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.
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.