Under the system, they purposely move every few years from one hunt to another, gaining experience and exposure to different huntsmen and different methods before finally being offered a huntsman’s post. Clearly a strong foundation is laid through such a rigorous system.
Blistering hot weather visited Virginia for the past four weeks. While not unusual this time of year, the length of the hot spell, with temperatures hovering in the high eighties and even reaching into the low nineties, has proved miserable to man and beast alike, but it failed to deter foxhunters who entered this year's North American Field Hunter Championships.
On Monday, September 30, the Championships began at Keswick. Hounds met at Glenwood, a fixture in the neighborhood of James Madison's Montpelier, outside the town of Orange. Contestants from as far away as Florida and Georgia traveled to compete in the event, as well as to enjoy early autumn hunting in Virginia. They were not disappointed. Keswick huntsman Tony Gammell provided a fine day of sport in the lovely rolling countryside as hounds ran across the nearby road, back again, and beyond the fixture into a scenic expanse of woods and cornfields. Afterward, everyone enjoyed a tailgate as five contestants were selected for the finals.
On Tuesday, October 1, hounds met at Owl Run Farm in Warrenton, home of Casanova Hunt Joint-Master Mrs. Joyce Fendley. Previously the home of Donna and Jack Eicher, huntsman at Rombout and later Farmington Hunt, the grounds include a lake and a cluster of graceful weeping willows out front. The residence and barns all exude the charm of old Virginia Hunt Country—weathered stone, stout board and batten, low eaves and metal roofs. A special surprise awaited the field this morning when shortly after casting hounds, an eruption in a cornfield revealed that hounds had encountered a black bear! Fortunately, the pack obeyed their orders to ignore the bear as it beat a hasty retreat. The remainder of the morning proved quieter, and as the field hacked in, Mrs. Fendley positioned herself, as she always does at the end of a hunt, such that she could personally thank everyone in the field as they passed by on their way to their trailer. This small but thoughtful act is just one of many that make hunting in Virginia so special and unique. It was a hot, thirsty, and tired field that gathered under a tent to drink and devour a delicious crab dip while recalling the excitement of having gone on their first bear hunt! This morning, six finalists were announced.
World-renowned huntsman Melvin Poe celebrated his 93rd birthday Sunday, August 25 by doing what only comes natural to the living legend—going foxhunting. Riding his favorite hunter and surrounded by Peggy, his wife of some fifty years, his four daughters, a bevy of grandchildren, neighbors, and friends, Melvin handled the horn and the reins with the cool confidence of a man one-quarter his age at what had to be a historic hunt.
"I can't believe he's still going strong," said Charlie Matheson, former president of the Orange County Hounds where Melvin served as huntsman some three decades. "He's an amazing man. We're so lucky to have him."