Way Back When: Joseph B. Thomas’s Huntland kennels

Joseph B. Thomas's Huntland kennel, photographed circa 1914. Author Alexander MacKay-Smith once referred to them as "the most perfectly appointed foxhound kennels and hunt stables in America." Photo courtesy of the Karen Myers collection.

VIRGINIA photographer Karen Myers has unearthed a real gem: a small collection of historical photos from Virginia foxhunting a century ago. To see the collection online, click here.

The houndbloggers were especially pleased to see an array of photos of the Huntland kennel, which housed the Piedmont hounds. Huntland’s owner and the then Master of the Piedmont was Joseph B. Thomas, who–according to MacKay-Smith–at one time kept 105 couple of entered hounds and 48 couple of unentered hounds there for three days of hunting a week.

An American hound at the Huntland kennels. Photo courtesy of the Karen Myers collection.

In his 1914 book American Adventures, published around the time these photographs were taken, author Julian Street described Huntland this way:

In a well-kept park near Mr. Thomas’s house stand extensive English-looking buildings of brick and stucco, which, viewed from a distance, suggest a beautiful country house, and which, visited, teach one that certain favored hounds and horses in this world live much better than certain human beings. One building is given over to the kennels, the other the stables; each has a large sunlit court, and each is as beautiful and as clean as a fine house–a house full of trophies, hunting equipment, and the pleasant smell of well-cared-for saddlery.

Thomas was drawn to Middleburg by the Great Hound Match of 1905, which inspired him to build this veritable temple to foxhounds. The “dashing, handsome bachelor and expert horseman,” as a 2008 Middleburg Life article put it, succeeded to the Piedmont mastership in 1915.

Huntland owner and Piedmont Master of Fox Hounds Joseph B. Thomas. Photo courtesy of the Karen Myers collection.

The Piedmont’s American hounds were a source of great pride to Thomas, who gradually came to favor what he called “the Old Virginia foxhound” that he felt was, in its ideal form, was “similar to the great British hounds of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,” and he pointed to a Sartorius painting of Peter Beckford’s pack as evidence. In his 1928 book Hounds and Hunting Through the Ages (a houndblogger favorite), Thomas said this about the Old Virginia hounds:

After many years of experience, the author has become convinced that the most efficient pack hound in the world to hunt a fox is this Old Virginia foxhound. …

Such hounds may be considered deficient if they cannot regularly hunt hard at least three days a week, or more than this if required. They must have sufficient determination and stamina never to stop trying as long as their fox remains above ground or their is a vestige of aline left. A pack of such hounds must be able to account for foxes in the roughest woodland and hill country in July heat (as my pack is required to do), sound of foot, and sufficiently agile to negotiate the steepest of rocky cliffs in the North, as well as have enough nose and drive to kill red foxes in sandy Carolina. This pack must hunt with dash and style, carrying great head, negotiating burnt-over tracts, and pressing tirelessly for hours, if necessary, through briers, cane, half-frozen swamp water, as if there were nothing to stop them, and, gallantly killing their fox, come home with their sterns up, a pack in fact as well as in name. In grass country, these hounds must be able to outpace, under good conditions, the best of Thoroughbred horses.”

Photo courtesy of the Karen Myers collection.

… and a Hound Blog Hunch Bet Update!

Speaking of the best of Thoroughbred horses, it’s almost Kentucky Derby week! The race is on Saturday, May 7, at Churchill Downs, and, as regular readers of the hound blog know, our very own Tobermory Box is attempting to become the first beagle to win it.

The Hound Blog Hunch Bet has now grown to an exacta, because Irish invader Master of Hounds remains in the lineup as of this writing, giving the houndbloggers the delicious prospect of a Toby’s Corner-Master of Hounds finish in the 137th Run for the Roses.

And here’s another reason to root for Toby’s Corner: his breeders and owners, Dianne and Julian Cotter, are foxhunters. Both hunt with the Misty Morning Hounds, a drag hunt near Gainesville, Fla. Dianne is the honorary hunt secretary, and Julian is one of the field masters. They also host the hunt’s opening meet every year at their Snooty Fox Farm in Alachua, Florida.

Toby's got a reason to smile: he likes Toby's Corner's chances!

To read more about the Cotters–and about how Toby’s Corner’s mother and paternal grandmother almost became three-day event horses instead of the dams of two Derby starters–click here.

There’s one other Hound Blog Hunch if you’re the kind of player who likes to bet trifectas: Shackleford, because there is a well-known place in the Iroquois Hunt country called Shackleford Hill, not far from the hunt’s headquarters at the old Grimes Mill.

And if you’re looking for a horse to bet that has nothing whatever to do with the hound blog, as far as we know, the Beagle House hounds have made their picks. Except for Bingo, a teetotaler who also doesn’t gamble. We respectfully suggest $2 across the board on Midnight Interlude (Eider’s pick) or Stay Thirsty (Harry’s choice).

On a more worrying note …

Could Eider, Beagle House’s newest resident, be part vampire? Evidence below.

Got garlic?

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Toby’s on the Derby Trail again!

Our Toby is working out again for the Kentucky Derby--just in case!

WE can hardly believe it, but the hound blog’s little white beagle, Mr. Tobermory Ice Box, could be heading back to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on May 7–for the second year in a row!

This is big news for a couple of reasons. First, while the houndbloggers haven’t researched this extensively, we think it’s pretty rare for a beagle to run in the Derby. Second, because the race is for three-year-old horses only, it’s REALLY rare for a beagle to run in the race in two consecutive years.

Last year, our Mr. Box was part of an all-box exacta, as you might recall. His namesake in the 2010 race, Ice Box, finished second. This year, he hits the Derby Trail again, thanks to the stunning (“It wasn’t stunning to ME,” says the white beagle) last-to-first upset victory (“I didn’t find it upsetting,” interjects the beagle) by Toby’s Corner in Saturday’s Wood Memorial. He’s got green and red silks.

And here is Toby is his Corner. Hmmmm.

Toby's eyes are alight at the prospect of another chance at the Kentucky Derby!

The houndbloggers first picked up on the equine Toby’s Corner back in February when he won the Whirlaway Stakes, and we kind of hoped he might head Derbyward. He looks much more likely for the race now, after his Saturday victory over the previously undefeated Uncle Mo, last year’s two-year-old champion.

Asked how he’s managed to become a Derby contender for the second year, Tobermory Ice Box credited his many names and nicknames, as well as the fact that he’s originally from Derby City: Louisville, Kentucky. He thinks he might also have been born in May, but he can’t be sure. A former member of the Clear Creek Beagles hunting pack just outside Louisville, our white beagle originally was named Clear Creek Beagles Icebox. We added Tobermory when he moved in with us, and so he is variously known as Mr. Box, Toby, and Tobes.

For a video and photographic look at Toby’s workout regimen (possibly the real secret to his success), click here and scroll down.

This year, of course, he has another house hound to  help him prepare for the Derby. That’s his cousin and another former Clear Creek pack member, Eider.

Clear Creek Beagles Eider has joined Toby's workout team this year.

And, by the way, the 2011 Hound Blog Hunch Bet could get even better. There’s another possible starter this year named Master of Hounds. We kid you not. Stay tuned!

Hounds and the Huntsman at Horse and Country TV

THE houndbloggers are fond of Great Britain’s Horse & Country TV network (you can find a link to it in our “Interesting Places” category on the right-hand side of this page). Recently, they featured a documentary there called “Hounds and the Huntsman,” by filmmaker Michael Slowe. It’s both beautiful and informative and provides an interesting glimpse behind the scenes at a traditional English hunt, the Chiddingfold, Leconfield, and Cowdray.

To see this excellent video, click here. A brief ad plays before the video, and there are several very short breaks between segments; the entire video runs for 48 minutes, and it’s well worth a view. The adventures of a fawn that joins the pack on a walk, the ingredients of a drag line’s distinctive odor, and a formal meet at Petworth Park are all worth the wait!

Those of you who are familiar with the Iroquois Hunt will note several differences in how huntsman Sage Thompson manages and trains his pack, including the use of couples and feeding flesh, but you’ll undoubtedly find some of the relationship-building between huntsman and hounds to be very similar. And it seems hounds speak “biscuit” fluently the world over (and, yes, there are a few woollies in the Chiddingfold, Leconfield, and Cowdray pack)!

The most striking difference, from our point of view, is about breeding and hound retirement. The Iroquois Hunt generally breeds only a single litter a year and retires all of its hounds–even those that never make it into the working pack–to live out their days in dignity under the auspices of the 501 (c)(3) charity, the Hound Welfare Fund. We don’t euthanize them until their time has come, and, when it does, they are put to sleep at our local veterinary clinic, surrounded by the people who have cared for them all their lives. During their retirements, they serve as both treasured friends and admired ambassadors for the hunt–and we have yet to see them sulking! The retired hounds we know that have gone on to live in houses–including the houndbloggers’ own former pack-hunting beagles, Mr. Box and Eider–also have adjusted very well.

And speaking of the retired hounds … we’re busy preparing for this year’s Hound Welfare Fund benefit auction, which will take place on June 4. In the meantime, won’t you consider making a tax-deductible donation to support the retirees?

The HA puppies take a hike (with video!)

The HA puppies on their recent walk, as photographed by Dave Traxler.

WE don’t want to say anything too soon, but … it looks like spring finally is here. With hunt season behind them, the change of seasons mean the hounds’ attention turns to hound shows and summer walk. For the newest puppies at Iroquois, the so-called HA litter (click here for pictures and video from when they were teeny, tiny pups!) by Hawkeye out of Baffle, everything is brand new–including the change of season. Well, almost everything. While we were out hunting (or, in my case, riding with Michael Edwards in the hound truck), Iroquois member and kennel volunteer Cice Bowers was back on the farm, working with the HA puppies.

As a result, the growing hounds have made an extraordinary amount of progress. At just five months of age, they already have been taking daily walks and learning to come back as a group when called. So by the time we and an enthusiastic group of Iroquois members showed up for the first official puppy walk of spring, walking and coming back when called was almost old hat for the precocious HAs.

Creek crossing were part of the adventure for the HA puppies. Photo by Dave Traxler.

“Cice has been taking them out on walks and letting them go out away from her, then rewarding them for coming back, so that they learn to come back,” Lilla said. “She’s also taken Magic, who is quite a bit older than they are, so they’re exposed to someone they don’t live with, and she’s given them a lot of individual attention.”

“We try to give them as much exposure to other people as possible at the age they are, because you don’t want them to grow up knowing only the two people in the kennel who manage them,” explained Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. “We want them to experience people, children, the house dogs, and strange environments. These puppies had never been away from the kennel and loose in the direction we went on Saturday.”

Cice Bowers (left, in gray fleece and light cap) has been working closely with the puppies all season. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Why let the puppies run loose on the walk rather than put them on leashes or the traditional couples?

“They learn more,” Lilla said. “They get to make their own decisions. I wanted to see whether they would stay with us, which they did. They’re kind of young yet to leash train, but even if we had them on leashes, it would be like having a fish on the end of a fishing line. They wouldn’t experience the walk we wanted them to experience: to be free in the woods, walk along with us, and go out from us and come back.

“We also wanted them to be exposed to house dogs, which we seemed to collect along the way, since we had biscuits upon us!”

A walk in the woods benefitted everyone, not just the puppies! Photo by Dave Traxler.

On Saturday’s walk, the puppies did get some new experiences, including meeting the local terriers and chasing after their companion, Magic, when she found what can best be described as an ex-rabbit. That presented a special challenge to the puppies’ discipline. You might forgive a five-month-old hound puppy, or a litter of puppies, for getting so distracted by a dead rabbit that they forget to come back when called. But, amazingly, no forgiveness was necessary. Magic galloped down a narrow path with her long-eared prize, pursued by a line of wildly curious puppies, and they all disappeared around a bend. But when Lilla called out to them, here they all came back again, one by one. Except Magic, who enjoyed her rabbit lunch and met up with the group a bit later on the walk.

It was frankly amazing to see how responsive the five-month-old HA puppies were, especially under circumstances that could invite disorder. You can actually see one of the puppies, Hanbury, making the decision whether to chase after Magic or return to Lilla at the 2:17 mark on our video from the walk; click below to see it. To see the high-definition version, roll your cursor over the video window; you’ll see a box that says “HD” appear in the upper right-hand corner. Click it!

“When they’re all together and following another dog, that’s when they’re more likely to switch off to commands and keep going, so I was extremely pleased that they came back when we called,” Lilla said. “It showed a lot of focus on their part. They had to make a decision. They had to hear the command then decide to come back; they didn’t just blindly run on. That was great.”

That good decision-making will be important when these puppies eventually join the working pack for summer hound walk and then hunting.

The HA puppies and the kids on the walk found each other entertaining. Photo by Dave Traxler.

“It’s immensely important,” Lilla said. “You want to turn them loose, but you want them to have that invisible thread with you at the same time. In our training program, this kind of training has been much more successful. We’re lucky to have the leeway to train this way rather than on couples. When they’re on couples, they learn nothing. But on a walk like this one, they get to make a lot of decisions, and they learn a lot. We want to let them make decisions, and then reward the right decisions.

“The hounds have to have the confidence to go away from you but the attention to come back. That’s what the invisible thread is.”

Magic (far right) joined the HA puppies on their walk. Photo by Dave Traxler.

There’s a happy side-effect for the human participants, too–especially the younger ones.

“What a wonderful way to get these young kids hooked into the sport,” Lilla added. “They relate to puppies and love puppies, and it’s a fun outing for the parents.”

Driver says … Go, Cats!

Iroquois Big Hound Driver told a houndblogger he's rooting for his human twin, Wildcats Big Man Josh "Jorts" Harrellson. Photo by Dave Traxler.

NOW, everybody knows dogs don’t usually like cats, but in the case of the Final Four games tonight in the NCAA basketball championship, at least one hound is making an exception. In the most recent Hound of the Day report, the houndbloggers noted some similarities between the Kentucky Wildcats’ senior team member Josh Harrellson and Iroquois freshman Driver. Needless to say, we’re pulling for Harrellson and the rest of the Kentucky team in tonight’s game against the University of Connecticut.

Go, Cats!