A sneak peek at 2012’s auction art!

Sandra Oppegard was inspired by this month's Blessing of the Hounds ceremony and painted this, which she generously has donated to the 2012 Hound Welfare Fund auction on June 16!

ARTIST Sandra Oppegard is one of the hounds’ best friends. Not only is she a staunch supporter of the Hound Welfare Fund who regularly donates her wildly popular art to the fund’s annual auction. She’s also got a foxhound of her own, Whistle.

Sandra already has donated her painting–photographed here shortly after its completion–for next year’s auction. The watercolor has a timely subject: it depicts part of the Iroquois Hunt’s annual Blessing of the Hounds, which Sandra attended. Thank you so much, Sandra, for your generous support of the retired hounds!

Please go on and mark your calendars! The 2012 Hound Welfare Fund dinner and silent/live auction will take place on June 16 at Grimes Mill!

To see photographs of last year’s event and some of the people who supported it, click here. To see short videos highlighting some of last year’s auction items, click here. We hope to see you at this year’s event! If you can’t be there in person, you can still bid–watch this space for more details closer to the auction. And, of course, you can donate to the retired hounds anytime either by snail mail or via PayPal. Visit the donation page at www.houndwelfarefund.org to get the HWF mailing address and PayPal information.

All donations are tax-deductible, and 100 percent of your donation goes straight to the hounds’ care.

Blessings all around


The Iroquois Hunt's Blessing of the Hounds took place earlier this month, with some of the retired hounds participating. Photo by Dave Traxler.

AND so begins the formal season, with the blessing of hounds and riders gathered once again at the old Grimes Mill. Blessing Day harks back to St. Hubert, about whom we have written a great deal in the past. But it also, in a way, “harks forrard” to the hunting season proper, and God knows we need blessings aplenty for that, when somber weathermen and the Farmer’s Almanac both are making ominous noises about a winter of snow and ice. Phooey. The temperature is in the 40s today, and, though it is wet, the houndbloggers are determined that It Will Not Snow as much this year as it did last year.

Baffle got a blessing, too, along with Iroquois huntsman Lilla S. Mason, from the Venerable Bryant Kibler. Photo by Dave Traxler.

The Iroquois hounds and followers were blessed on Nov. 5 to have very fine weather for celebrating hunting’s high holy day, as you can see from the pictures and video accompanying. The hunt, founded in 1880 and reincorporated (after a 12-year hiatus) in 1926, has been honoring the Blessing Day tradition since 1931, when Almon H. P. Abbott, 2nd Bishop of Lexington presided. To read more about the history of the club and of the hunt’s Grimes Mill headquarters, click here. Norm Fine, our good friend over at the Foxhunting Life website, recently unearthed a tiny jewel of a film that provides a glimpse of the Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing Day from 1934. To see it, click here.  Interestingly, the 1934 blessing shown in this one-minute Universal newsreel isn’t at Grimes Mill, but, we believe, a stone church near Winchester. The following year, on Nov. 4, 1935, the Blessing of the Hounds took place at Grimes Mill (click here for a Universal newsreel of that Blessing Day), where it looked very like today’s ceremony: horses lined up along the drive, hounds brought down from the kennel behind the huntsman’s cottage, where our kennel manager Michael Edwards now resides. The priest today, as then, stands on the  same old millstone to deliver his remarks.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

From the Houndbloggers’ perspective, it’s especially interesting to look at the hounds, which then were of the rangy, longer-eared American type prevalent in the area at the time.

Today’s Blessing Day, as illustrated in the video below, shows that the hounds and the setting may have changed since 1934, but the basic ceremony (and its appeal to the general public) have not:

We’re also pleased to include a photo slideshow of pictures that our excellent friend (and excellent photographer!) Dave Traxler took on the day.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Several years ago, a friend sent me the text of the 1984 Blessing of the Hounds made by the Right Reverend Robert W. Estill, 9th Bishop of North Carolina, who, incidentally, also came back to the Mill for its centennial in 2008. Estill also was an Iroquois member before he moved to North Carlina, and so he was an especially interesting candidate to bless the hunt’s hounds for the 1984-’85 formal season.

“When I got my buttons and began to hunt with you while I was rector  of Christ Church,” Estill said in 1984, “my Senior Warden and godfather, Cllinton Harbison, penned a poem to ‘Our Riding Rector.’ It read:

‘A parson should have a ‘good seat’

Amd ‘light hands’ and an ardor complete

For riding to hounds

Where clean sport abounds.

May no spill that parson delete!

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“So you and I and this crowd of friends and well wishers come together for the Blessing of the Hounds,” Estill continued. “Yet are we not the ones who are blessed? Look around you. Even the person farthest removed from horses, foxes, or hounds could not fail to catch the blessings of the day, the place, and the occasion. We urbanites often lose touch with the good earth and with its creatures. We Americans have shoved our sports so deeply into commercialism and professionalism and competition that we have lost the sense of pleasure in sport for sport’s sake.

We lose touch with our past, too. With those who have gone before us. You and I are blessed today (in this time of the church’s year called All Saints) by those whom George Eliot first called ‘the choir invisible … those immortal dead who live again in minds made better by their presence.’ When those of you who will hunt step into the stirrups today, you will join, if not a ‘choir invisible,’ at least a bunch of interesting women and men who have done just that in years gone by.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“From the time of 1774 to about 1810, settlers from Virginia ‘came swarming over that high-swung gateway of the Cumberlands into Kentucky,’ bringing with them hounds, whose descendants are here before us now carrying their names as Walker foxhounds. They were first developed by John W. Walker and his cousin, Uncle ‘Wash’ (for George Washington) Maupin. Wash hunted as soon after his birth in 1807 as was practicable and continued to do so until close to his death in 1868.”

Today, the Iroquois hounds are English and crossbred, and the game is more often the coyote, who came into Kentucky from the opposite route that the Virginia settlers took, arriving instead from the West. We do still see the occasional fox, and the Houndbloggers take it as a lucky sign. We viewed a long red one on Blessing Day, racing across Master MIller’s driveway, and we hope he was an omen for good sport and safety for the season to come. But we are just Houndbloggers, and we will leave the actual, formal blessings to the professionals! And so we return to Estill, whose 1984 Blessing of the Hounds seems entirely apt today:

Lord, you bless us this day with all the abundance of your hand.

For horses which obey our commands,

and for mules with good manners,

for hounds in joyful voice,

for foxes given us to hunt,

and for covert in which you provide for their safety,

for friends and partners in the chase,

for food and drink and for those who prepared and served it,

for those whose vision and care made all this possible and for those who have gone before os and are now in your nearer presence,

for St. Hubert, our Patron, and his life in fact and fantasy, we give thanks to you, O Lord.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

The Houndbloggers would like to add a particular blessing for the retired hounds, several of whom attend the Blessing of the Hounds each year. We’re lucky to have them and however many months or years of their good company left, and they are blessed to receive the Hound Welfare Fund‘s support. We hope you’ll give them a blessing of your own, a way of thanking them for their years of service and sport, by donating to the Hound Welfare Fund. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation goes directly to the retired hounds’ care. 

A Hunt for the Veterans

IT IS Veterans’ Day in the United States, or Armistice Day if you are in England–a special day for the houndbloggers, too, who always celebrate the entwined histories of the military and the hunting hound.

A couple of years ago in this space and on this date, we visited with one of our favorite hunting soldiers, one P.W. Nickalls, officer of the Northants Yeomanry during what was long known as the Great War before, sadly, it became World War I. Nickalls’s squadron found sport in some unusual places,and it probably helped that the squadron commander was a former Master of the Pytchley.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

You can find Nickalls, as we did, in the footnotes of Joseph B. Thomas’s book Hounds and Hunting Through the Ages. We’d like to quote him here again, in honor of all veterans, with a special tip of the hat to our sporting brothers and sisters who serve and have served.

“Sometimes we hunted hares instead of foxes, and early in ’16 the owners of the land began to object to their crops being ridden over and their hares being killed. An order came from headquarters that hunting must cease. The Second in Command, who never paid much attention to what he scornfully called ‘red tape,’ was determined to hunt, come what may. One day we set out full of confidence, and had a very good hunt after a hare which we eventually bowled over by the high road. The hare, much too precious to be eaten by the hounds, was being waved over their heads in triumph, when round the corner and full of Red Hats came a big G.H.Q. car. It was too late to take cover or even to hide the hare–it was the Corps General himself. With a salute from all sides the big car disappeared. ‘What a sportsman!’ we exclaimed, for he must have seen exactly what happened. ‘Send him the hare for his supper,’ said the irrepressible Second in Command. No sooner said than done. A cheer A.D.C. told next day that the soup had been excellent, and brought us an invitation to dine at G.H.Q.

“In November, 1917, came the order for Italy … We decided to take 2 1/2 couple and try to pick up some more there. We trained to Ventimiglia and proceeded to trek from there to Savoni, the Colonel and the hounds leading the way. We were the advance guard, and the inhabitants rushed out and pelted us with flowers as the potential saviours of their country. They regarded the hounds with amusement but without surprise–had not they always heard that Englishmen were mad? So it was natural they should want hounds to fight the Austrians. When we got to the Italian front we at once began to make inquireies about hunting. The Treviso foxhounds had been broken up, but the hounds were being trencher-fed in the Venetian Plain. We soon located some and bought them for our pack. These with the ones we brought from France made a fair-sized pack, but the Italian foxes were by no means as good as the French, and we had much the best sport with the hares.”

The obituaries in Baily’s hunting directories for the years covering wartime provide a more somber glimpse into the lives and deaths of hunting servicemen. Fred Doughty, first whip to the South and West Wilts, was killed in action in 1915. So, too, was well-known Midlands hunting figure and Captain F.G.A. Arkwright, who was killed during World War I in “a flying mishap.”

A Master of the Ootacamund Hounds in India, Lieutenant Theodore Bailward, also was lost, and Commander C. F. Ballard of the Royal Navy, and “prominent member of the South Oxon Hunt,” drowned during World War I in the sinking of the Formidable. There is this note, too, in the Baily’s for 1915-1916, on the passing of Major G. W. Barclay of the Rifle Brigade:

“Son of Mr. E. E. Barclay and brother of Major M. E. Barclay, the Joint-Masters of the Puckeridge. Major Barclay was 24 years of age and was Master of the Eton pack and also of the Trinity Beagles at Cambridge. He received ten wounds at Ypres in July, 1915, and went again to the Front in March last.”

Photo by Dave Traxler

Killed also, the Master of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, one Major Morland J. Grieg. On a happier note, the following from 1917: “Captain Philip Godsall, of the Oxon Light Infantry, a follower of the Wynnstay Hounds, escapes from Germany.”

It makes for sobering reading as the list goes on and on. Doubtless there were hunting people lost on both sides of the conflict, and doubtless there still are hunting people stationed the world over in danger zones. If anyone has stories of these, the houndbloggers will be happy to post them.

Baily's Hunting Directories

In England, Baily’s reveals, hunting was much altered in wartime. “There were no lawn meets, no hunt breakfasts, no scarlet worn, and no fields of any size,” the directory reported for the season of 1914-1915. “Elderly men came out, a few–very few–ladies, a sprinkling of boys and girls in the school holidays, a small number of farmers, and last but not least a considerable number of soldiers on leave from the trenches, or in the convalescent state after wounds received.”

Hounds, too, and also game often faced destruction in wartime. In September 1939, after England declared war on Germany, the Royal Artillery pack, with the exception of seven couples, were destroyed. But in 1940 General John Frost helped preserve the then RA harrier pack by saving the lives of another pack, as he wrote in A Drop Too Much:

“It transpired that a small pack of harriers called the Quarme was about to be put down as it was found impossible to feed them owing to wartime shortages, so I decided to save them and keep them back at Bulford. I put them in with a couple and a half of what remained of the RA Harriers pack in their kennels at Bulford and had a lot of fun chasing hares on the (Salisbury) Plain.”

Photo by Dave Traxler

In her history of the RA hounds, Estelle Holloway also writes of World War II: “For the 1942-43 season, hounds were supported by the Airborne Division located at Syrencot House and hunted by the 4th Parachute Battalion. Meeting on the lawn at Syrencot, loyal and trustworthy hounds never spoke a word concerning Operation Overlord, or the formation of the 6th Airborne Division assault, planned to secure the left flank of the Allied Ivasion on Normandy beaches later in the war. During precious Saturday afternoon recreation, a jolly of foxhounds, harriers, and Major Uniacke’s beagles destroyed foxes feeding on the plague of rabbits and smallholders’ chickens, out of control now because shoots could no longer be organized by farmers.”

It should be noted here that the RA hunt–now a foxhound pack–no longer kills anything, plague of rabbits or not, due to the ban on hunting in England. The pack hunts legally, within the new law’s bounds, as a drag-hunting pack.

British officers, retired and current, and soldiers turned out in force at the Royal Artillery hunter trials in England in 2009. The Royal Artillery is one of the world's military regiments with a long and storied connection to both horses, hounds, and hunting.

In September 1917, with World War I raging, the Liddlesdale Foxhounds notified Baily’s they were down to just four couples: “All the staff are at the War.” In February, the Masters of Foxhounds Association had “decided on their own initiative substantially to reduce the number of days’ hunting in every hunting country throughout England and Wales. Having so decided, they were prepared to slaughter a very large proportion of the hounds in order to avoid any suggestion that food which ought to be used for human beings was taken in any large quantity for hounds.” Shortly afterwards, the Ribblesdale Buckhounds also destroyed the population of Lord Ribblesdale’s deer park and suspended its pack. Some packs struggled on much reduced, but many others disbanded or stopped hunting, some never to be revived. “Mr. Eustace Bouth’s Foxhounds,” someone sadly informed Baily’s, “will not hunt so long as the War lasts.”

Having said that, some new hunts also were formed by sporting military sent abroad, including the Royal Exodus Hunt of Baghdad, established between the World Wars.

Finally, returning to the human side, in an interesting document called “A Memorial Roll of the Officers of Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment Who Died 1914-1919,” we found a poignant notice regarding Captain Guy Lister Nevile of the 10th and 2nd Battalions, who died on June 14, 1915, at Givenchy. He was 29. “They advanced until every man was killed, wounded, or pinned to the ground by rifle and machine gun fire,” a battlefield report notes. “Captain Nevile was shot while advancing carrying his hunting horn. He cannot be traced but we still cling to the hope that he may have come in wounded.”

He did not come in and has no known grave. But his name is on the Le Touret Memorial north of Bethune, the “Memorial Roll” advises.

Well, Captain Nevile, we remember you, and all of your hound-loving brothers and sisters who have served, here at the hound blog.