On a hot midsummer afternoon, huntsman Matthew Cook rode up to meet me on a green John Deere lawn mower. Cutting grass is just part of the work it takes to maintain the grounds and kennels at the Farmington Hunt Club (VA), home to sixty noisy, rambunctious foxhounds.
Coming to Farmington in the summer of 2013 from the Los Altos Hunt in northern California, Cook faced a new set of challenges, both in topography and local culture. He was learning his new job in the shadow of the forty-year reign of the revered Jill Summers, MFH, whose practice and policy of hunting only foxes laid the foundation for Farmington’s hounds. The pack was bred and trained to ignore anything non-vulpine.
Brian Kiely knows he will have big boots to fill when Larry Pitts, huntsman for the Potomac Hunt (MD), retires after thirty-five seasons there. Brian spent a weekend recently with the Potomac Masters, had a chance to hunt with Larry, and accepted the position of huntsman starting next season.
“The way Larry conducted himself, the way the hounds related to him, was poetry,” said Brian. “It was a fabulous experience just to watch him.”
“I remember seeing Larry some years ago at the Virginia Foxhound Show,” Brian continued. “Hounds from hunts all over were arriving at the kennels...nervous...running off...and there was Larry, calmly walking his pack through all the confusion, without a care.”
Huntsman Chip Anderson lay terminally ill on the morning of December 7, 2013 as the Santa Ynez Valley Hounds met for their Opening Meet at Master Steve Lyons' KickOn Ranch in Santa Barbara, California. Before hounds moved off, word came quietly to the Masters that Chip had died. Lyons chose to withhold the sad news until after the meet, when, along with the announcement, he dedicated the day to Chip.
I got to know Chip when I was editor of Covertside magazine. He submitted a hunting story to me for publication, and I was riveted. I published a number of his hunting stories and loved every one; they were full of adventure, suspense, danger, and exotic locales.
Chip was mad-keen to hunt. Whatever the game; wherever the habitat; he devoured the experience. He hunted wild boar with foxhounds in California, with Ariegeois hounds in Italy, with the Aidi dogs of the Berber tribes in Morocco, and with the Dogo Argentino on the South American pampas—sometimes with guns, sometimes with short swords, and sometimes with daggers in close combat. He was, for a time, a professional guide for dove and pigeon shoots in South America, and he wrote a fingernail-biter about shooting a cattle-killing jaguar that he tracked with a pack of dogs, one of which was a foxhound from the Tryon Hunt in North Carolina that he had bred while huntsman there.
Great ideas are sometimes borne of desperation.
I was desperate to get back on a horse after a lumbar fracture at the beginning of the hunting season. Having already sat out much of the season. I just couldn’t resist riding at the annual joint meet in Ridgecrest, California. Hounds and members of Red Rock Hounds (NV), Kingsbury Harriers, Santa Ynez Valley Hounds (CA), Grand Canyon Hounds (AZ), Paradise Valley Beagles (AZ), as well as members of several eastern hunts all come together for three days of hunting, eating, drinking, and mingling with great friends and fantastic animals.
Riding was definitely not on my list of “can do” activities, but give me a quiet horse and a promise to only walk then no harm can be done, right?