This Week in...
Reliable Staff Horses Don’t Grow On Trees by Andy Bozdan
The heavy demands placed upon the staff horse require expert care, training, and scrutiny of an animal appropriate for his job. (pg. 2)
Why We Hunt...Even On a Hopeless Day by Clarice Tate
The author’s story proves the rewards of “just being there,” no matter how dismal and unproductive your foxhunting day may appear. (pg. 4)
Girl Power at the South County Dublin Harriers by Noel Mullins
An all-girl staff powers the South County Dublin Harriers, the oldest surviving drag hunt in Ireland. (pg. 6)
Russell Clark and Other Sporting Families of Myopia by Norman Fine
Remembering Russell and the sporting families of Hamilton, Massachusetts, who hunted, played polo, and gave the nation its halcyon days of international 3-day competition. (pg. 10)
...Photo of the Week
Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Yongqing Bao, captures an electrifying image of a fox and a marmot. (pg. 11)
Reliable Staff Horses Don’t Grow On Trees
By Andy Bozdan
Camargo Huntsman, Andy Bozdan / Carla Babcock photo
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that some folks think of the staff horse that the huntsman or whipper-in is riding as just another horse. So before all the ‘egg spurts’ chime in, let me explain a little about the staff horse. Just imagine getting a jumping racehorse fit and ready for a race—weeks and months of preparation and hardening plus schooling over fences until the day arrives and the horse is off to the races.
Now think about getting a horse, if not racing fit, then pretty darn close to it, and not having one big race every couple of weeks but going out maybe twice a week and running for four to five hours. And in all weather, fair or foul. In the case of the huntsman, keeping up with hounds no matter the obstacles faced; in the case of the whipper-in, staying with or even getting on ahead of hounds in the ordinary course of the job. The staff horse puts in many more miles on a hunting day than does the field hunter. That is what’s required of it. No options.
Admittedly, here in the USA, the time out hunting often varies between two to three hours. There are, however, packs here that will put in a four- or five-hour hunting day, but not many. In the UK and Ireland a short day would be three hours and the norm, four to five hours. Either way the staff horse has to be tough, resilient, bold (it’s out there all alone), and athletic to cope with whatever comes its way.
Tough yes, indestructible no! Keeping a hunt horse fit and well throughout the hunting season is an art in itself, and we are all blessed that there are so many knowledgeable and experienced staff and grooms looking after these true athletes.
Correct feeding, careful observation, proper shoeing by a knowledgeable farrier, veterinary care when required, and safe paddocks for turnout. All these and more are necessary to keep the staff horse fit and well. Trying to do things on the cheap might work if you are hunting only occasionally and not breaking a sweat when you do, but for the professional hunt horse only the best should do.
Hunt staff are a resilient lot. Admittedly, I have been asked over the years to ride horses that were totally unsuitable for the job and proved so very quickly. But the hunt staff should be on the best horses the hunt can find. They have a job to do, and if you care about the quality of your sport, that job cannot be done on anything other than a quality staff horse. No, they do not come cheaply, but it’s cheaper than losing your huntsman or whipper-in for the best part of the season because of an avoidable accident from a horse that they are forced to ride.
Yes, we have all seen that four-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred that turns into a hunting superstar, but as huntsmen and staff get older and wiser they realize that (1) they don’t bounce like they used to and (2) they should expect a decent horse that can do the job and not some cast off that someone else has given up on.
I remember being given a horse to ride and try by its owner as the hunt was short of horses that season. The horse had no brakes, and when I say no brakes, I mean NO BRAKES. Worse still, it hated jumping. The first decent-sized hedge had me flying through the air with the horse still on the take-off side. I had a few choice words to my boss that day that probably should have seen me get sacked, but in fact he realized the hunt’s mistake and returned the horse to its owner.
A good hunt horse that does its job without a moment’s hesitation and looks after itself and its rider is a joy to sit on. I know many of you reading this will have had the pleasure of sitting on great partners like this, and we owe them everything they need to help us do the best job we possibly can. And by the best I do not necessarily mean the most expensive. There are many generous, honest, and decent horses out there that won’t cost the earth. The key is in knowing a knowledgeable and reliable person to ask.
Once you have that horse in your care, it’s so important that it is cared for by trained, professional staff. I, like many huntsmen, try to save the hunt money by carrying out a lot of the medical side of the job both in kennels and the barn. But there will be times when a vet needs to be called, and you should always feel that this is something open to you if in your judgement the horse or hound needs it.
So next time you see the huntsman’s horse, please give him or her the respect they deserve. They are true athletes, made and reliable, that most certainly don’t grow on trees.
Posted November 14, 2019
London-born Andy Bozdan carries the horn for the Camargo Hunt (OH) and is a regular contributor. For previous articles by any of our contributors, type the author’s name into the Search Function in the left-hand column of any screen.
Why We Hunt...Even On a Hopeless Day
By Clarice Tate
Illustration by Lynne Thompson
Hunting in dry conditions is a challenge at best, but hunting in the dry and heat...like sweltering heat...is tantamount to impossible. There had been no rain for about six weeks, so dust was also a contributor to our less than optimal hunting day. But there are those of us who are not fair weather hunters, and it doesn't matter the weather because as the saying goes, “A bad day hunting beats a good day in the office.” So we found ourselves lightly trotting, mostly walking behind the Hillsboro Hounds (TN) because pressing hounds, horses, and humans on a day like that would have been foolhardy and irresponsible.
In a slow and deliberate way we continued on, grateful for when we were able to tuck into a shaded wood, or check on the edge of the shade of a tree line. Yes, there was babbling, but not from the hounds—from the field, quietly. But there is just so much a body can take without some comment. Well, maybe a bit more babbling than necessary, but there you have it. The most dedicated foxhunter can reach their limits of silence, and I was about to reach mine. But my mare was keen, so I continued admiring the day, cursing the heat, and praying that the weather would soon cooperate and we would have rain and cooler temperatures. Today, this was not to be.
We could hear the occasional hound voice and knew they were rather near and working, but not so much as to be distracted by our attempts at entertaining ourselves with the occasional heavy sigh, rolling eyes, quips about questioning our sanity. You know that sort of day. Hounds and huntsman were trying their best, but scenting was non-existent and we were about to call it a morning. Then we rounded a corner and, surprise!
There, sitting like a king on his throne was Wily. This coyote was not one bit intimidated by us riders, but we were certainly surprised by him. He simply sat there—King of All He Surveyed—and appeared to be enjoying the effect that he had on abruptly halting our babbling and progress. We were all struggling to whip out whatever photographic equipment we had to try to get a shot, but we were not in range to use our mere camera phones to great effect. Field member Kristine Hopfensperger managed to shoot a video that at least documented, however grainy, what we were witnessing.
The coyote, becoming bored with us and feeling the presence of encroaching hounds, nonchalantly jumped from the hay bale and languidly trotted off. As he was leaving I think I heard him mumble something like, “Humans are so weird.” He was in no hurry as he disappeared into his wooded kingdom leaving us all with our mouths agape and hounds in slow but sure pursuit. He was smart though, and made away safely.
Hunting never ceases to surprise. We all thought that this hunting day would end as unimpressively as it began until our coyote graced us with a sight we will always remember—King Wily Coyote surveying his kingdom from a lofty hay roll.
Posted November 11, 2019
Clarice Jones Tate is a foxhunting member of the Hillsboro Hounds (TN) and purveyor of fine sporting antiques, vintage jewelry, and contemporary gifts through her shop and website, Anderson Jones. The fine illustration was provided by Lynne Thompson, another foxhunter at Hillsboro.
Girl Power at the South County Dublin Harriers
By Noel Mullins
Huntsman Grace Kerr and whippers-in Eve Kerr and Eimear Byrne with the black and tans of the South County Dublin Harriers / Noel Mullins photo
It was a case of ‘Girl Power’ at the Opening Meet of the South County Dublin Harriers. Hounds met at Gerry O’Malley’s Batterstown Inn in County Meath, Ireland, and didn’t hang around too long with a healthy field of about fifty followers and an active junior hunt section (that stages its own hunt ball)! Originally founded in 1867, it is the oldest surviving drag hunt in Ireland.
Three young staff ladies were immaculately turned out on three matching grey hunters. Huntsman Grace Kerr and her sister Eve*, who is now studying for an MBA and just back from the USA riding out from huntsman Willie Dunne’s yard in North Carolina and Redfield Farm in New Jersey. (Willie hunts the Middleton Place Hounds in North Carolina.) Grace’s and Eve’s sister Catherine would normally make up the trio but is a nurse in Australia. The final member of the team is whipper-in Eimear Byrne, another fine horsewoman.
The Souths are a smashing pack of mainly home-bred black and tan hounds with voices that can be heard for miles. And there is no cracking of whips and no shouting at hounds. Huntsman Grace, who also hunts the family pack, Mr Kerr’s Beagles, has been hunting the South County since her father Paul, who previously hunted the Kildare Foxhounds, had a hip replacement. She has that wonderful connection with her pack; they continuously look for her attention and she chats quietly to them continuously.
Ally Murphy lays the drag on her point-to-point winner, An Tiora Dall (The Blind Squirrel) / Noel Mullins photo
After a check she just blows one call on the hunting horn which tells the pack that it is time to go to work. The Souths are a drag pack, and you could get the strong aroma from the drag in the hunt truck even before they arrived at the meet! There were no shortcuts and no dodging the widest Meath ditches as the drag was expertly laid by another lady, Ally Murphy, riding her former racehorse and point-to-point winner, An Tiora Dall (The Blind Squirrel). He will cross any country as he has hunted all over Ireland. Ally is better known as a professional wedding photographer, point-to-point and pin hooking handler and owner of Quarryland Farm and Cross Country Course.
The advantage of a drag pack is they can run over a preplanned line which makes hunting possible even in over-developed areas such as Leinster. I hunted probably thirty-five years ago with the Souths with the late Ned Hughes and Billy Brannigan from Ballymacarney Stud. The meet was from Myos Pub in Castlenock over open farmland and Farmleigh Estate which was owned by Lord Iveagh at the time, but now owned by the Irish State. I recall also that we had a little too much ‘jumping juice’ in Myos, so we felt no pain all day!
One of the first people at the meet was honorary secretary Tina Keane and John Hanlon, a happy man tucking into a full Irish breakfast while at the same time his eyes glued to the Scotland versus Japan match in the Rugby World Cup. Hunt chairman Kevin Mulvey was not far behind; his wife Bertha is out injured but will be back hunting shortly. I had the pleasure of joining them north of Rome a few years ago hunting with the I du Laghi Hounds which Willie Dunne had hunted.
Also out were Joint Masters Niall Byrne, Liam Brew, and Barry Murphy as well as former Master Aine Doyle and Brendan Osbourne. Libby Sheehy originally from the USA, who runs Springfield Guest House in Celbridge County Kildare, admitted that she was a wee bit nervous.
(l-r) Zoe Brownlee and Leila Shannon on her rescue pony that was found tied to a post in Dublin / Noel Mullins photo
It was fantastic to see a rescue pony which had been found tied to a post in Dublin inner city. Leila Shannon was hunting the rescued mare, which they named Mary. After some tender loving care she is now hunting away every week, and the pony can really jump. However, she only goes well for Leila, as they have formed such a bond.
Following by car was Desmond Bell, a key part of the hunting team who marshals on the road and is a great ambassador with farmers and road followers. He has also whipped-in to Mr Kerr’s Beagles for over thirty seasons. Also following was Padraic Doyle, Aoife Shannon (Leila’s mother), Sarah Taaffe, daughter of former champion jockey Toss Taaffe, whose son Jamie is a Field Master. Pearse Buckley was sporting his transport company logo on his jumper while Josh who hails from the Philippines was doing a great job as a road steward. Josh also tidies up around the horse boxes, which he been doing for the last eighteen seasons.
Accompanying Ally Murphy, who was laying a challenging line with the drag, were Emer Lynch and Darren Dunne as followers crossed the first line over an extensive range of stubble behind the village. There were plenty of overgrown ditches full of water from the wet weather. The last ditch caused its own problems with Dermot O’Brien’s new mare losing her footing. But she casually walked up the ditch, knee high in water, and found her own way out. A lady who had just purchased a new hunter who refused a few time was greeted by a nameless person calling, “Give her back!” But it was sight to see Grace and Eve Kerr together with Eimear Byrne ride it with style, forward going, and not touching their hunters’ mouths. As one Master remarked, the three girls are a class act.
Eva Kerr follows her sister Grace in matching style over a water-filled ditch. / Noel Mullins photo
From there it was out onto the Ballymaglasson road into Leo Murphy’s out farm. Liam Brew’s wife Ailise gave a challenging lead over good strong ditches beginning with a narrow keyhole ditch that took followers across Pheasant Hill Road into Donal Cunningham’s. The followers crossed the Dunboyne to Trim Road into Ally Murphy family farm, Quarryland, where her father Joe was waiting. Masters Niall Byrne and Barry Murphy took over Field Mastering over the cross country fences.
They then crossed into another block of mainly stubble where Master Niall Byrne attempted the impossible and suffered the consequences. Nobody followed! His wife Eileen swapped horses as Colin Barrett’s son Nathan gave Liam Brew a lead over a strong ditch. But Liam is careful to stay on board as he remarked that his wife does not like him falling, which is a good reason to please her! The last line was back to the meet led by Barry Murphy. He reckoned that hounds ran about fourteen miles during the day.
Huntsman Paul Kerr will be back in action after Christmas, but with the way the ladies have stepped up to the mark he may wind up whipping in! The Hunt Ball takes place on New Year’s Eve with a Roaring Twenties theme and music by the 52nd Street Band.
James Norton’s book, The History of the South County Dublin Hunt, launched by former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Charles J. Haughey in 1991 is a great record of the hunt with a comprehensive archive of photos, old and new. It has always been a popular hunt, attracting many followers from Dublin City and suburbs, and quite a number of politicians. Former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Liam Cosgrave and his father, W.T. Cosgrave, former President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, were frequent followers.
Posted November 9, 2019
* Eve is pictured on the back cover of Noel Mullins’ book, The Irish Hunter.
Noel Mullins is a photojournalist and author of The Dublin Horse Show, The Irish Hunter, In Search of the Kerry Beagle, and other books on Irish horse sport.
Remembering Russell Clark and Other Sporting Families of Myopia
By Norman Fine
Russell Burrage Clark of Hamilton, Massachusetts died peacefully at home on November 2, 2019. Russell served as MFH of the venerable Myopia Hunt (est. 1882) on Boston’s North Shore from 1975 to 1994 and was an avid polo player as well. A complete sportsman, as were many of the Myopians, Russell competed in every hunter trial and horse show in the state. If he didn’t have a made horse ready to go for an event, he’d pull a green horse out of the field and show up to participate anyway. Sitting tall and slim on his Thoroughbreds, Russell presented the image of sporting elegance.
In 1994, Russell Clark was elected Honorary Master, sharing that honor with only one other Master in the long history of the hunt, James W. Appleton. After I moved to Virginia from the Boston area, we would meet every so often at an MFHA function in New York and catch up on old times. Russell always finished the conversation with, “And didn’t we have fun!”
Russell’s father, Forrester “Tim” Clark, was one of the biggest, strongest, and most admired competitive Harvard athletes of his day In the late 1920s he was captain of the Harvard crew, played two-way tackle on the football team, and was a defensive standout.
In the 1970s, Tim Clark donated an entire family estate in Hamilton to the United States Equestrian Team upon which the three-day team established their training facility. The estate had stables, a racetrack, and housing for USET coach Jack LeGoff and the team. Tim Clark donated superb equine prospects to the team as well.
Despite his stature in a community that included another well-known foxhunter, General George S. Patton, Tim Clark had the self-confidence to be humble and down to earth. He passed away in the 1990s, and the last time I saw that tall, distinguished Boston Brahmin, then in his seventies, he was digging the latrines, unassisted, for the annual Myopia Horse Show.
With families like the Clarks and the Ayers, the town of Hamilton in the 1970s was the center of gravity for U.S. three-day competition and training. Neil Ayer, who preceded Russell as MFH at Myopia from 1868 to 1983, was president of the U.S. Combined Training Association. He and his wife Helen established the leading site for three-day competition in North America at their estate, Ledyard Farm. The first international three-day competitions in the country were hosted by the Ayers at Ledyard in the mid-1970s.
With Ledyard’s cross-country course only a twenty-minute hack from the three-day USET training estate donated by the Clark Family, team riders had convenient access to that storied Hamilton resource as well. The Clarks, the Ayers, and other sporting families at Myopia provided the United States with its halcyon days in international three-day competition.
Services for Russell Clark were held at The Christ Church in Hamilton on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Donations in Russell’s memory may be made to Essex County Green Belt.
Posted November 18, 2019
By Norman Fine
Photo of the Week
“The Moment” by Yongqing Bao, Wildlife Photographer of the Year
This image of a Tibetan vixen with three cubs to feed attacking a terrified Himalayan marmot earned photographer Yongqing Bao the prestigious title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year for capturing this paralyzing wildlife moment. The photo was taken in the remote Qilian mountains of China.
Competition winners were announced during an awards ceremony at London's Museum of Natural History from 48,000 entries received from 100 countries.
Posted November 20, 2019