We have pups! (with video)

Baffle, the dam of the current BA litter, with her new puppies by Hawkeye

BORN just in time for St. Hubert’s Day and the annual Blessing of the Hounds, which kicks off the formal season, Baffle had 11 puppies. You read that right: there are 11 (or five and a half couple, as they’ll eventually be counted), almost enough to start a new pack! These are by Hawkeye, who, like Baffle, is an import from England. Baffle and Hawkeye both are from the Cottesmore hounds.

The puppy scrum.

Baffle started to whelp on Friday night, and the last of the puppies was born on Saturday morning. Mother and puppies are doing well so far, and we are looking forward to following their adventures as we have those of Baffle’s first litter for Iroquois, the BA litter who are now in their first season with the working pack. And doing extraordinarily well, we should add!

An interesting side note: because there are already so many BAs (Baffle’s first litter was nine puppies strong), it looks likely that this litter will not have names starting with BA, the first two letters of their dam’s name, as is the usual custom. Instead, to prevent confusion from so many BA names, they’re more likely to be named with HA, for their sire. In which case, we humbly suggest one name for consideration, considering their birthdate: Halloween!

To see about 20 second of adorable puppiness—more than 20 seconds would risk cute overload–click on the video below. Congratulations, Baffle and Hawkeye!

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The hounds, in high-definition (video included!)

WE admit it. We are behind on our hound posts. But it’s not for lack of working. The houndbloggers have been collecting video footage of the hounds at work and also recently attended the Lives of Dogs symposium at the National Sporting Library, which featured speakers (including noted hound man Ben Hardaway) on a variety of foxhound-related topics.

We’ve been asked not to share video footage of that event online, though as we understand it DVDs will be available from the NSL via inter-library loan. But we are writing up our coverage of several of the speakers whose topics most related to hounds, and we hope to have that posted in the next few days, probably over the weekend.

We’re also busy working away on a longer video of some highlights from the cubbing season, which ends when the formal season begins on the first Saturday of November with the Blessing of the Hounds. While you’re waiting for those, we’d like to introduce you to Flash, our new Canon high-definition camcorder, which is pretty wow. Or at least we think so.

Flash the HD camera made his debut this morning at the Boone Valley meet, where the scenery is spectacular and nature further obliged with a little romantic fog. You can see the results in the video above. Because this HD camera does not have as much zoom capability as our older Panasonic non-HD camcorder, we’ll continue to use the Panasonic (aptly nicknamed Zoom, for those of you who are keeping track of such things) for videoing any distant hound work we happen to be in position to see. But for the closer stuff, we’ll try to stick to HD as much as possible.

A visitor’s view of the kennel

Author and flat-coated retriever owner/breeder Gina Spadafori gets some face time with Salsa

THIS week the houndbloggers have been hosting Gina Spadafori, an influential author and blogger on dog and companion-animal subjects and the writing partner of “America’s Veterinarian,” Dr. Marty Becker. She’s also a breeder and owner of flat-coated retrievers and strongly supports letting working breeds do the jobs they were bred to do. Which led her to the Iroquois kennel.

She visited the kennel on Tuesday and had some interesting observations about our hounds’ lives there. If you think kennels sound dreary, you might be especially interested in Gina’s perspective on how dogs–in our case, working pack hounds–can live happily in kennels.

To read the piece, click on over to Pet Connection.

WEG in the rearview mirror

THE houndbloggers learned a few things at the recent World Equestrian Games. The two lessons that will stick with us longest are 1)  Dippin’ Dots are not to be touched with a ten-foot pole, let alone a spoon that you intend to put in your actual mouth and  2) the driving marathon is one of the most exciting, challenging, and cool-looking things you can do with a horse (or four).

Let’s jump right in with the driving marathon, because we know there are some readers out there who were curious to see what it looked like. The driving competition is modeled on three-day eventing, and, like eventing, has three basic components: dressage, cross-country, and stadium. Now, obviously, there’s no jumping when you have four horses pulling a carriage, so the cross-country and stadium phases are different from the eventing competition in that regard. Instead of cross-country fences, there are hazards that feature a number of gates the horses have to go through (and, as in cross-country riding competition, there’s more than one way through each obstacle). Instead of stadium fences, there is a set pattern of traffic cones through which the horses must go.

The houndbloggers attended only one of the driving events, but it was the one we most wanted to see: cross-country. Here’s a taste. This video was from the sidelines as a couple of competitors negotiated Obstacle 4, named Walnut Hill, where not everything went as planned. There were no injuries, we hasten to add, to horses or humans (or obstacles).

We particularly loved the noises of this competition: the navigators’ voices, the sounds the drivers made to encourage their horses, the squealing brakes, the thud of fast-moving hooves, and the clink and jingle of bits and harnesses.

Here, by the way, is the overhead diagram of Obstacle 4:

The Walnut Hill Obstacle (4)

The eighth and final hazard on the course (The Spring), was our favorite, partly because it had a good bit of water. Here is the driving competition’s eventual gold medalist, Australia’s Boyd Exell, negotiating that obstacle (the end of the video also shows a Dutch competitor taking it, so you can see a little difference in approach and style):

For reference again, here’s the diagram of The Spring:

For people who have been to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, it was interesting to see the Head of the Lake being used in a slightly different context:

Along with the thrills and chills of good competition, we also witnessed more of the lighter (and sometimes odder) bits of WEGiana. Like the manic-looking and slightly sinister Giant Leek that marked a gap in the hedge between the Spy Coast parking field and the Horse Park. He was an important landmark for those of us who walked from the parking area instead of taking the shuttle.

"This way, folks!" says the Scary Leek.

The parking lot was packed every day that we visited WEG, and we spotted license plates from nearly every state in the union. But we did see one state name we weren’t familiar with, although we applauded the enthusiasm behind this graffiti.

Kentyuky? Still, it looked like they were glad to be here, and we're glad they came!

If you’re allergic to horse hair, this fellow might be just the thing for you: a mechanical cutting horse (with calf)! In case you were as curious about that as we were, we’ve included a little video.

If you are not allergic to horse hair, here’s a chance to practice your braiding:

The last braider made it look simpler than it really is to braid a tail ...

The stands were packed on Oct. 9 for the Final Four showjumping competition:

The Canadian contingent was especially boisterous, and they had a lot to cheer about.

And remember the stadium jump sproutlets? By Oct. 9, they were all grown up!

WEG sparked all sorts of horsey artwork around town. At the Lexington Green shopping center, we saw this huge sand sculpture.

One side featured a vaulter, eventer, and dressage rider ...

... and the other side featured a race under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.

And, finally, there was this charming sculpture. This wooden horse has been on display for several weeks now in front of the entrance to Joseph-Beth Booksellers, and someone thoughtfully keeps replacing his apple.

Next up: back to the hunt field with the hounds!

Godspeed, Barman

 

Barman and joint-Master Jerry Miller on hound walk in August.

 

WE were deeply saddened to learn today of the death of young Barman ’07, who came to us from the Cottesmore hounds in the spring of 2009. Barman showed great promise but suffered from a significant seizure last year. He lived for a time with the retired hounds while his progress on medication was being monitored, and, not having had a seizure again, he returned to summer walk with the pack this summer. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer and was put to sleep on Thursday.

Barman was a handsome, strapping, almost entirely white doghound with a lot of charisma, and the houndbloggers regarded him with special affection. He will be missed, not least by kennel manager Michael Edwards.

To read more about Barman and his introduction to American hunting, click here and here. You can also see him in this video, taken in January, during his time with the retirees.

Hound of the Day: Dragonfly

WEDNESDAY dawned chilly, with the season’s first light frost and thin fog here and there. A perfect morning to start the houndbloggers’ hunting season! We missed the first hunt of the informal cubhunting season on Oct. 2 in order to attend the World Equestrian Games, and we were glad to be back out again in the hound truck with Michael Edwards, the Iroquois kennel manager and a road whip for the hunt.

Huntsman Lilla Mason, on the bay horse, and joint-Master Jerry Miller discuss the morning's strategy with the whippers-in at Wednesday's meet. Iroquois joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell is visible to the left and behind Lilla, mounted on a gray horse.

The fog gave way to golden sunlight as hounds met at Foxtrot. Wednesday’s pack marked the debut of several of the year-old puppies, including Driver (whose mother, Dragonfly also hunted Wednesday and is our hound of the day!). Lilla opted to introduce the 10 puppies in small groups rather than all at once, and Driver had been angry not to be chosen in the first group of three that went out on Oct. 2. According to Lilla and Michael, he threw a bit of a tantrum over being left behind, flinging himself against his kennel gate and howling his disappointment.

Dragonfly's son Driver, second from right, was glad to make his debut.

So Wednesday was a day of great excitement for Driver and Bangle, also hunting for her first time, as well as for the houndbloggers. We feel as if we’ve been too long away from the hounds, and it was good to see them again.

It was also a day of lessons for Driver and the BA litter puppies who are brand-new to the chase.

If anticipation has a sound, this is it. These are the hounds waiting to get off their hound trailer at the meet. As Michael prepared to unload them, they followed his every move. This video also includes some distant footage of a coyote we spotted mousing in the afternoon after scent had all but burned away.

Speaking of the heat, it’s worth noting the scent conditions. After a very wet spring, we have had drought conditions for the last half of the summer. If you’ve been watching the World Equestrian Games, you can see the frizzled, brown grass around and get some idea of the Sahara conditions after a rainless nine weeks in the Bluegrass country!

The wet early spring produced thick, scrubby coverts, but the drought and temperatures heading back into the 80s (is it really October?) mean there’s almost no scent to speak of.

Last year, curiously, we had much the same weather pattern, and when cubhunting season rolled around, it seemed as if there were no game at all. In retrospect, here’s what we think happened: in the hot, dry autumn weather, coyotes figured out that, under such poor scenting conditions, they could lie low in the thick coverts. Instead of running out in the open across the fields, they could simply creep from covert to covert with less fear than usual of raising a strong scent for hounds to pick up.

“Early in the season, what you really want is for the hounds to stay in the covert that you’re drawing until you move on to the next covert,” Lilla explained. “Otherwise, puppies will get left behind or hounds will get into another covert and possibly get on a run before puppies even have time to honor the cry.”

To help keeps hounds in covert, Lilla asks the whippers-in to surround the covert. That way, when a hound–particularly a puppy–pops out of the covert and sees a whipper-in, it’s more likely to return to or stay near the covert rather than independently move off to the next one. The whippers-in stationed around the covert also serve as extra sets of eyes on the huntsman’s behalf.

A stirrup cup always adds a little cheer!

“I had two and a half couple of puppies out,” Lilla said. “That’s not that many, but when you try to put them in corn for the first time, it’s not very inviting to them. You have to rely on the older hounds to convince the puppies. So I stood there for a while. I had two first-time puppies, Driver and Bangle, with me. They stuck their noses in the corn, but there were thorns and things, and at first they decided, ‘No, I don’t think so,’ and they stayed with me. But then the older hounds started speaking, and suddenly they wanted to go in the corn. That was great. The older hounds’ voices draw the puppies into the corn, and then they want to stay in there, because they get excited about the fun going on there.

“Corn is a good way to teach puppies to draw a covert, but in some corn fields there can be weeds and thorns and things in there, too. But they get in there, and they follow the other hounds and hear the other hounds. It can make for good training.”

Backfire: keen as mustard

Hounds spoke in the corn, and the coyote ran around and around, and then joint-Master Jerry Miller spotted six couple of hounds running the line into the Cabin Covert.

“So I moved the rest of them into the Cabin Covert,” Lilla said. “They spoke there, and then a coyote was viewed away from the east end of the Cabin Covert.”

In the rising heat and dry conditions, the scent did not stick around for long, and the hounds cast themselves back into the corn in some beautiful hound work. They screamed off again in the corn, but lost once again. They cast themselves north and east toward the Silo Pond Covert, but with no success this time.

At this time of year and in these dry conditions, and given what the coyotes are doing–lying low in the thickest scrub–it’s more advantages out to cast those areas, because that’s where game is. So Lilla headed south with the pack toward one of the thickest, biggest, most inviting coverts in the area: Murphy’s Covert. Her plan: cast the hounds there in hopes of recovering the line.

All muscle: Dragonfly training at home before placing second in her class at the Virginia Hound Show this summer.

The grass on the way to Murphy’s Covert was tall, obscuring her view, and as she rode on, Jerry radioed again with a crucial piece of information: Dragonfly, with a few older hounds not far away from her, was behind Lilla and feathering madly–a sign that she had picked up scent. Dragonfly and these hounds, it appeared, had made a U-turn in the high grass and were working back north toward the Cabin Covert again, while Lilla, with the young hounds, was heading south.

No sooner had Jerry told this than Lilla heard a wonderful sound: Dragonfly’s voice, behind her.

“She opened up,” Lilla said. “Everybody immediately honored her, and I thought, ‘Well, I can count on that,’ and I encouraged the hounds with me to join her.”

Banker, recently arrived from the North Cotswold in England, got his first experience of the Kentucky countryside at the Foxtrot meet.

Lilla’s decision to count on Dragonfly proved wise. Dragonfly, an import last year from the North Cotswold in England, knew what she was doing. Lilla put her faith with this hound who had hunted only fox in England and smelled her first coyote just last year.

“Dragonfly was just screaming, and off they went again,” Lilla said. “You know, coyotes will do that. They’ll get behind you a lot. And Dragonfly was smart. I think she’ll really beginning to figure out coyotes. She turned around and went back, toward the direction we’d already come from, and a lot of the older hounds were with her. Most of the hounds that were with me that I was taking to Murphy’s Covert were younger, and that made me think I should go back to see. And, yes, she was right.

“That’s why you count on old hounds like that. They call it fox sense. Well, Dragonfly’s got coyote sense now. She might not have last year, but she sure does this year, and she showed it to me Wednesday.”

Goodbye, moles: Bangle on the move.

So how about Driver? How did he do on his first hunt?

“Driver and Bangle, it was their first day out, and so they didn’t want to go in the corn, and they were happy just to stay with me,” Lilla said. “When hounds spoke in the corn, they went in. But every time the hounds would quit speaking Driver would come out and start lollygagging about. Betsy, our field secretary, was standing out by herself, and she told me that Driver came galloping by her, as if he thought he’d just go off and explore on his own, maybe put his nose down and start investigating things.”

We’ve seen him do that early in his houndwalking days this summer, too.

“But suddenly Driver noticed her there on her horse, and she said he stopped as if he was startled to find her there. She got on the radio and told one of the whips he was over there. A whip came to get him back to the pack, and she said he glared at her, like he was saying, ‘You told on me, I know you did.’

Driver (center) back in April.

“His immaturity showed that day. We’ll bring him out every hunt day. Paper was the same way, if you remember. He would sort of play and pick up garbage, but then once the hounds started speaking he was always there.”

And Bangle?

“She got a little intimidated by all the horses, and at one point she got behind all the horses and couldn’t catch up to me. So I asked both fields to stop and I rode back there and got her eye and brought her forward. After that, she figured it out and knew not to get in back with the horses but to stay in front of them.”

Here’s another interesting side note about Bangle’s development. She might finally be outgrowing her mole hobby. Some people have a passion for fly-fishing, antique-collecting, or vintage cars. For Bangle, it was all about moles. It’s easy to see the appeal: they’re sniffable, they’re small and soft, and they probably make a pretty good snack if you dig down far enough to catch one before a whipper-in shows up to break up the party.

Yuck.

On hound walks, Bangle would slip away from the group and pull up to her favorite pasture for some digging–something the whippers-in and houndwalk volunteers quickly learned to anticipate and head off whenever possible. Because once Bangle was in her mole field, she was planning to be there as long as it took to find every single mole. (To see video of Bangle on summer walk–but no moles!–click the play button below)

But, on Wednesday, Lilla said, “I think Bangle is finally saying goodbye to the moles.”

I think we can all agree this is good news for both the hunt and the moles.

“On Wednesday, I saw her digging in a mole hole, and then the hounds went on past her,” Lilla continued. “She looked up at the hounds, looked at the mole hole, then looked up at the hounds again. She took a last look at the mole hole, and then said, ‘I think … I think I’m going to go with … the hounds.'”

Good call, Bangle!

The star pupil at the moment: Backfire. We’d all been eager to see this handsome guy out on the hunt field, because he seemed so sharp even on hound walk in his early days integrating with the pack. He seemed precocious, and now it looks like that initial impression is bearing out.

“Backfire is really turning on,” Lilla said of Backfire after his second hunt. “He’s learned to honor cry, he’s very quick to cry, he’s just alert. Hyper-alert. The minute he hears something, he’s over there to find out about it. It’s not like he just stands and cocks his head trying to decide what to do. He automatically does it. He still doesn’t know what his nose is, but he is really enjoying this. It’s like he’s thinking, ‘This glove fits. I can do this!’ He’s just crisp and sharp.”

Conclusion: “It was just a great day.”

Next up … More oddities and some great marathon driving from the World Equestrian Games!

A flying Banker and Big Doings in Lexington

Banker arrives Thursday at the Atlanta airport with a houndblogger to meet Alan Foy.

THE houndbloggers brought a wonderful souvenir home from England last week. Meet Banker, age one year and five months, late of the North Cotswold hounds.

Banker hitched a ride home with us–who could say no to that face?–and will join the Iroquois hunting pack this season.

Accompanying hounds by air isn’t that difficult, although it can have some tribulations (see Samson). Fortunately, Banker was an excellent and relaxed traveler, because we did face some delays on the London end. The North Cotswold’s contact, Freddie, dropped him off at about 6 a.m. at our hotel adjacent to the airport.

A houndblogger awaiting Banker's arrival at the Gatwick hotel

Luckily, most of the airline officials we’ve dealt with when transporting hounds have been very helpful, and we’re fortunate, too, in having good contacts in England to help with any supplies we need to bring a hound over. The night before we travel, we scope out our route through the airport and where we’ll park the hound and crate while checking in, all of which helps the process run more efficiently for the hound. What we can’t anticipate, though, are the vagaries of air travel that everyone has to put up with: delays and cancellations.

Last week, everything appeared to be running like clockwork. But then … a flight cancellation had us cooling our jets, so to speak, in the airport. There was nothing for it but to wait. Banker, having spent some time watching all the legs bustle around his crate in the terminal, just curled up and went to sleep. Good dog!

When we finally did get him (and ourselves) loaded on the plane, it was an uneventful–though long–flight to Atlanta, where Alan Foy met us with the hound truck. Banker’s journey wasn’t over, and neither was ours. From Atlanta, it was a six-hour drive back to Lexington.

Banker gets a lift at the Atlanta airport

Laid-back Banker didn’t mind a bit. He got some dinner and a bucket of fresh water, and he rode in style in the back of the enormous hound truck, whose bed area has been converted into a large hound box. It’s bedded with lots of warm, dry straw, and Samson happily snoozed, waking up to eat and wag his tail when we made stops.

So now we’ll have a Banker and a Banknote (she’s one of the BA litter that will be joining the working pack for the first time this season). Now, as one of the houndbloggers quipped on a punch-drunk drive home from Atlanta, all we need is a hound named Bailout!

Welcome to America, Banker!

Once back in Lexington, the houndbloggers HAD to check out the World Equestrian Games. This world championship event takes place every four years and attracts horses and riders from all over the world; this year, it’s being held in North America for the first time. Saturday, Oct. 2, was the cross-country eventing day. We’re big fans of former racehorse, now three-day eventing star Courageous Comet and his rider Becky Holder, and getting to see him compete at WEG was a draw in itself (and we were crushed to learn this morning that, after throwing a shoe early on the cross-country course, third-placed Courageous Comet was withdrawn after Sunday morning’s jog in advance of that day’s stadium jumping competition, the final and deciding part of the eventing competition; to see his outstanding cross-country run, even minus the shoe, click here). So we trooped out to the Kentucky Horse Park. We’re glad we did. We cheered for Courageous Comet at what Rolex Three-Day Event-goers will know as the Head of the Lake, temporarily named the Land Between the Lakes for WEG. This multi-fence obstacle is probably the prettiest one on the cross-country course, and it drew the biggest crowd.

The crowd at WEG's Land Between the Lakes, fence 17.

A competitor gallops out of the Land Between the Lakes combination.

Personally, we love this fence. But there are 27 others! We toodled around here and there …

Okay, that just looks big.

Some of the cross-country jumps were whimsical, like the Fallen Dueling Tree, which included a squirrel, snail, and acorn. The horses jumped between the snail and the acorn:

Not every horse on the grounds was competing in the cross-country event. We saw police horses on the job …

… and some of the showjumpers warming up on the flat for the coming week’s competition.

These competitors are part of the Austrian (red) and South African (green) teams

Some equine athletes weren’t present, but they were there in spirit:

And some of the vehicles weren’t even horses at all. One of our favorites was a golf cart sporting the British flag and a helpful reminder to the driver on the dashboard:

Mexican supporters were a little less understated in showing their national colors via golf cart:

There’s even more to do at the World Equestrian Games than watch the competitions. The Equine Village and trade fair feature many exhibitions, demonstrations, and opportunities to shed some cash. Walking through the various displays, we came upon a few unusual and unexpected sights.

Who knew the Kingdom of Bahrain was so small and portable?

This French fan had a hairy take on the day's events. How did we know he was French?

That's how!

Many fans brought out their flags …

And a few, like these Dutch fans, went a little farther:

If all the colorful crowds were too much for you, how about a drink?

Speaking of dietary staples, there were also these frozen ice cream balls. Officially, they were called Dippin’ Dots, but I like Mr. Houndblogger’s name for them: Weird in a Cup.

Styrofoam ice cream, anyone? The alarming Dippin' Dots.

For the record, the houndbloggers don’t recommend them.

While we were out on the cross-country course, the jump crew was putting up the fences for Sunday’s stadium jumping, the final part of the three-day competition. Ever wonder what a baby jump looks like before it grows into a full-sized stadium obstacle? Pretty much like this:

Stadium jump sproutlets.

The thing we missed most of all? Dogs. Due to veterinary restrictions, dogs are banned from attending WEG. As we walked around the cross-country course, we noted how strange it seemed to be at the Kentucky Horse Park and not see dogs. They’re a regular feature, and in fact one of our favorite parts, of the Rolex event. But we did see this guy. I think he thought he was going to be attending the Warthog Eventing Games, poor fellow.

At least it looked like he was having fun, anyway!