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!

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Ready, Set, Bid: The Hound Welfare Fund auction is tonight!

The houndbloggers have just returned from the Mill this morning, and we can report that it looks amazing, all gussied up in its best finery–including new framed photos from the past hunt season!–for tonight’s Hound Welfare Fund dinner and live and silent auctions.

This year’s auctions will feature sporting art by Sandra Oppegard (who has contributed a watercolor depicting the Iroquois Hunt’s 2011 Blessing Day), Katherine Landikusic, Sally Moren, Ena Lund, and D. Lee (whose debut work for HWF is a stunning portrait of Driver); a limited edition Andre Pater print with hand-drawn remarque; a handcrafted leather satchel from Claire Painter at Clever with Leather; luncheon and behind-the-scenes Keeneland experience with trustee emeritus Ted Bassett; a private hunt with the Iroquois hounds and staff; a sterling silver necklace from Shelia Bayes; a lamp hand-painted by Ouisha McKinney and depicting the Iroquois hunt clubhouse at Grimes Mill; box seats at Keeneland Racecourse for the 2013 Blue Grass Stakes; and much more!

For a taste of the live auction’s art and experiences, see the videos below.

And remember: 100 percent of the proceeds for all auction items go directly to the retired hounds’ care, and donations to the fund are tax-deductible. Now there’s also a cool opportunity to double the power of your donation. Write a check to the HWF, put “matching fund” in the memo line, and a generous anonymous donor has agreed to match your gift, up to a total of $5,000. To donate online to the HWF, click here. Or simply mail your donation to Hound Welfare Fund, P.O. Box 55610, Lexington, Ky. 40555.

A feast for the eyes: Virginia Hound Show pictures and an auction sampler

If you missed the Virginia Hound Show, check this out! Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason put together the Smilebox below from photos Dave Traxler took at the show. We’d like to add that, with the Hound Welfare Fund‘s annual dinner and auction coming up on June 16, this is a nice reminder of why we do what we do. When our hounds retire, they’re no longer covered by the Iroquois Hunt budget, and that’s where the Hound Welfare Fund and its supporters step in.

It’s not too late to RSVP for this year’s fundraiser, and even if you can’t attend in person you can still leave a bid for an item or make a donation. To see some of the items on offer and get more information on leaving a bid, click here.

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Stammer’s retirement party draws a crowd

The guest of honor, Stammer, with joint-Master Jerry Miller, Keeneland's Ted Bassett, IHC member John Milward, joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell, 2010 HWF honorary chair Dr. Michael Karpf, and kennel manager Michael Edwards. Photo by Dave Traxler.

STAMMER knew he had arrived at a Special Event as soon as he walked through the front door and smelled prime rib. What else would you have for a hound on the occasion of his official retirement party? And what a night it was! Hound Welfare Fund committee member Uschi Graham generously provided both her beautiful home and the catering for Stammer’s big night, which drew a big crowd.

Accompanied by Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards, Stammer did get some nibbles of prime rib, as well as a nice testimonial from Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. To read Stammer’s great story, click here.

Stammer: the Hound Welfare Fund's Retiree of the Year for 2011, as captured by photographer Peggy Maness.

Stammer retired from hunting several years ago but featured prominently (partly on account of his color!) in our 2011 Blessing of the Hounds ceremony this year (in that video, you can see him going up to get his own blessing with Lilla at about the 50-second mark). He’s also a star on the hound blog banner at the top of this page.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla S. Mason, guest Ted Bassett, and the night's hostess, Uschi Graham. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Stammer was the perfect guest, listening quietly to the tales of his exploits and modestly accepting the compliments and tidbits and kisses heaped upon him. To see some of Dave Traxler’s photos from the night’s events, please click the Smilebox below:

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Stammer with admirers Leslie Penn, Eloise Penn, and Hannah Emig. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Stammer has been enjoying his retirement alongside all his friends at the Iroquois kennel, thanks to the Hound Welfare Fund. The fund, a 501(c)(3) charity, covers the costs for all the Iroquois Hunt’s hounds once they retire, at which point the hunt’s budget no longer provides for them.

Three Hound Welfare Fund auction chairs: Dr. Michael Karpf (2010), Kasia Pater (2011), and Alex Boone (2012). Photo by Dave Traxler.

It’s thanks to the HWF’s many supporters and volunteers that we’re able to give every one of the Iroquois Hunt’s hounds a happy and dignified retirement. If you’d like to help us help them, please consider making a donation. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation will go directly to the retired hounds’ care. And that’s something for everyone–especially the hounds–to celebrate!

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. 

Rummager: a royal retiree

The Iroquois hounds on summer walk at Boone Valley.

THE houndbloggers came across this wonderful story while flipping through The Staghound for information about Frank Goodall. Goodall, not to be confused with WIll Goodall but one of that prolific family of huntsmen, was huntsman to the Royal Buckhounds (later, I believe, so was his nephew, also named Frank). In his 1897 book The Staghound, Lawdon Briggs Lee recalls an incident in which one of the pack’s hounds, Rummager, protected his huntsman after Goodall had taken a bad fall from his horse:

A pretty story is told in connection with Her Majesty’s buckhound Rummager. Some years ago, Frank Goodall, the then huntsman, met with a severe accident in the hunting field, and when assistance was to be rendered as he lay insensible on the ground, Rummager was by his master’s side, and for a long time would allow no one to approach him. On the story being related to Her Majesty, it was ordered that poor old Rummager should become a pensioner, have extra quarters and comfort bestowed on him, and so live out his natural life. His progeny remain in the kennels at Ascot, among the pillars of the present pack, which now has J. Comins as Royal huntsman, and the Earl of Coventry as “Master of the Royal Buckhounds.”

Nice story, and one we thought we’d pass along.