Bedtime Stories: Somerville and Ross

An occasional series in which we wish our readers a happy good night, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

Somerville and Ross are near and dear to every book-loving foxhunter’s heart, and tonight we’ve selected an especially thrilling passage from Experiences of an Irish R. M., published in 1899, in which the title character goes out on his first day of hunting–a cubhunting day in October, as it happens.

“Sorcerer got his hind legs under him, and hardened his crest against the bit, as we all hustled along the drive after the flying figure of my wife. I knew very little about horses, but I realized that even with the hounds tumbling hysterically out of the covert, and the Cockatoo kicking the gravel into his face, Sorcerer comported himself with the manners of the best society. Up a side road I saw Flurry Knox opening half of a gate and cramming through it; in a moment we also had crammed through, and the turf of a pasture field was under our feet. Dr. Hickey leaned forward and took hold of his horse; I did likewise, with the trifling difference that my horse took hold of me, and I steered for Flurry Knox with single-hearted purpose, the hounds, already a field ahead, being merely an exciting and noisy accompaniment of this endeavour. A heavy stone wall was the first occurrence of note. Flurry chose a place where the top was loose, and his clumsy-looking brown mare changed feet on the rattling stones like a fairy. Sorcerer came at it, tense and collected as a bow at full stretch, and sailed steeply into the air; I saw the wall far beneath me, with an unsuspected ditch on the far side, and I felt my hat following me at the full stretch of its guard as we swept over it, then, with a long slant, we descended to earth some sixteen feet from where we had left it, and I was possessor of the gratifying fact that I had achieved a good-sized ‘fly,’ and had not perceptibly moved in my saddle. Subsequent disillusioning experience has taught me that but few horses jump like Sorcerer, so gallantly, so sympathetically, and with such supreme mastery of the subject; but nonetheless the enthusiasm he imparted to me has never been extinguished, and that October morning ride revealed to me the unsuspected intoxication of fox-hunting.

“Behind me I heard the scrabbling of the Cockatoo’s hoofs among the loose stones, and Lady Knox, galloping on my left, jerked a maternal chin over her shoulder to mark her daughter’s progress. For my part, had there been an entire circus behind me, I was far too much occupied with ramming on my hat and trying to hold Sorcerer, to have looked round, and all my spare faculties were devoted to steering for Flurry, who had taken a right-handed turn, and was at that moment surmouting a bank of uncertain and briary aspect. I surmounted it also, with the swiftness and simplicity for which the Quaker’s methods of bank jumping had not prepared me, and two or three fields, traversed at the same steeplechase pace, brought us to a road and to an abrupt check. …

“Up the road a hound gave a yelp of discovery, and flung himslef over a stile into the fields; the rest of the pack went squealing and jostling after him, and I followed Flurry over one of those infinitely varied erections, pleasantly termed ‘gaps’ in Ireland. On this occasion the gap was made of three razor-edged slabs of slate leaning against an iron bar, and Sorcerer conveyed to me his thorough knowledge of the matter by a lift of his hindquarters that made me feel as if I were being skilfully kicked downstairs. To what extent I looked it, I cannot say, nor providentially can Philippa, as she had already started. I only know that undeserved good luck restored me to my stirrup before Sorcerer got away with me in the next field.

“What followed was, I am told, a very fast fifteen minutes; for me time was not; the empty fields rushed past uncounted, fences came and went in a flash, while the wind sang in my ears, and the dazzle of the early sun was in my eyes. I saw hounds occasionally, sometimes pouring over a green bank, as the charging breaker lifts and flings itself, sometimes driving across a field, as the white tongues of foam slide racing over the sand; and always ahead of me was Flurry Knox, going as a man goes who knows his country, who knows his horse, and whose heart is wholly and absolutely in the right place.”

Houndbloggers Abroad: An autumn miscellany

Good grief, is that the time?

The houndbloggers have been overtaken by fall events, starting with the Keeneland September sale and planning for a Champagne reception at the Iroquois kennels (which we were unable to attend but hear was a success–when is Veuve Clicquot not a success?), and then heading back to Wiltshire.

It seems like a long time since we’ve seen the hounds, sadly, but we have at least been able to keep in touch with hounds in news and literature while in England. 

Hounds on the job

Country Life magazine, for example, featured Hector the Bloodhound in its “Best of British” column. We don’t have a picture of Hector, but you can entertain yourself with this one of our old friend Ulpian the Wrinkly, who appeared in a 1914 edition of the magazine, while we briefly detail some of Hector’s work, as described in a more recent Country Life:

The magnificently wrinkly Ulpian the British bloodhound

Hector has been working in the Sussex Police Dog Unit for four years now alongside PC Steve Williams, and he is the only bloodhound currently employed for “scent-discrimination work,” according to Country Life.  When he’s not on the job, he’s at home with Williams. When he is on the job, he sounds pretty amazing.

“First we go to the missing person’s house and find a scent article particular to them–this could be anything from clothing worn next to the skin to a pillowcase,” Williams explains. “Just 15 to 20 seconds is all Hector needs with the item to hunt that scent alone.”

The ensuing hunt can vary in length (their longest so far was three miles), but Hector sounds as if he was good at it from the start. In his first assingment, Williams recalled for the article, “we had to find a 12-year-old boy who had consumed a liter of vodka in a town center. Police searched for three hours to locate the boy before calling on Hector, who found him 20 minutes later in an alleyway behind a dustbin. The boy recovered after a night in hospital.”

If you’re thinking that the alcoholic fumes should have tipped everyone off, including Hector, remember that vodka has no odor.

Fancy Dress

Baily's Hunting Directories

We were fortunate to meet up on this trip with the editor of Baily’s, hunting’s Bible and one of the houndbloggers’ favorite things to read. Peter Brook is excellent company and a wealth of information, and so are the Baily’s directories. Mr. Houndblogger has given me a 1924-1925 directory to add to our collection, and we found this interesting description of the Hampshire Hunt’s evening dress in it:

“Blue coat, white waistcoat, black cloth knee breeches, black silk stockings, gilt buckles on breeches and shoes.”

Fancy, eh? And no wonder, given the hunt’s illustrious history, as also described in its Baily’s entry: “The H.H. dates from about 1745, when Mr. Evelyn hunted the country, with kennels at Armsworth. In 1788, the Prince of Wales, while residing at Kempshott, kept staghounds, which in 1793 were turned into foxhounds, hunting most of the northern portion of the present H.H. country.”

Baily’s entries are a very thorough guide for the foxhunter of the day, frequently going so far as to recommend particular types of horse for each hunt’s country. The Newmarket and Thurlow’s entry, to cite just one, opines that “the most suitable horse is a short-legged, compact, deep back-ribbed one, with bone and as much blood as is possible in this class of hunter.”

Advice to hunt by

Not surprisingly, while in England the houndbloggers have spent much of their time in bookstores.

Sporting treasures, these from John and Judith Head's shop in Salisbury

While we’re most interested in older sporting tomes, we do occasionally find a new hunting book we like. This trip, our choice among new books is The Keen Foxhunter’s Miscellany, compiled by Peter Holt.  It’s a wonderful sampling of sayings from and about foxhunting–not all of it flattering!–and in it we found some typically sage advice from one of our favorite authors, D. W. E. Brock MFH, who wrote mostly in the 1920s and ’30s. With cubhunting season barely two weeks away, we thought we’d quote his list of tips for the novice, as it appears in the new miscellany. It originally ran in his book The Young Foxhunter in 1936:

  • Never crack your whip.
  • Never flick at a hound with your whip.
  • Remember that your hunt has not bought a monopoly of the roads and lanes.
  • Remember that the hunt only crosses the farmers’ land by their courtesy.
  • Remember that you are not the only person out hunting.
  • Obey the Master’s wishes immediately and implicitly.

  • When hounds are drawing, keep behind and as close to the field master as you can get.
  • When hounds go away with a fox, never cut off the tail hounds from the main body.
  • Do not press on hounds at any time, especially during the early stages of a hunt.
  • Never ride between the huntsman and his hounds.

  • Stand still and keep quiet when hounds check.
  • When you meet hounds always turn your horse’s head towards them.
  • If your horse kicks, put a red ribbon on its tail, but do not trust to that alone to keep you out of trouble.
  • Learn to open and catch gates.
  • If someone dismounts to open a gate, no one must go beyond him until he is on his horse again.
  • Concentration is essential if you want to keep with hounds.
  • A sound take-off is the first essential when selecting your place at a fence.
  • A black, strong-looking fence is much safer than a weak, straggly one.

Another bit of Brock also appears in Holt’s slim Miscellany, and we’ll leave you with that. It’s the recipe for “the perfect hunting sandwich,” in case you were wondering:

“Hunting sandwiches differ from all other sandwiches in that they are eaten under vastly more rigorous conditions, and they should be prepared with that in view. They should be so cut, formed and packed that they can be enjoyed even though eaten upon the back of a runaway mustang, in a hurricane of wind and cold rain, by a man who has recently broken his right wrist.”

 On that note, we’ll leave you for now, with good wishes for your preparations for the new season!

Goofy searches

Seek and ye shall find the hound blog. Whether you intended to or not.

Just for fun, I thought I’d publish a post of the goofy searches people have made in the last six months that have brought them, via their favorite search engines, to the hound blog. These appear on the blog’s administrative page, and I am not making them up. Some appear to be simple misspellings, like “hounting sadels,” but I have to say I kind of like the word “hounting.” I think that should be the technical term for what people do when they ride to hunt, rather than hunt to ride. Or maybe it already is the technical term for what a ghost pack does: hounting.

Some search terms are far more alarming, and others are baffling. Here is a collection from the last few months. I guess it’s nice to know we have visitors from everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. The comments in parentheses are the houndbloggers’ notations!

Thurlow steam rally leather skirt

bedtime whipping (!!!)

Will a beagle eat a mole? (yes)

Mail 8 million dog (that would be quite a postage bill)

Iroquois hunk (I know who I’m voting for)

Dewlap giant toulouse geese (… huh …?)

Gentleman (I wonder how many search results this person got?)

A hunting Gentleman.

Best twisty pictures

Somebody watching you (I think they need more than a hound blog to help with this query)

cry sheep (and let slip the sheep of war?)

cute puppies (We know exactly how this search brought them to the hound blog!)

Driver in July 2009.

felix long dog

marvin the hollow hound (This search, surprisingly, wasn’t so goofy after all!

oil on

warm beverages

Oldest harryahound (our Harryahound is eight)

Our Harryahound.

like a pair of puppies noses

too many beagles (oh, honey, we’re with you!)

secretary crying vintage

there were a lot of cattle (we’ll take your word for it)

torture machines (Good God! I hope this wasn’t anyone I know …)

One example of a houndblogger torture machine: the Dressage Saddle.

arches built at the church entrance

wrinkly old people

hot tubs in cheshire

almost perfect situation (hey, when you find it, please: let me in on the secret!)

that gives master Vork weapons (That was the translation Google Translate gave us for the original Russian. Our question: who thought it was a good idea to give Master Vork weapons? And why did the search engine see those terms and think “Hound blog!” Have we ever used the word Vork?)

And one from this morning: Hooroosh anemal. (This sounds like a good thing to say when one of the house hounds get in my way, as they are wont to do, when I walk anywhere near the dogs’ cookie jar or the closet where the leashes are … hooroosh, animal!)

All we can say is, we hope these people enjoyed the hound blog once they got here. Perhaps they even spotted the Iroquois hunk!

Through a Dog’s Eyes

THE houndbloggers don’t watch a lot of television, but the other night we stumbled upon a documentary we thought we’d pass along. It’s called Through a Dog’s Eyes. In basic terms, it’s about a program called Canine Assistants that matches services dogs with people who need them. The documentary shows Canine Assistants founder Jennifer Arnold as she and her team raise and train puppies into competent service dogs, and then match dog and human, then help the pair train together.

The canine-human partnership can be mutually fulfilling.

It’s the relationship part of the story, and the way that training becomes a language that bonds the dogs and their people, that particularly interested us. As the documentary’s summary at PBS noted, “Sometimes what began as love at first sight deepens. Occasionally the initial chemistry doesn’t last. Overall, it’s a bonding process that, as with any relationship, takes work and time.”

We’re pretty sure a lot of huntsmen would agree with that!

Most of all, Through a Dog’s Eyes provides another interesting view into the canine-human relationship and how surprisingly rich that relationship and its language can be. The golden thread clearly is not limited to packs working in the hunt field, but also can connect individual dogs and their owners. There’s some fascinating research about that bond and how dogs learn from people, and that’s covered in this film, too.

To watch the documentary for free online, click here.

Spinning the Golden Thread (with video!)

The van Nagells' Boone Valley Farm provided a splendid setting for an unusual training tactic by Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. Photo by Dave Traxler.

DRIVER and some of the BA puppies took it amiss when their huntsman, Lilla Mason, stopped walking out with them on foot and came out on horseback this past week. It’s a change that signals a transition from gentle, summertime on-the-ground training to faster-paced fitness work, but the year-old males weren’t so sure they liked this new way of doing things. They pouted and avoided looking up at her, even as their sisters went about business as usual.

Eye contact is important, Lilla explained.”It’s absolutely paramount,” she said. “On a hunt day, when I leave a meet, the first thing I do is call the name of each hound that’s hunting and I look them in the eye. It’s a way of saying hello to them, and it means I’ve got their eye. It means, ‘Okay, we’re a team now. I’m in control, I see you and you see me, and we’re on our way. We’re on a mission, and we’re a pack.’

One regular follower found a good way to keep her flash cards with the hounds' pictures handy!

“On a hunt day, if you can’t ride to the first covert, call a hound’s name, and have it look up at you, it’s not such a good thing. I don’t want them to tune me out going hunting.”

Bonsai says hello to Lilla during hound exercise on Sept. 5. Photo by Dave Traxler.

To reconnect with the year-old males, to “get their eyes” again, Lilla employed an unusual tactic at Boone Valley last Saturday. Instead of riding immediately, she started off the exercise by leading her horse as she walked with the hounds. The idea was to get the young hounds to associate her with her horse–in this case Bonfire–and to know that she is still the same leader she was for all those summer walks. This also let the puppies, male and female, get used to working close around Lilla’s horse.

As she and the hounds made their way around Boone Valley, Lilla alternated riding with walking, giving the once-pouty males every opportunity to see her on horseback while also letting them know that she is still among them and paying close attention to them. The hounds seemed to be learning this lesson.

And was there anything new that Lilla learned about them?

“One thing I see is that Driver really needs attention,” she said. “One interesting thing is that, you know, sounds echo. When you’re on a horse, you have to be very careful about when you do and don’t call hounds. If your voice echoes off a wall of trees, or if you’re in a low place, the sound comes to the hounds from another direction. You have to be careful when you call them when it’s windy, too, like it was Saturday. I could see the puppies looking around. There were also a lot of people out yesterday, and sometimes when I would call them they’d run to someone and then realize that wasn’t who called them. Then they’d come back to me. They need to focus more on just me and not other sounds.”

Tall grass and windy conditions were additional challenges for the hounds.

Now that Lilla is generally on horseback with the hounds, the puppies also must learn to be comfortable farther away from her, while still tuning in to her and coming back when called. Developing the trust to allow the hounds to work farther away is not always easy, but it’s critical for a hunt chasing the fast-running, wide-ranging coyote.

“An overly controlling person would want them right around their horse all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily serve me well during hunt season,” she said. “I could do that, go out on hound walk and have the whips keep them in really tight and under my horse’s legs, but then when hunt season comes and I want to cast them into a covert, why would they go away from me? I need them to have the freedom to go away from me. So, on hound exercise, I need them to be close to me, then away from me to a degree–but not as far as they might want to go–then stop when I stop and come back to me.”

Summer is finally beginning to turn into fall. The cooler temperatures are providing better scenting, and as the scent improves and hounds get fitter, the pack is readying to hunt. They got a chance during their last walk at the hog lot, where, suddenly, the older hounds in the group struck off in full cry on a hot coyote line. The puppies, who have yet to go hunting, knew there was some great excitement afoot … but what, exactly?

“You never realize how much hounds hunt by scent until you see puppies try to figure out what the heck the older hounds are doing with their noses,” Lilla said. “The hounds came right upon that coyote, and the older hounds got right behind it in full cry. The puppies, who were with me, heard it and decided to go toward the cry.”

When the older hounds stopped speaking and Lilla called, the puppies immediately headed back toward her. But when the older hounds spoke again, the puppies halted in their tracks, then heeded the sound of their packmates.

“They know they want to be over there where the older hounds are speaking,” Lilla said. “Every time the older hounds would make a lose and go quiet, the puppies would come right back to me. But when the older hounds would speak again, they’d go running over to them.

“They actually passed the coyote on their way to catch up with the older hounds! They may or may not have seen it, but they still don’t know what their noses are. They don’t know what they’re doing. It was funny to see that. The most exciting thing about hunting hounds is to see a puppy realize what it’s doing with its nose. That’s what they don’t know yet.”

Hot Shots benefit Hound Welfare Fund

Thanks to all of you who bought the Sporting Clays Afternoon and Picnic at the 2010 Hound Welfare Fund auction!

IT looks like Sunday’s Sporting Clays Afternoon and Picnic hit the target for these happy participants. The group won the package at the 2010 Hound Welfare Fund benefit auction back in March, and their winning bid went straight to the Iroquois retired hounds. Thank you!

Thanks also to Tommy Dulin and Andre Pater for offering their good coaching services and to hosts Jerry and Susan Miller, who held the event on their farm. After several hours of shooting clay pigeons, the party moved creekside, where Susan Miller laid on a sumptuous spread at one of the prettiest spots in the hunt country, on the shaded banks of Boone Creek. The participants also will receive a DVD highlighting their shooting exploits.

A lavish creekside picnic followed the afternoon's shooting.

The company was excellent, the conversation great, the food and wine delicious–and it all benefitted the hounds. Thanks again to everyone for making the day such fun!

Here are a few highlights from the day, first in video and then in some photos. If you missed out of the Sporting Clays afternoon this year, keep your eyes open for the 2011 HWF benefit auction program and come back to bid again!