About houndblogger

Author, foxhunter, beagler, dog lover Glenye Cain Oakford is the bloodstock business correspondent for the Daily Racing Form, covering Thoroughbred auctions and breeding. She has been writing about sporting subjects since 1986 and is author of The Home Run Horse: Inside America's Billion-Dollar Racehorse Industry and the High-Stakes Dreams that Fuel It (2004, DRF Press). She also is a 2009 John H. Daniels Fellow at the National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Va., where she will be researching "the golden thread"--the legendary communication outstanding huntsmen and their hounds develop. That research will contribute to a planned book on the rarely-seen lives of a working foxhound pack and the people who train and care for them. Oakford lives and works in Lexington, Ky., with her husband. They have two beagles, a beagle mix, and two thoroughbreds.

2012: Blog year in review by the numbers

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. The houndbloggers would like to thank all of our readers and visitors and wish every one of you a Happy, Houndy New Year!

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 57,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 13 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Rose’s last hunt

YOU’VE probably been around us long enough to know that the Houndbloggers are partial to old hounds (even when they are as bad as our Harry) and hounds that won’t give up (even when, as in the case of our Eider–late of the Clear Creek Beagles–their desire to hunt anything and everything, all night if necessary, results in their being expelled from a respectable pack with a disgraceful report card). We can’t help ourselves: we love them.

We also have a real soft spot for The River Bottom, a quietly wonderful blog about life in the country with beagles. The posts over there are a highlight for me, and when a new one goes up, I stop whatever I’m doing and pay attention, right then, in order to savor whatever news there is from River Bottom country in Litchfield, Minnesota. They came up with a beautiful one today that spoke to us, partly because it was about an old beagle who is a tried-and-true hare-tracker. Didn’t hurt that it reminded us a little of Mr. Box who, in his youth, failed to return from a hunt with the sun going down and the snow blowing in (to read about his great adventure, click this link and scroll down the page to “Mr. Box’s Epic Journey”).

Here is how The River Bottom began this afternoon:

I’m listening but I can’t hear anything. The spruce trees are all covered in snow, big snowflakes are drifting down. It’s getting dark, And cold. I don’t think Rose is coming back.

Pete is down on the south road waiting and listening. We covered all the roads looking for tracks, two or three times. No dogs crossed the road.

I’ve been in and out of this trail it seems like ten times. Under that dang jack pine that hangs over the trail. Its branches slide up over the windshield. I swear it’s going to pull off my wiper blades next time through.

The woods are deep to the west, she could have gone a few miles that way. Even if she is right here and something happened, I could never find her in this stuff. Me and Pete have walked all over this spot looking for her.

When I was loading dogs this morning Rose was there waiting. I was going to put her in the house. She would have cried all day. She’s about 14 now. I loaded her in the dog box too.

I guess I would rather see her disappear into the spruce trees running a hare in the snow than live a long and unhappy old age.

This spot is loaded with hare. Thick heavy spruce trees, aspen and brush when they go out the west side with thick alder and willow swamps. The dogs ran steady all day long.

Rose hasn’t hunted much the last couple years, she mostly just follows me around. I didn’t think she needed a tracking collar.

She started a hare on her own. Her voice is just as loud and pretty as ever. I heard her a couple times after that. With all these dogs running it was tough to pick her out.

When we started catching them up we hadn’t heard or seen Rose for a couple hours. Now we are trying to guess what happened to her.

Read on, please do, at The River Bottom. It’s fine writing telling a good story. With pictures that will make you smile. Enjoy.

For Veterans Day: A Wartime Ride

Siegfried Sassoon, by George Charles Beresford (1915)

For this Veterans Day, the houndbloggers return to an old favorite, the English poet Siegfried Sassoon. Among foxhunters, he’s as well known for his delightful and nostalgic prose work Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man as he is among schoolchildren and British historians as one of England’s brilliant War Poets, whose style helped change the trajectory of modern poetry. Sassoon was a passionate foxhunter, especially during his youth and in the years immediately after World War I, though he often felt that the hunting side of his personality tended to distract from the greater work of his life, poetry.

Siegfried Sassoon’s grave at the churchyard in Mells. Photo by Graham Allard.

When the Great War broke out in 1914, Sassoon joined up and took his hunter and point-to-point winner Cockbird with him to war. Sassoon wrote a great deal about Cockbird, and his picture can be found in many Sassoon biographies; our favorite is quite a famous picture of Cockbird standing in the Sassoon family’s yard, with Sassoon standing at his head and gazing with obvious pride at his hunting and racing partner. Alongside them is a small side table that, you can tell, has been carried out into the yard especially for the occasion of the photo, for on it is a magnificent silver racing trophy, the Colonel’s Cup–now lost (like Cockbird, alas), whereabouts unknown.

Hounds hunting on Veterans Day 2012.

In honor of Veterans Day, we hope you’ll page back through the blog and see our earlier posts, The Hounds of War: A Veterans Day for Hunting Soldiers and A Hunt for the Veterans. But today we give our page to Sassoon, not for the biting but deeply touching poems he penned in the trenches (some of which you can read here), but for an unusually peaceful wartime passage in Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man:

“I was happy as I trudged along the lanes in the column, with my platoon chattering behind me and everything gilt with the sun’s good humour. Happier still when I borrowed the little black mare no one could ride and cantered about the open country by myself, which I did two or three afternoons a week. The black mare was well bred but had lost the use of one eye. She had a queer temper and had earned an evil reputation by kicking various officers off or bolting back to the transport lines with them after going half a mile quite quietly. She was now used as a pack-pony for carrying ammunition, but by gentle treatment I gained her confidence and she soon became a sort of active-service echo of my old favourites. Dick rode out with me as often as he could persuade the Transport Officer to let him have a horse.

Our Iroquois Sassoon, now retired, named after the poet.

“When riding alone I explored the country rather absent-mindedly, meditating on the horrors which I had yet to experience: I was unable to reconcile that skeleton certainty with the serenities of this winter landscape–clean-smelling, with larks in the sky, the rich brown gloom of distant woods, and the cloud shadows racing over the lit and dappled levels of that widespread land. And then I would pass a grey-roofed chateau, with its many windows and no face there to watch me pass. Only a bronze lion guarding the well in the middle of an overgrown lawn, and the whole place forlorn and deserted. Once, as I was crossing the main road from Abbeville to Beauvais, I watched the interminable column of a French army corps which was moving southward. For the first I saw the famous French field-guns–the ’75s.’

“But even then it wasn’t easy to think of dying. … Still less so when Dick was with me, and we were having an imitation hunt. I used to pretend to be hunting a pack of hounds, with him as my whipper-in. Assuming a Denis Milden manner (Denis was at Rouen with the cavalry and likely to remain there, in spite of the CO’s assumptions about open warfare), I would go solemnly through a wood, cheering imaginary hounds. After an imaginary fox had been found, away we’d scuttle, looking in vain for a fence to jump, making imaginary casts after an imaginary check, and losing our fox when the horses had done galloping. An imaginary kill didn’t appeal, somehow. Once, when I was emerging rapidly from a wood with loud shouts, I came round a corner and nearly knocked the Brigadier off his horse. He was out for a ride with his staff-captain; but no doubt he approved of my sporting make-believe, and I didn’t dare stop for apologies, since the Brigadier was a very great man, indeed. Dick enjoyed these outings enormously and was very much impressed by my hunting noises. The black mare seemed to enjoy it also.”

The guns in the wood. The Royal Artillery Hunt still hunts (within the law) on Salisbury Plain, not far from Sassoon’s former home at Heytesbury.

Years after the Great War, when Sassoon was living in Heytesbury, Wiltshire, and still hunting now and again with the packs around Salisbury Plain, there was a touching moment caught by Alec Waugh. Waugh, brother of the author Evelyn Waugh (of Brideshead Revisited fame, among many other wonderful books), recounted it in his book My Brother Evelyn and Other Portraits:

“I last saw Sassoon in October 1940 under ironically appropriate circumstances.

“A few weeks earlier I had been posted as staff-captain to the Petroleum Warfare Department, a branch of the Ministry of Mines, that under the dynamic inspiration of Geoffrey Lloyd made a considerable contribution to the war effort. … At that time we were chiefly concerned with the defensive uses to which oil might be put, flame-throwers, tank traps, flame on water. In mid-October we went down into the country to give a demonstration.

“It was what is called a typical, which is to say it was an exceptional, late autumn day; a day that started with mist and a chill in the air, a mist through which the sunlight began to break about eleven. By noon it was  summer hot. It was the prefect day to drive down into the country with a team of cameramen to film the demonstration and it was a perfect picnic site that had been chosen for the demonstration, at the head of a valley, with the grass very green with dew and the trees red and brown and yellow and the spire of a church showing between the branches of an orchard.

“We got down early, set out our cameras, and waited. The blitz had been heavy on the previous night. It was a relief to lie out in the grass, with the sun warm upon our faces, in a countryside untouched by war. The valley was quiet and deserted: nothing dramatic in the country’s history had happened here. It was strange to reflect that within an hour its slopes would be lined with red-hatted officers; a whistle would blow, the handles of the cameras would turn, and explosion would follow on explosion, the soft greensward would be scorched and ripped and scattered into a desert of smouldering fires and scarred iron.

Our horse Sassoon, also named for the poet and foxhunting man.

“The demonstration started at two o’clock. Within a quarter of an hour the beauty of the valley was destroyed and it was just as the high grade staff officers were moving to their cars, as the final informal conferences were breaking up, that a horseman, a civilian, came trotting by. This was, no doubt, a favorite ride of his. He had had no idea that this demonstration was to be held. It could scarcely be a pleasant surprise for him. I looked up, to note with a start of surprise that it was Sassoon.

“My first instinct was to run across and greet him; but a second, wiser instinct checked me. There was an inscrutable expression on that drawn, handsome face as it looked down on the charred and littered grass.

“What thoughts, I wondered, were moving behind that mask: how many different thoughts must be creating a mixed mood–memories of the last war and his revolt against it, his contempt for ‘scarlet majors at the base,’ his poems that had seemed then and later the battle call to a crusade; the sacrifice of his generation that had failed to prevent this second war, whose intensified horror was exemplified by these new engines of destruction, with himself a quarter of a century later, in his fifties and too old for service?

“It was kinder to leave him to that mood, those memories.”

Happy Blessing Day!

Just part of the Blessing Day field!

The hounds at this year’s blessing ceremony included Hound Welfare Fund Retiree of the Year Sassoon, the giant woolly in the middle of the picture, who retired at the end of the 2011-2012 hunt season.

Grimes Mill, the Iroquois Hunt Club headquarters, all dressed up for the big day.

Whipper-in Cice Bowers accepts a piece of cake from hunt member Leslie Penn as part of the stirrup cup Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason hosted after the blessing ceremony. Looks like Cice’s horse, Turnip, would like some, too!

Happy Blessing Day, everyone!

Hard-working hounds

TOMORROW is Blessing Day, so today presents a good moment to look back on an excellent cubbing weekend. The last weekend in October was damp, misty, and chilly with highs in the 40s–a perfect weekend, really, for a spooky Halloween. Despite a stiff breeze, the hounds had no trouble finding coyote lines, and, in fact, the pack hardly ever stopped working during two days of hunting. The video above is from both days combined and gives you some indication of hounds’ general work ethic. You’ll spot quite a few familiar faces, too: red and white Samson, whose trip from England to Kentucky made him very conservational; bounding, powerful Banker; Sage, the mother of our current SA puppies, and their father Driver, too; as well as Paper, better known in his youth as “Playper”!

Tomorrow the formal season begins. Looks to me as if the hounds have absorbed their lessons well during the informal training season!

Countdown to the Blessing of the Hounds!

The Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing of the Hounds honors the pack’s retirees as well as its current hunting members. Shirley McQuillan photo.

ON Saturday, the annual Blessing of the Hounds will mark the transition from October’s informal part of the hunt season (generally known as cubhunting or autumn hunting) to the formal months that run from November until March. Blessing Day is the “high holy day” of the Iroquois season, and it’s made even more special by the fact that some of our retired hounds get to participate in the ceremony each year.

The Blessing of the Hounds harks back to St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, and it’s his medal that our riders receive on Blessing Day as part of the ceremony (you can see them on their red ribbons, above, lined up along Iroquois joint-Master Jack van Nagell’s hunt whip). To learn a little more about St. Hubert and the history of this beautiful and curiously affecting service, click here.

Bonfire received a personal blessing at the 2008 Blessing of the Hounds. Houndblogger photo.

The Blessing of the Hounds takes place each year on the first Saturday of November and attracts the hunt’s landowners, neighbors, and friends, who enjoy the service, the spectacle, and also a traditional stirrup cup hosted by huntsman Lilla Mason. The schedule this year starts at 11 a.m., when the riders, horses, and guests arrive at the hunt club’s front lawn. The hounds themselves–including 2012 Hound Welfare Fund Retiree of the Year Sassoon!–will arrive at 11:30 a.m. The Iroquois joint-Masters and huntsman will make a few brief opening remarks, followed by the blessing by the Venerable Bryant Kibler, Senior Archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington. Each rider will then take his or her turn to receive the St. Hubert’s medal.

At noon, the riders will proceed up the road on horseback to Miller Trust Farm, while guests and spectators follow by car. The huntsman’s stirrup cup–featuring ham biscuits, cake, port, sherry, and apple cider–will take place in one of the Miller Trust fields. All those attending the Blessing of the Hounds are welcome to join in for the stirrup cup, which got its name, incidentally, because the mounted riders are served their food and drink at stirrup level by the unmounted person holding the tray!

The hounds, hunt staff, and hunting members gather on the Iroquois Hunt Club’s front lawn for the ceremony before riding up the road for a traditional stirrup cup.  The riders receive a St. Hubert’s medal.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a last look back at the informal season with video from the last weekend in October, when superlative hounds combined with cool, damp weather and fast coyotes to give October a great sporting send-off!