This Week in...
The Closing of a Literary Institution: Opportunity for Readers and Collectors by Robin Bledsoe and Norman Fine
Large inventory of antiquarian and out-of-print horse books to go at discount.
Bound to the Country by Jim Graham
Art Book Review: A magnificent showcase of the photographer’s art
Rebuilding the Mells Fox Hounds by Norman Fine
The plan to save and rebuild the hunt to a position of prominence
...Our Hunting World
Working My Way Home by Lori Brunnen
On her painful journey back from loss, the author leads a 4-year-old on her first hunt.
Larry LeHew, ex-MFH (1937–2020)
Remembering the out-sized personality and warm hospitality of a hunting ambassador
The Blue Birdseye Stock Tie: A Smashing Style from the Past
Norm Fine's Blog
Denya Dee Leake, who made her first appearance in the hunting field on a lead line at age 6, is an amateur whipper-in to the Blue Ridge Hunt (VA) and owner/trainer of First Flight Equestrian. She models the blue birdseye stocktie in the latest fabric. / Tyler DeHaven photo
Five years ago we published a story about a little-known, yet colorful article of attire from foxhunting’s earliest days that deserved to be resurrected—the blue birdseye stock tie. Originated in England, it can be seen in eighteenth-century foxhunting prints if you look closely.
We enlisted two friends at the time: Judy Allen, who makes stock ties for tack shops in Virginia, and the late Karen Ewbank, a custom hunting clothier. They both loved the notion of bringing back this attractive stock tie, so we scoured the web for an appropriate fabric and offered it in our Shop.
Our efforts were rewarded. People enjoyed wearing it, retelling its history in the hunt field, and appreciated the good looks of this ancient style. We continue to receive orders every season, and though our fabric source recently discontinued, Judy searched and located a new source of an even more authentic fabric.
The first time I saw what I later learned was a blue birdseye stock tie, it was neatly tied under the huntsman’s scarlet coat. I had to ask myself, “What in the world is that man wearing about his neck?”
Here was an ex-Master, an experienced professional huntsman for world-class packs in England, Ireland, and America, who appeared to be oblivious to “propah” foxhunting attire. I’m referring to Hugh Robards, now retired from the field, but, during the late twentieth/early twenty-first century, one of the hunting world’s foremost huntsmen.
Robards is also an author, a student of the noble art, and possesses an extensive library. I thought he should have known better, but I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I didn’t ask.
It happens that I was the ignorant one, but, I suspect, I wasn’t alone in this particular matter. Robards, I learned, was wearing a traditional article of traditional foxhunting attire—a blue birdseye stock tie—under his scarlet coat. During his twenty-seven-year stint as huntsman for Lord Daresbury at the County Limerick Foxhounds (IRE), both he and the Master wore their blue birdseye stock ties through the autumn hunting season.
How many foxhunters of today had ever heard of such a thing, I wondered? The better question, though, was wouldn’t it be great fun to bring back this handsome stock tie into our own hunting fields? It was!
A few Meltonians sport blue birdseye stocks under their scarlet coats in this painting by Sir Francis Grant (1839)
With my new-found knowledge, and looking more closely at old hunting prints by eighteenth-century artists, I saw field members depicted in these scenes sporting blue stock ties under their scarlet coats. According to the well-read Robards, the Earl of Wilton hunting with the Quorn is shown wearing a blue birdseye hunting stock in Nimrod's Hunting Reminiscences; Mr. Thomas Assheton Smith, when Master of the Tedworth, wore one; John Peel had been drawn wearing one; and ''Nimrod,'' Charles James Appleby, also had a liking for this type of neck wear.
While the blue birdseye stock tie may not be considered “correct” during the formal season for professional hunt staff, Robards maintains that during autumn hunting it is better for staff than a collar and necktie because the stock tie is so much more useful in emergencies. And while field members of yore wore them with their scarlet coats, one has to wonder how they might clash with the various colors of hunt collars we wear nowadays. But surely, with an appropriate tweed coat during autumn hunting and later on informal hunting days, they are a handsome accouterment for both men and women. They also look smashing on ladies who wear dark blue coats during the formal season, and with gray Melton and black formal coats as well.
In Willy Poole’s Hunting: An Introductory Handbook, that most knowledgeable and outspoken English writer/reporter states, “A white tie is normal [during the formal season], although you will see some aged toffs who still wear a blue birdseye stock tie. These went out of general wear before World War I, but they are still correct if you have the style to carry them off.”
Whether or not we have the style will be for others to judge, but why not be bold? Click here if you’d like one or more for your own or for gifts.
Posted November 7, 2020
Hot Weather Hunting Is Hard on Hounds
Joanne Maisano photo
We’ve had hot weather hunting reports from many quarters across the Mid-Atlantic and southward. The West Coast as well. Hot weather hunting can be devastating to hounds because... bless them... they will try to keep up with the pack even when overheated and failing. Some hounds will be more susceptible to heat exhaustion than others, and the result can be fatal if neglected.
Under these conditions, staff must be equipped in the field to immediately administer sugar-loaded liquids to wobbly hounds and try to get them to cool water to bring their body temperature down. Master and huntsman Epp Wilson even recommends Port wine in a pinch! But he makes certain to have Caro syrup at the ready as well. Here’s part of a recent report from the Belle Meade Hunt (GA) by Epp.
We struck at Dead Cow Hill and had a good gallop in a clockwise circle to Gentleman’s Hill Field, back to Tally Ho Lake, Rappahannock Coop, Hal Sims’ Coop, Puppy Pond (where our friends, former huntsman John Tabachka* and Jennifer Buckley viewed the coyote) with Bullet or Bismark close behind and the rest of the pack on his heels. Continuing the clockwise circle, they went by Deacon’s Coop, then Jon McCorkle Alley where the staff picked most of them up.
Several hounds had gotten overheated. We gave them the Caro syrup and port and walked the pack to Tally Ho Lake to cool off, then returned to kennels. Another short and successful hunt.
When hounds get overheated they often get wobbly in the back end first and try to keep going. Even at a wobbling walk. Then they collapse. Best thing to do is get them to shallow water to cool the body, not a pond because they might drown. In addition to Caro syrup, use Port or anything else with lots of sugar. But liquid so they can’t choke on it.
If you’ve tried that but the hound doesn’t seem to be recovering, it calls for a trip to the vet. Especially if you see a change in the color of its gums or reddish-colored urine from the hound.
I’m sure many of you huntsmen out there have your own favorite method of tackling this problem How about sharing your wisdom in a Comment here?
Posted October 29, 2020
The Vixen’s Meet: A Fund Raiser for Our Times
By Jean P. Derrick
Orange County Hounds Field Master John Coles leads a field of 60 visiting foxhunting ladies on the Vixen's Meet . / Joanne Maisano photo
When the COVID pandemic and executive orders from the Governor of Virginia forced cancellation of Orange County Hounds’ primary annual fund raising event—the barn party held at Board President Jaqueline Mars’ legendary home—OCH Board leaders Jane Bishop and Emily Hannum put their heads together and scheduled instead a Vixen’s Meet. Given the strong showing October 15, 2020 at Stonehedge in The Plains, Virginia, the ladies like it.
Ladies from a dozen hunts turned out in support of Orange County: Belle Meade Hunt (GA), Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds (PA), Cloudline Hounds (TX), and De La Brooke Foxhounds (MD). From Virginia were ladies of the Blue Ridge Hunt, Casanova Hunt, Loudoun Fairfax Hunt, Middleburg Hunt, Piedmont Fox Hounds, Rappahannock Hunt, and Snickersville Hounds.
The format, originated several years ago at Elkridge-Harford Hunt (MD) and brainstormed by Joe Davies and his wife Blythe Miller Davies, is simple—a field of women–only with a fund raising capping fee of $250. Orange County’s event included only three men—Field Master John Coles, huntsman Reg Spreadborough, and a whipper-in. Behind them, a field of over sixty horsewomen enjoyed a day of foxhunting in the early autumn over Orange County's magnificent hunting country.
The sport, for this warm time of the season, was good. Hounds found four foxes, and one ran a little longer than the others. Snickersville Hounds (VA) Master and huntsman Eva Smithwick viewed three foxes, bolting near a wall by the tree line of a field. “Two went on, over the stone wall, the third one went back” she explained. Huntsman’s wife, Fionna Spreadborough commented “Hounds did well today, considering the difference in weather from yesterday and today, when it is slightly warming.”
And stonewalls there were, aplenty. When World War I veteran William P. Holbert returned from France to America with his new American bride, whom he had met in Paris where she was stationed as a nurse, he came home to Virginia and bought the property which he made into Stonehedge, building stout masonry stone walls for Piedmont Fox Hounds and Orange County Hounds to ride over. Those stone walls today are as fresh and stout and imposing as they were a hundred years ago. Field Master Coles made sure his field was entertained, and even when the field would pass by a wall without jumping, somehow he managed to double back and work the one missed back into his repertoire. Second flight, led by Mary Alice Matheson-Thomas, fully enjoyed the tour of the colorful countryside as well as good up close views of hound work, feathering and trailing.
A field of great riders and beautiful horses, commented former jump race rider Michelle Rouse from Piedmont, and no one to slow us down! / Joanne Maisano photo
One of the most remarkable things about the day was the congeniality and the welcoming atmosphere. Women met other women of like mind and similar interests and quickly fell into an easy camaraderie. Piedmont member Michelle Rouse had an interesting analysis of the day’s dynamics. “I’m mesmerized by watching all of these great riders and beautiful horses,” she said. “They just flow. Everyone’s such a good rider, and we don’t have any bad [men] riders slowing us down.” Indeed, even given the substantial size of the field, it seemed not to matter where you rode. Field members kept such an even pace galloping and jumping that there were no pile ups or sticky places.
Orange County’s honorary secretary Catherine (Bundles) Murdock, when asked for advice to other hunts interested in sponsoring a similar event empathetically stated that, “The secret to successfully sponsoring such an event is organization. We got the paperwork done ahead of time, collecting releases and most of the caps. That was a bit like herding cats, but we got it. Then, for check-in at Stonehedge, we had two entrances, and the person stationed at each entrance had a full list of riders. There were two separate parking areas, and we used alternate feed for check in at each entrance, so things flowed, and there were no bottlenecks.
Bundles also noted that a lot of man power was necessary to make the day a success. New Orange County Master Jeb Hannum and landowner host Andrew Bishop worked hard, setting up the tables in the barn where a delicious boxed breakfast, water, and beer were served at the end of the day. “There was also a lot of mowing and trail clearing they did,” Bundles said.
Mrs. Jaqueline B. Mars, President of the Orange County Hounds was there throughout the day, car following, and was one of the last to leave. “I’m so pleased with our spectacular turnout for this event, and I appreciate very much all of the hard work of our members to sponsor it, including Jane Bishop and Emily Hannum,” she said.
Head organizer Jane Bishop summed it up. “Emily Hannum first introduced me to the idea of a Vixen’s Meet last Fall when she invited me to one hosted by Elkridge-Harford. I couldn’t go with her, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. It sounded like so much fun, and then, with the cancellation of our annual barn dance and auction (due to the pandemic), Emily and I decided to organize an OCH Vixen’s Meet.”
“At first, the response was a little sparse but after about two weeks we were deluged with RSVPs. So much so, that we had to cap the list one week before the meet. From there, we created a wait list and ultimately had about sixty guests in the field.
“The camaraderie amongst everyone was really palpable. Everyone was so happy to be there—meeting other foxhunters from several states as well as seeing friends from local hunts. Two great moments stay with me—hearing a squeal of delight behind me as one of the riders cleared a stout wall with a rider over it, the second being the moment when the entire field opened up in full gallop with Reg, hounds, and the Master across a beautiful open field at Broad Hollow.
“One of my biggest concerns was hosting a luncheon that enabled everyone to stay socially distanced or at least not crowded as they picked up food and drink. To that end, we set up boxed picnic lunches on two hay wagons decorated for Fall. Our husbands Andrew and Jeb served sparking Rosé and the whole scene was very festive! Some ladies picked up lunch and departed, while others stayed and had a great visit with fellow foxhunters.
“In all, it was a great fundraiser for OCH but the excitement of being out with women who all share the passion of foxhunting is what made the day.”
Posted November 5, 2020
Making the most of her trip from Georgia, author Jean Derrick, Field Master for the Belle Meade Hounds, judged the Virginia Field Hunter Championships at the Bull Run Hunt (VA) on Sunday.
Belle Meade Field Master Jean Derrick at the Orange County Hunt Vixen's Meet / Courtesy of Middleburg Photo
Oakleigh B. Thorne (1932–2020)
Oakleigh B. Thorne, sportsman, philanthropist, and businessman, known for his quick wit and irreverent personality, died on October 7, 2020 at his home in Millbrook, New York. He was 88 years old.
“Oakleigh came from the family that, more than any other, was instrumental in establishing the Millbrook Hunt as we know it today,” said Farnham F. Collins, ex-MFH.
“His great-grandfather, Oakleigh Thorne, was Master from 1910 to 1928. He brought hounds from England and opened an extensive country establishing the Millbrook Hunt as one of the premier hunts in America. Oakleigh B. and the Thorne family continued this heritage.
“The Millbrook Hunt was fortunate that Oakleigh B. maintained a strong interest in the Hunt, readily available to help guide decisions with encouragement and support. The Millbrook Hunt would not be the premier hunt it is today without his involvement over so many years,” Farnham said.
Mr. Thorne served as president of the Board of Governors of the Millbrook Hunt for thirty-five years. Millbrook was established in the 1890s and Recognized by the MFHA in 1909. He also served as Joint-Master of the Sandanona Hare Hounds from 1963 to 2012.
Mr. Thorne’s sporting interests were mainly beagling, fishing, and polo. He foxhunted for a few years and encouraged his wife, Felicitas, as she developed her interest in the sport. Mrs. Thorne joined Farnham Collins in the Mastership from 1979 to 1996.
His son, also Oakleigh, and his son’s wife, Jacqueline, are major landowners in the Millbrook hunt country and active foxhunters. Jacqueline is the daughter of Bill and Nancy Stahl, the latter having recently stepped down after twenty-five years as Joint-Master of the Millbrook.
In business circles, the late Mr. Thorne was best known for his stewardship of the Thorne family holding company, CT Corporation in New York City, through the 1960s and 70s. He merged that company into its largest holding, Commerce Clearing House Inc. in 1976. After the merger he served as Chairman of the Board of Commerce Clearing House which has provided information services for tax, accounting, compliance, and audit workers since the inception of the modern U.S. federal income tax in 1913.
In 1980, Mr. Thorne retired to the family's estate, Thorndale, in Millbrook, though he remained chairman of the board of CCH until the family sold the company to Wolters Kluwer in 1996. After retiring to Millbrook, Mr. Thorne pursued numerous avocations, including breeding Thoroughbred racehorses, wine making and polo. Though born to privilege, Mr. Thorne was quick to dispense with pretense and share his amusing observations and mischievous grin with all comers.
In Dutchess County he was best known for the philanthropy of the Millbrook Tribute Garden Inc., and his participation on the boards of numerous local non-profit organizations. He was a founding member and served on the board of the Dutchess Land Conservancy.
He was born in Santa Barbara, California, the first child of Oakleigh L. Thorne and Bertha Palmer Thorne. His father was a descendant of an old New York family that had financial success in the leather and publishing businesses, and his mother was a descendant of the prominent Palmer family of Chicago, Illinois.
He graduated from St. Marks School in Southborough, Massachusetts in 1950—later serving on the board of St. Marks—and went on to Harvard University. He majored in economics and graduated in 1956, after his service in the United States Army in South Korea from 1953 to 1955.
Mr. Thorne often claimed that his proudest collegiate accomplishment came in 1952 when he and his roommate attempted to break a world record established by a pair of Russians who slapped each other every ten seconds for seventy-two hours. Though the pair did not beat the Russian record, they did receive quite a bit of media notoriety for the attempt. He belonged to numerous sporting clubs, including The Jockey Club, and served on numerous boards, including the Fiduciary Trust Company.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be given to the Thorne Building Community Center, PO Box 1087, Millbrook, NY, 12545, or The Dutchess Land Conservancy, PO Box 138, Millbrook, NY, 12545.
Posted October 27, 2020
Happy 95th, Michael Dempsey!
By Noel Mullins and Joan Hardiman
Michael Dempsey, Master and huntsman of the Galway Blazers parading 22-1/2 couple of hounds at the Dublin Horse Show, 1983 / Noel Mullins photo
Former Master and huntsman of the Galway Blazers for forty seasons, Michael Dempsey celebrated his ninety-fifth birthday last week. And there are still some who remember him hunting Lady Molly Cusack-Smith’s Bermingham and North Galway Hounds even before that!
In fact, your FHL editor was in the field near Bermingham House one hunting day that would have cancelled any prognostication of this man ever achieving ninety-five years topside.
"As far up front as possible, I had an unobstructed view of Dempsey watching hounds as he galloped along an open grassy way. An unseen wire, stretched across the way stopped him throat high. His horse continued at the gallop, and Dempsey, spun a 270-degree circle about the wire—his throat at the center of the radius—until his chin released him to gravity’s force and allowed him to land hard on his backside. He got up slowly, remounted when his horse was returned to him, and continued hunting hounds for the rest of the day," recalled Fine.
Dempsey celebrated his birthday at the home of his son Tom, who had whipped-in to him for ten seasons before taking over the horn from Michael for another twenty seasons. Tom and his wife Mairead have been lovingly caring for Michael. A domestic science teacher, Mairead made a special birthday cake, and his nieces, Rose, a former Joint-Master, Carmel, and Joan joined in the celebration socially distancing on the lawn outside.
One of the highlights of the occasion was a poetic tribute that Joan penned about Michael's life from childhood: Autumn hunting in Moyode Wood, hunting with his idol Major Bowes Daly of Dunsandle House, his top horses Superman and Gavroche, to hunting all the County Galway packs—the Galway Blazers, Lady Molly O'Rourke's Bermingham and North Galway Hounds, and the East Galway. The tribute was arranged to a musical background by Carmel, a well-known Galway musician who performs at many of the social occasions in the West. Other highlights were Michael outracing his good friend Tommy Brennan in one of the first Hunt Chases at the Royal Dublin Horse Show, parading twenty-two-and-a-half couple of the Blazers’ hounds on two occasions in the Parade of Champions, and settling them on the bank without assistance by just using his voice.
His hunting trips to the USA were not forgotten: hunting with his friend Melvin Poe, huntsman of the Orange County Hunt in Virginia, and not being tempted to join all the spectators when Jackie Onassis had a fall as hounds were in full flight. Michael did not let Melvin out of his sight, and they were there when the pack marked to ground. Leaving the last words to Joan, she said that her uncle Michael was an unrivaled huntsman and horseman of his era, and predicted his name will go down in hunting folklore.
Happy Birthday, Master, from all those of us at home and abroad that have been privileged to hunt and enjoy spectacular sport with you in a Golden Era of hunting in County Galway.
Tribute by Joan Hardiman
Early in August, after the harvest, he’d couple old hounds to young.
Drawing them out with JJ and Tom, from under the Arch rushed the Ballymore hounds.
A childhood dream to hunt these hounds since first he followed Bowes Daly.
A young boy’s wish if strong enough can one day become his reality.
At four in the morning the day not quite dawning, his favourite time of the year, the clip clop of their horses breaking the silence, as they headed for Moyode.
In the thick undergrowth the cubs they awoke, followed on by hounds at full cry, their tongue was so strong yet their music so sweet, their dulcet tones hung in the sky.
Their morning over, a lot to mull over, home to a welcome fry.
He dreamed last night that once again he flew between Craughwell and Seafin.
Hounds shrill cry disturbing life in the stony fields ahead of them.
Beneath Daly’s cross having lost the line, widely feathering picked up again
Then straight and true over land he knew, reins in one hand he blew them on
Gavroche took the railway wall, sure of foot and brave
The field by now were losing pace, headed for Greenhouse gate
Up ahead they lost sight of him, sure he was away for Rahasane den
Steam rising in the October air, he blew to ground the quarry spared.
No stone wall too high, no ditch too wide, high tensile wire didn’t turn him
From bleak Turloughmore to the woods of Moyode, from Headford by the Corrib to The Eyrecourt
Demense, the land he respected, no farmers neglected.
From Athenry Square after the fair, to the last hurrah in Cawley’s, bar, he wasn’t averse to quenching his thirst with his favourite, tumbler of Paddys.
When hunting North Galway with Molly O’ Rourke, this country had none to compare.
She was widely known as the lady who carried the horn through the war
Her voice when raised could be heard in Belclare but she taught him a lot about heel and the hare.
The going was perfect, walls standing tall, the fox clearly viewed from afar.
The great Superman so aptly named, covered the country with incredible flair.
He safely will say from that time ‘til now, the likes of that horse has never been found.
The stock stood still on Redmount Hill the hounds fanned out before them
When Jimmy hollered “Gone Away” the pack followed close behind him
Though heavy of limb, he had bred in them excellent scenting noses, this was the reason, season upon season East Galway’s pack never looked back.
The sport and the craic, with characters to match equalled their lofty neighbours.
He led from the front a competitive bunch, close quarters with Bishop and Miley.
Business men, farmers and visitors alike, the challenge was just to get within sight, on a run from
Kiltormer with wire strung so tight, then away to Killimor a ten mile point.
I can personally say, I never again had the likes of those daring, carefree days.
In Dublin’s arena he paraded his pack, it’s spoken of still, the way they were drilled, to wait on the bank until he called them back.
The inaugural team chase, to Brennan’s disgrace, the man from the West boldly out raced him.
He rode point to pointers, trained jumpers and chasers, was known as a judge far and wide.
He chaired Loughrea Show and helped it to grow, to one of the best in the West.
Though stressful to run, it was always great fun, the camaraderie second to none.
Hunting trips to The States, great fun with his mates, in Ligonier a heluva time.
He was treated like royalty, on a visit to Orange County to ride with the great Melvin Poe.
The field watched in awe when he carried the horn and the hounds worked diligently for him.
He was mounted on board, a horse he had sold, one of many he’d sent out before him.
To the amazement of all when Jackie Onnasis took a fall, only the huntsmen kept their eyes on the ball.
A young lad from the west who had followed his quest, he never forgot where he came from.
Riding bareback along roadway and track, school bag hidden from view.
Miss Hehir would say “where’s Dempsey today,” “He’s away with Bowes Daly again.”
No use to chastise him his blue eyes beguiling, “take care of my pony with hay.”
Paddy and him played foxes and dens, sheep dogs their hounds they hollered around, drawing coverts and chasing hens.
When Mary Ellen gave out, it was time to look out, they had serious work to do then.
She was proud of her boys, the oldest her prize, she lived her life through them.
They both had their dreams, his worked out it seems, an envious life in the country.
Now spending his days in the place he baled hay, his brother Gone Away long before him.
Surrounded by family with sharpest of memories not his alone to muse.
From the ends of the earth, the followers he met, share those moments too.
Dedicated to my much admired Uncle Michael on your retirement. Unrivalled huntsman and horseman of your era . Your name will go down in hunting folklore.
Posted November 2, 2020
Noel Mullins, a retired IBM executive, is a photojournalist, lifelong foxhunter, and author of The Dublin Horse Show, The Irish Hunter, In Search of the Kerry Beagle, and other books on Irish horse sport. A similar article was first published in The Irish Field.