Outfoxed: The Story of Hunting in Britain

This morning our Facebook friends at Fox Hunt directed our attention to a BBC Radio 4 broadcast about the history of British hunting and how it has changed since the ban. It’s written and narrated by Dr. Emma Griffin, whom the houndbloggers met in October 2010 at the National Sporting Library’s very interesting symposium on the origins and evolution of hunting and sporting dog breeds. Griffin, a social historian, also is the author of Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain since 1066.

The new radio piece is available here. PLEASE NOTE: It is only available for seven days, according to the BBC website, so listen soon!

Griffin’s very interesting and evocative BBC Radio 4 piece features one of our favorite historic hunts: the Banwen Miners Hunt in Wales, which at one time kept its hounds in the lamp-room of the local colliery in Banwen, before the mine closed. The houndbloggers were so engrossed that we forgot to mark the exact beginning of the part about the Banwen Miners, but I believe it starts at about the 16- or 17-minute mark. In the course of the 28-minute piece, Griffin visits the Beaufort Hunt and the Blencathra Foxhounds who hunt the fells of Cumbria, as well as the Banwen Miners. Also in the radio piece: beautiful horn and hound sounds, a lovely rendition of “John Peel,” and an interview with a “hunt monitors” leader. Well worth a listen!

Foxes and “foxes”

Red fox, by Rob Lee.

EVERY so often the houndbloggers like to cross over to the hounds’ hunt field rivals, the fox and the coyote, and today it is Charles James’s turn in the spotlight. To get you in the mood for fox tales, we recommend this link to you. It shows a series of three truly remarkable fox photographs that Virginia photographer Douglas Lees took on New Year’s Eve while out with the Orange County Hunt. Enjoy!

Foxes were not the first-choice quarry for mounted hunters with hounds. When the first hounds started hunting stags and the first beagles began with hares, foxes were considered such vermin that they were even beneath hunting with hounds, and no king really would want to be seen putting his hounds on such a lowly line as a fox’s. But farmers, understandably eager to protect their poultry and lambs, no doubt would do what they felt needed to be done. I’ve read that the earliest recorded attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in 1534, when a Norfolk farmer set his dogs after one.

On the other hand, Chaucer (who lived circa 1343 to 1400) wrote an earlier verse depicting “dogges” of various types running after the fox that stole away with Chanticleer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. By the 1300s, mentions of “fox-dogs” have crept into royal records in England, suggesting that foxes were by now at least occasionally hunted, even if they were not yet preferred to deer. An 1833 edition of New Sporting Magazine has an interesting description of this, as follows:”From the accounts of the Comptroller of the Wardrobe of Edward the First, for 1299 and 1300, we may form some estimate of the small degree of repute in which fox-hunting, if indeed hunting it can be called, was held at that period. The fox-destroying establishment of that monarch consisted of twelve ‘fox-dogs’ (terriers not unlikely), with one man and two boys. The master of these fox-dogs’ and his two assistants were allowed sixpence a day, or two-pence each; and three-pence a day for a horse to carry ‘the nets’ was allowed from the 1st of September to the last day of April, which a half-penny a day was paid for the keep of each of the dogs. From these items it appears that the expense for men and dogs was the same all the year round, except that the huntsman and his two whippers-in received each a new suit at an expense for the three of thirty-four shillings and four-pence.”

“The whole concern,” the author writes, “savours so much of rat-catching.”

A not-very-dangerous and not-very-stinky Christmas fox.

In any event, hunting the fox–exclusively and on formal terms–eventually did catch on, and in a big way. England’s oldest foxhunt, the Bilsdale in Yorkshire, was organized in 1668 by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. (A point of interest: that pack today now has a hunt country covering about 300 square miles. I know, I know–and I’m betting they’ve never heard of a McMansion before, either)

The general view of foxes as noxious vermin is made very clear indeed in a book we’ve quoted here before, Edward Topsell‘s The History of Four-Footed Beasts, published in 1607. Of Reynard, now considered our hounds’ beautiful and noble rival on the field, Topsell said: “If the urine of a Foxe fall upon the grasse or other Herbs it drieth and killeth them, and the earth remaineth barren ever afterward.” And also: “He stinketh from Nose and taile.” Well, all righty, then. Mr. Topsell liketh not the Foxe, we presume.

Topsell's version of a fox in his History of Four-Footed Beasts

Regarding the fox’s “stink,” we have found a little note in the slim 1951 volume The Way of a Fox by Douglas St. Leger-Gordon. He says: “A path used by dog, wolf or fox is punctuated by intelligence depots where each passerby picks up the news, learns something about the identity, sex and general history of the last comer, and leaves a memento of his or her own visit. … A fox’s intelligence depot  is always indicated by the strong musky scent which is as permanent as that of wood-smoke about an old-fashioned hearth. … Contrary to common belief, a fox does not diffuse its strong personal odour upon the air as it passes along in the same way that a glamorous lady exudes ‘Evening in Paris,’ nor is it correct to assume when catching a vulpine whiff that the creature has recently crossed the road or path. One seldom winds a fox where it has been seen, nor does experience bear out the convention that the smell–for it is quite distinct from scent–rises after a while and becomes perceptible to human senses.more important still, the strong taint that assails the nostrils when near some port of call (and nowhere else, I think, under normal circumstances) has nothing to do with the ordinary bodily odour of the beast. … Like cats and many weasels, a fox only gives forth its overpowering aroma at moments of intense agitation, as when attacked, or under the influence of strong emotion.”

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The houndbloggers would be interested to see what scientists have learned that might contradict–or vindicate–this view in the years since 1951.

But within six decades, between The History‘s publication and the Bilsdale Hunt’s formation, the fox had become appreciated for its guile and resourcefulness, and for the challenge it presented on the hunt field. This has led not only to countless interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking, and usually very chilly and often quite damp, hours on the hunt field for many, many generations since. It also had produced a rich history of Reynard’s exploits and how they foiled (or failed to foil) the hounds. We give you one from Cuthbert Bradley, a Hound Blog favorite.

“Wheeling sharp to the left, hounds ran hard leaving Quarrington on the right, across a flat strip of arable country. Here the pilot, evidently meaning to reach Rauceby, was headed by a sheep dog, and turned for Silk Willoughby village, where an open cottage door offered a welcome shelter after a quick hunt of 20 minutes. A baby lay on the hearthrug in front of the fire, while her mother busied herself about the house; the fox jumping over the infant went up the chimney. The alarmed mother had the presence of mind to slam the cottage door just as hounds dashed up, or possibly there would have been a tragedy. Gillard was quickly on the scene with hounds, all apologies for the rude intrusion of the hunted one; and the villagers came running up in eager curiosity, flattening their noses on the window pane. …

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Caine Croft, the whipper-in, climbed onto the roof peering down the chimney-pot, where he could see the fox sitting on a ledge. A clothes prop was borrowed, and Cox of Ropsley, a keen foot-hunter, out on every possible occasion with the Belvoir, went into the house with Gillard and Mr. James Hutchinson, to get hold of the fox. When Cox eventually appeared in the doorway, holding the sooty form at arm’s length–after his teeth had been through his coat sleeve–the village yokels fled out of the garden as though they had caught sight of the devil himself. Carrying the fox into the open he put him down in an adjoining field, and after dwelling a moment or two, he shot away, like an arrow from the bow.”

The Royal Artillery “Fox”

Today, of course, the English no longer hunt live foxes, but only the “stink,” slopped in liberal doses on a drag. To see what this new “fox” looks like, click on the video below from the 2011 Boxing Day meet of our local hunt when we are in England, the Royal Artillery Hunt on Salisbury Plain. The “fox,” mounted this time with the drag swaying from the thong of her hunt whip, appears at about the 24-second mark.

As for the smell, we didn’t get close enough to whiff it (the camera allows us to zoom). Customized recipes for drag scents seem to be pretty numerous, involving everything from aniseed to fox’s urine (the latter features in the Chiddingfold, Leconfield, and Cowdray Hunt‘s drag, which nearly causes huntsman Sage Thompson to vomit after he sniffs a bottle of the drag-line’s mixture in Michael Slowe’s documentary “Hounds and the Huntsman,” available here). We haven’t asked the Royal Artillery how they make theirs!

A couple of notes about the Royal Artillery. The hunt has a wonderful history and still remains very true to its deep roots in the British military. They drag-hunt over Salisbury Plain, which also is the main domestic training ground for British soldiers, and in this video you will see some of the features of that unusual hunt country. You’ll see the field gallop past a “village,” an unoccupied collection of buildings used for various military training exercises and one of the military features that dot the Plain. The RA Hunt does not have any jumps to leap, but that’s not to say that their hunt country isn’t challenging, because it certainly can be, in a most unconventional way. There are the foot-deep tank tracks that criss-cross the land and which must be negotiated diagonally if you’re to get over them safely, as well as slit trenches that can appear almost without warning and the occasional bits of ammunition (some potentially unexploded, as the sign in the video warns) and missile wire!

And if you’re wondering why their huntsman is wearing a green coat instead of the expected red one, that’s a hat tip to the hunt’s former life as a harrier pack. Huntsmen of beagle, basset, and harrier packs traditionally wear green.

The houndbloggers have hunted with the RA Hunt a few times and count those days as among our happiest and most interesting. Before we leave the subject of the Royal Artillery entirely, we should note that one of its staunch followers, Estelle Holloway, died not long before the Boxing Day meet featured in our video. We have quoted her excellent book Hounds, Hares, and Foxes of Larkhill several times here and value it as a great resource concerning the RA Hunt’s fascinating history.

The Year That Was

So how did the blog do in 2011? If you’re interested in our annual statistics, there’s a link to our stats report below. The upshot is that you all helped the hound blog reach new heights in 2011! The blog was viewed about 39,000 times in the course of the year, mostly by viewers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The most-viewed post of 2011 was The Eider Has Landed, our report of Eider’s arrival at Beagle House on Jan. 16, 2011. (Eider, understandably, is pretty excited about this, but he’s not letting it go to his head.) The year’s top five posts of the year, in terms of views:

1. The Eider Has Landed (Jan. 16, 2011)

2. MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 4: Wiley Coyote (April 26, 2010)

3. Beagles, bassets, and dozens of running bunnies (with two videos!) (Feb. 28, 2010)

4. St. Hubert and the Blessing of the Hounds (Nov. 3, 2009)

5. Houndbloggers Abroad: Hunting’s historic clothiers (a tale of goss, coodle, and ventile lining) (Oct. 28, 2009)

To see the stats report, click on the link below this box:

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 39,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Peterborough foxhound show: The video!

Ringside scenes from the world’s most important show for working pack hounds! Thanks for your patience!

To see Part One of our coverage, click here. Two see Part Two, click here.

The show’s modern foxhound results are here. Old English foxhound results are here.

And the houndbloggers offer many hearty thanks to Creative Commons, the Free Music Archive, and composers Kevin MacLeod and Jonah Dempcy for use of their wonderful music.

Houndbloggers Abroad: Peterborough, part two

To read Part One, click here.

To see the modern foxhound results from the show, click here.

To see Old English foxhound results, click here.

Old English hounds leave the ring at Peterborough

AS the houndbloggers roved from ring to ring at England’s Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show, we were reminded of the great variety to be found among working hounds. We were looking at hounds for our own enjoyment, of course, but for the huntsmen and Masters on hand for this most famous of hound shows, spotting quality working hounds is very serious business. The show ring, of course, only tells part of the story; the real proof comes on the hunt field.

Awaiting a harrier class at Peterborough's indoor arena

Some hounds get an early green llight for breeding. After the Heythrop Hunt‘s Mellow ’10 won the bitch championship over North Cotswold‘s Bobtail ’10, Heythrop joint-MFH Richard Sumner delightedly proclaimed that her showing days are over. “She’ll be having babies next,” he told Horse & Hound. Mellow left the show ring with a bundle of laurels: she starting winning at home in the Heythrop’s puppy show, then took top unentered bitch honors at Peterborough last season. This year, she swept bitch titles at the South of England and Great Yorkshire hound shows before arriving at Peterborough to win again.

The bassets–along with the beagles, bloodhounds, harriers, and draghounds–also showed in the indoor arena.

The ST Carlow line

Thoughts of hound breeding prompted the houndbloggers to ask North Cotswold joint-MFH and huntsman Nigel Peel about a bloodline that has contributed to our own pack at Iroquois, the famed ST line from Ireland’s Carlow Hunt. The bloodline was famously difficult to import from the Emerald Isle, thanks to the formidable hound breeder and keeper of the ST flame, Olive Hall, who made Irish hunts pledge not to export any of the hounds she gave them.

Otter and mink hounds: the woolliest of the woolly!

But the bloodline eventually made its way to England when Capt. Brian Fanshawe was able to import a couple of puppies out of Carlow Stylish ’63 to the Warwickshire. He eventually brought the line to both the North Cotswold and the Cottesmore, where he also was Master and huntsman, and it is from those two hunts that the Iroquois Hunt got its ST lines.

Describing the STs, Fanshawe once said, “They are terribly easy to handle, nearly like pet dogs. They need plenty of hunting, but they are biddable, and they have what Sir Peter Farquhar called ‘fox sense.'”

Some spectators

As current MFH and huntsman at the North Cotswold, Nigel Peel has had great experience with the ST line, whose descendants include the hunt’s great Peterborough bitch champion Grapefruit, dam of our excellent late stallion hound Grundy ’98. Ringside in the main foxhound arena, we asked Peel about the ST line, whose descendants were among North Cotswold hounds showing at Peterborough this year.

“Two of the hounds in our winning two couple class today go back to the ST line,” he said. “There are lines that I think have drive, and they have great drive. And they live for a long time and go on hunting into old age. They don’t collapse, and they tend to have good feet.”

... which proved too hard to resist for one of the houndbloggers! Two new pairs of breeches and Daphne Goodall Machin's excellent biography of huntsmen Stephen and Will Goodall helped our luggage go overweight on the way home!

Cottesmore huntsman Neil Coleman, like Peel a great friend to the Iroquois Hunt, also had praise for the ST line in an issue of The Field we picked up a few days after the Peterborough show. In it, a group of huntsmen were asked to nominate their “heroic foxhounds,” and Coleman elected two, both hailing from the ST line. As his hero of the past, he elected a woolly, Farmer ’92. Coleman echoed Peel’s observation about ST hounds’ longevity when he pointed out that Farmer hunted into his 10th season.

For his present-day hero–or, rather, heroine–Coleman crowned Farmer’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Cottesmore Stodgy ’05. “She could hunt six days a week and never tire,” he told The Field in its August 2011 issue. “If I were a fox in a hundred-acre field, I wouldn’t want her behind me. The great legacy for me from Captain Fanshawe is the Carlow blood and the North Cotswold ST line. They are always happy and always want to please.”

North Cotswold's Best Brood Bitch, Caroline '08, on the left

Speaking of Neil Coleman, the houndbloggers’ only disappointment at Peterborough was missing the chance to see the Cottesmore hounds show. A few of the hounds were coughing at home, which prevented them from making the trip. They were not alone in this inconvenience: seven hunts missed Peterborough this year due to some degree of coughing.

Big on beagles

There was no problem with numbers in the beagle ring. This year, Peterborough drew 20 packs–a cheering thought if it can be taken as evidence that beagling is prospering in England after the 2005 hunting ban.

It is a sad fact that the houndbloggers did not manage to get a single decent photograph of the beagles! But we did get some video, which we plan to have ready next week. We admit that some of our best video clips were of an amazingly fast and gymnastic rubber ball of a beagle named Pilgrim, who stole our hearts but did not manage to win a ribbon. “Speed and bounce,” apparently, were not uppermost in the beagle judges’ criteria. Neither were “adorable” and “what wonderful spots.” Ours is not to reason why, I suppose.

The foxhounds met up with friends and fans outside Peterborough's show rings

So stay tuned! Next week’s video will include scenes from the beagle, basset, bloodhound, otter and mink hound, AND both the modern and Old English foxhound rings.

Keep your eye on the hound blog next week for our video from Peterborough!

Houndbloggers Abroad: Peterborough, part one

To see the show’s modern foxhound results, click here.

To see the Old English foxhound results, click here.

THEY call summer hound shows the “silly season,” and certainly it is not really the same thing as hunt season. Working pack hounds are bred for the hunt field, not the show ring, after all. But, all the same, showing at the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show is serious business for competitors, and the show offers Masters and huntsmen a great chance to look over potential stallion hounds and examine other hunts’ bloodlines. For the houndbloggers, the 2011 show was the perfect opportunity to see the hound world’s great variety, to eyeball some of the sport’s most prestigious pack members, and to spot some hounds from bloodlines that link with our own Iroquois pack.

A glimpse of Driver’s father

Perhaps the most notable “Iroquois relation” we saw was the Duke of Beaufort’s Gaddesby ’07, sire of our own young dog Driver ’10. We spotted Gaddesby in the Best Stallion Hound class, where, alas, he was unplaced. But we did manage to get a couple of quick snapshots.

Gaddesby '07 in the stallion hound class.

Gaddesby ’07 on the move.

Spot any similarities? Here’s Gaddesby’s son Driver:

Driver after a hunt in March.

Gaddesby’s conqueror in the Stallion Hound class was Duke of Beaufort’s Doynton ’09, who went on to win the Champion Dog Hound title over the Vale of the White Horse’s young dog Ptarmigan ’10.
Peel’s words of wisdom

The Grove and Rufford prepare to enter the ring at Peterborough on July 20. Their dog Stafford, right, won the Best Unentered Dog class.

In the issue of Horse and Hound that came out immediately before the Peterborough show, North Cotswold Master and huntsman Nigel Peel wrote, “Hound shows are wonderful summer gatherings, and it is a great joy to admire the best lookers of the breed. But remember that that is what it is–a beauty competition. Do not get downhearted should your hounds fail to find favor. Remember that you are taking part in a pageant and in so doing you are holding your hunt’s flag high for all to see. … We all get slung out of the ring from time to time, and sometimes it is quite hard to remember that it is the taking part and not the winning that counts.”

Huntsmen wore their prizes on their sleeves.

At Peterborough, as it happened, Peel’s hounds rarely were “slung out of the ring.” The North Cotswold bitches, in particular, had a fantastic day. Bobbin ’10, Bobtail ’10, Gradient ’10, and Gridiron ’10 won the Best Two Couple of Entered Bitches class, while Caroline ’08 was judged Best Brood Bitch. Bobtail went on to finish second, as reserve champion, to Heythrop Mellow ’10 in the Champion Bitch class.

The North Cotswold dog hounds fared well, too, taking the Best Couple of Unentered Hounds class with Gregory and Growler.

The crowd in Peterborough’s main arena, where the modern foxhounds were exhibited.

Remembering the Great Grundy

Having met up with him at the foxhound ring, we took the opportunity to ask Peel about some of the hounds he has sent to Iroquois–most notably our late, great stallion hound and superb coyote hunter Grundy ’98, who died in 2008.

Grundy in October 2006 with Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller

 Grundy was a son of the North Cotswold’s Peterborough winner Grapefruit, and Peel’s reminiscences of Grundy went back another generation, starting with Grapefruit’s own mother.
“Her mother was a very, very good bitch, a wonderful hunter, and Grapefruit we were very lucky with, because she was walked by Charlie Warren, a great North Cotswold puppy walker,” recalled Peel. “He actually had driven the first tank onto the battlefield at Alamein. We had a lovely hound that he had walked the year before that we had won a lot of prizes with, but, sadly, she was poisoned out hunting. Charlie said, ‘I think I’ve got one that might be as good.’ And, by God, he had: that was Grapefruit.
“In her first year here at Peterborough, she won the Best Unentered Bitch, and the following year she won the championship. She was a terrific hunter, like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord, and hated foxes. So we thought we must find her a really good husband. In those days, Tim Unwin was Master of the Cotswold and a very, very fine breeder of hounds and a good huntsman. We used his dog Patron, a gray dog, I remember. That produced Grundy.”

Peterborough isn't only about foxhounds. The show also featured woolly mink and otter hounds (see above), mournful bassets, beautiful beagles, handsome harriers, and lashings of lurchers!

What made Patron the right choice for Grapefruit?
“He was a lovely-looking dog, and he had terrific quality,” Peel said. “He just struck me as being a very good sort of stallion hound to use. And the breeding linked. I always line-breed our hounds, and the breeding fitted in beautifully. So we thought he was the one to have.
“Jerry Miller wanted a dog hound, and we called this whelp Grundy because, when Iroquois was formed, it was named after a horse that won the Derby.

Old English hounds exit the ring after a class at Peterborough.

“Grundy was walked by Charlie Warren, and our chairman at the time was Tim Holland-Martin, who had bred the horse Grundy, who had also won the Derby,” added Peel. “So that’s why we called the hound Grundy, because we thought that it was appropriate. Grundy came to you principally because Jerry Miller wanted a hound or two, and it’s rather difficult to refuse Jerry Miller!”

Peterborough show officials in the foxhound ring.

Peel later saw the hound Grundy in Kentucky, and he was pleased with how he had developed.
“I thought what a very good one he was,” Peel said. “His sisters we had, and we bred from those and we’ve got hounds that go back to them today here at Peterborough.
“I’m really pleased that Grundy did so well, not only in the showing, but also that he was a really first-class dog in his work.”
There’s more to come from our Peterborough report! Stay tuned for more pictures, some video, and more from Nigel Peel.

A few horses, one hound, and high hopes for Peterborough

Photo by Dave Traxler.

ONCE AGAIN, the houndbloggers are going to the dogs. If all goes well, the houndbloggers hope to bring you some pictures from the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show on July 20. Stay tuned!

For an earlier post we did on the 2009 show, click here.

And if we don’t make it there, well … I guess we’ll have to write about something else!

In the meantime, we’d like to turn to the horsey side of hunting for a moment and give you two videos we found this week that provide an interesting point of view on riding–something near and dear to most foxhunters’ hearts. The first is a “helmet cam” video from a point-to-point jockey who gets involved in a very exciting finish!

And the other, also a helmet cam video, provides a horseback tour through the country around Rhosgadfan in Wales, where much of the hunting is on foot and many of the hounds are woolly!

Speaking of Wales, and returning to hounds for a moment, Wales is home to the sad legend of the faithful hound Gelert. This hound, the tale goes, was wrongly killed by his master, who, realizing his mistake, was said never to have smiled again.There’s a monument to the hound and his legend in Beddgelert, not very far from Snowdonia, where, hunting on foot with the astonishing Eryri Hunt, I lasted a grand total of about 47 minutes before nearly passing out from exhaustion, and with torn jeans to boot! Once a harrier pack, the pack now chases only fox and was registered with the MFHA in England in 1976. If you’re ever feeling fit, visit them. The scenery is spectacular, and so is the hunting!

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!

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!

As promised: Royal Artillery hounds video

THE video is from our visit to the Royal Artillery Hunt’s March 24, 2010, meet in England. In addition to seeing the hounds that belong to Great Britain’s last remaining military-affiliated foxhound pack, we also enjoyed a very tasty stirrup cup that included sausages, cake, and port. And, though I didn’t see any, there probably was also some whisky mac in attendance. Foul, but traditional.

We described the meet a little in a previous post, but I’ll add a few more words on the pack, because its history is interesting. The pack was organized in 1907 when a Mr. Arthur Ernest Hussey gave his harriers to the Royal Artillery officers stationed in Bulford, and the pack was first known as the RA (Bulford) Harriers. At least as early as 1903, the artillery officers had been known  to hunt with Hussey’s pack from his Netheravon kennels and environs. During World War I, the pack was largely destroyed as the artillery went to war and wartime privations made keeping the pack impossible. Hussey himself had joined up as a Lieutenant in the Wiltshire Regiment. He never was posted to France, and for a time he took over the Mastership of the RA (Bulford) Harriers as well as of the nearby Courtenay Tracey  Otterhounds (now defunct). But in her excellent book about the hunt’s history, Hounds, Hares and Foxes of Larkhill, author and longtime RA Hunt member Estelle Holloway provides this sad description of the events of 1917:

“In 1917 England was starving due to the menace of German U-boats, and lack of food forced Captain A. E. Hussey to put down his beloved pack of RA (Bulford) Harriers.”

But after the Armistice in 1919 the Isle of Wight harriers went to the RA on loan for a single season so that the artillery could start up hunting again. A year later, the artillery purchased the Instow pack of the West Country Harriers, mostly old hounds that had survived wartime and many with pedigrees that the Hunt Record noted politely as “unobtainable,” for 300 pounds.

Brigadier J. H. Gibbon DSO (left) was the first Master to hold the position when the pack switched to foxhounds.

According to a history of the RA pack, “it was originally laid down that each brigade at Bulford and Larkhill should provide at least one whipper-in, and opening meets were always celebrated at Bulford Mess.”

Hunting legend Ikey Bell, the master of the nearby South and West Wilts pack, was impressed with the RA hounds of the era. Of them he wrote:

The only occasion on which I began to feel anxious for my pack’s laurels was when Major Scott-Watson brought down a couple of his little hounds from Bulford Camp. This couple was of Quarme Harrier blood, and all day they held their place in front, and once when the pack were checked by sheep, carried on the line. No-one was more delighted than their gallant Master when I cheered his little couple with a “Forward to Bulford! Yooi!” and later on handed him the mask of a good fox, which his little treasures had played a full part in bringing to book.

When World War II broke out in 1939, most of the harrier pack was destroyed again as the hunt staff and members went to war in Europe. The Hunt Record notes that seven couples were saved. But feeding them proved difficult, because only foxhounds, considered important for keeping down foxes that killed sheep, were classified as “pest control” and therefore could receive rations.

The Royal Artillery foxhounds today.

A general, Gen. John Frost, heard that the small Quarme Pack in Exmoor–which had contributed some fine blood to the RA harriers Bell had so admired 20 years earlier–also was about to be destroyed because they could not be fed adequately during wartime. He intervened, bringing the pack to Bulford and kenneling them there with some of the RA Harriers’ remainders. With these, he got in some hare-hunting on the Plain despite the war.

Eventually, the pack was added to five couples of foxhounds from four other dwindling packs, and the cavalry at Tidworth took over the lot.

The war did not, in any case, prevent some soldiers from trying to hunt while in their units. As Holloway writes, “Major Selby-Lowndes took a pack of beagles to France with the British Expeditionary Force, while Freddie Edmeades was somewhat unlucky. He included a couple of harriers in his baggage and was forced to spend an uncomfortable night in a French gendarmerie accused of poaching!”

After the war, the pack gradually regrew and transitioned to foxhounds. It was recognized by the Master of Fox Hounds Association in the fall of 1946.

The Royal Artillery hounds with professional huntsman Rob Moffat on March 24.

The kennels are still located at Bulford Camp, where they were built in 1934, and in a day out with the Royal Artillery you are sure to meet many military men and women.

To learn more about the hunt and to see some marvelous pictures of their hunt country in the Salisbury Plain military training area, we heartily recommend the hunt supporters’ club website. Photo galleries of the hunt can be found here. The slideshow of the Packway meet, located here, also features some very nice photos of riders in military dress for the hunt, giving you some sense of the hunt’s style and panache.

A postscript about Ikey Bell

I recently came across a quote attributed to Bell on behalf of working dogs everywhere. Considering the purpose of the Hound Welfare Fund that is linked so closely with this blog, I thought I’d share it. It describes the houndbloggers’ view very well.

Cherish us for our courage

Instead of our looks;

Look on as more as comrades,

And less as picture books.

Houndbloggers Abroad: A Royal Artillery meet

The Royal Artillery hounds with professional huntsman Rob Moffat at the March 24 meet.

ANY trip that starts off with hounds has to be good! Not long after we landed in England, we attended a meet of the Royal Artillery Hunt, Britain’s last surviving military foxhound pack.

The Royal Artillery Hunt is unusual in many ways, most notably for its hunt country. Most people, when thinking about English foxhunting, conjure up images of the rolling grasslands and terrifying five-foot hedges that Leicestershire’s fashionable hunts face on their fast runs. But the Royal Artillery hunts (within the law as decreed since the hunt ban of 2005, so they now drag hunt) across Salisbury Plain (for one photo, see here, though this doesn’t do full justice to the plain’s amazing sweep and great beauty). That presents an altogether different set of challenges for horse and rider.

Salisbury Plain appears, from a distance, innocently simple to cross. It is vast and, though a plain, it has quite a few gentle rises that just beg you to gallop up them. (Its most famous feature, incidentally, is Stonehenge, which once was a regular meet for the RA hounds!) The plain’s openness makes it a great place to watch hounds, and the hunt country’s description at the Master of Fox Hounds Association website makes it sound uncomplicated enough: “There is very little jumping: there are always ways round any fences. It is a good country for seeing hounds work, with few of the problems generally encountered in modern hunting. Sport is varied; there are some good long runs of up to ten miles unimpeded by roads, railways, wire or urban sprawl. Any horse, young or old, would enjoy a day on Salisbury Plain. The RA Hunt is run on military lines and is an exceptionally friendly hunt with a jolly atmosphere. Fields average up to 60 on a Saturday and up to 30 on Wednesday.”

The RA hounds were interested in the stirrup cup.

But the 300 square mile Salisbury Plain also is a military training ground, and once you ride out on it, you begin to realize just how tricky it can be for the unwary! What the MFHA site doesn’t tell you is that you will occasionally gallop around a bend to find a tank or two in your path. There are horse-eating slit trenches dug into the ground here and there. Part of the hunt country passes a mock village used to train troops in house-to-house combat.  And the tank tracks can be a foot deep and extremely awkward to cross if you don’t know the trick to it, which is to always, always take them on the diagonal, and never try to cross them on the perpendicular. Children are almost always welcome to join the hunt, but not, the hunt says somewhat ominously, “on days of military activity.” You get the idea.

For more general information on Salisbury Plain, click here.

The Royal Artilery hounds. You’ll notice a few that are slightly woolly, but most are smooth-coated.

Once you’re over your initial surprise at the unusual conditions, you settle in to a great day of hound-watching. Despite the military activity, including regular firing pratice, the vast plain is full of wildlife, including red foxes, badgers, and the great bustard, a large bird. It also has some farmland, and so there’s a lot to see. And Salisbury Plain is truly beautiful, changing colors with the seasons and as cloud and sun pass overhead. Definitely worth a trip.

A handsome pair in conversation at the Royal Artillery meet.

A note about the gray horse you see in the picture above. We’ve bumped into him before–and photographed him–on our last trip to England, when we visited a horse trials at Larkhill, a racecourse and fixture for the RA hounds. That day, he was ridden by an officer in the horse trials, and on this day he was taken hunting by another officer. The horse’s name is Ollie, and we recognized him easily, because he is missing his left eye–not that that stops him from leading a highly active life as one of the Royal Artilery saddle club’s mounts!

The saddle club provides an excellent opportunity for soldiers to learn to ride or to continue riding, and there are lots of chances for them to compete, too, in local events. It’s a great feature that undoubtedly has helped introduce more people to the joys of a day behind hounds.

Let's gooooooo!

One of the RA hounds makes the rounds at the meet

You’ll also notice that the hunstman and Masters of the RA Hunt wear green coats, instead of scarlet. This is a nod to the pack’s history as a harrier pack; the staff and Masters of harrier packs, as well as of beagles, traditionally wear green coats, and the RA have kept that tradition even after switching to foxhounds in 1946.

The RA hunt staff wear green as a nod to the RA Hunt's history as a harrier pack. The RA changed its pack to foxhounds in 1946.

Some of the RA pack's woollier members.

We will have video from this meet, including hounds’ voices and the huntsman blowing his horn to gather start off from the meet, on Wednesday when we are back in Kentucky.

Food for thought …

To no one’s surprise, yes, I have been hunting the fertile ground of England’s second-hand bookstores again! As always, Mr. McGregor’s shop and the Heads’  sporting bookstore yielded treasures. From McGregor’s (better known by its formal name of d’Arcy Books, in Devizes), this great quote from Lord Willoughby de Broke’s The Sport of Our Ancetsors:

“When a highly-bred pack of Foxhounds have been running full cry for nineteen minutes and come to a check, the first thing they do is to quarter the ground and fling themselves this way and that, all with heads down, and some with hackles up, to recover the scent. There is nothing more beautiful and wonderful that this in the whole of Fox-hunting. Any mere human being in a red coat who tries to correct animal instinct at sublime moments like these, by makng a noise on a copper instrument, is at once a Philistine and a fool–a Philistine to try his hand on what nature is doing for him so much more artistically than he can do it for himself; a fool because no good pack of Foxhounds would take th slightest notice of him if it were anything like a scenting day.”

And speaking of copper instruments …

Next week we’ll also have a little video of the Cheffins auction at which the great 19th century huntsman Will Goodall’s horn was sold for £2600.  Sellers Denise and James Davies of Zimbabwe were delighted with the price but confessed to having mixed feelings about the sale.

James and Denise Davies (left and right), sellers of Will Goodall's hunting horn this week, with a houndblogger in the middle

The Davieses, like the houndbloggers, feel certain that the horn did indeed belong to Will o’ Belvoir, the subject of Lord Henry Bentinck’s classic hunting treatise “Goodall’s Practice,” and they are committed to trying to solve the greatest mystery of all: how the horn got from Goodall’s home at Belvoir Kennels in England after his death in 1859 to an auction house near Harare, Zimbabwe, some 150 years later.