The drought is over

Huntsman Lilla Mason and the hounds at Boone Valley.

WE saw our first hedge apple of the season this morning on the way to the barn–surely they’re showing up prematurely this year? Possibly. It seems early for hedge apples (or horse apples or Osage oranges, if you prefer), but it’s certainly very late for a hound blog update. Central Kentucky was in the grip of drought for most of mid-summer, but, thankfully, now that drought and the hound blog post drought both have ended!

A hedge apple.

The houndbloggers’ summer has been eventful, and some of those events–like the ones shown below–have contributed to our absence from the blog;

Here’s some of what the houndbloggers did this summer while away from the blog …

.. and quite a lot of this!

As the hedge apples are telling us, now we’re on the brink of fall, and that means the hounds’ summer walks are gaining a sense of urgency as hunt season approaches.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason has been walking on foot with the hounds, rather than on horseback, and her focus has been on keeping the hounds’ attention and reinforcing the all-important connection between huntsman and hounds. That reinforcement is always part of summer walk, but it’s developed a little more urgency this year as Lilla prepares the working pack–and some of its more potentially willful hounds, in particular–for the arrival of the young lions, the HA litter, who will join the working pack this fall for the first time.

Hounds and horses enjoy a shady respite during their walk.

“When I’m on foot, I can touch them to reinforce the connection with that individual,” Lilla said. “When I call them, they have to come back to me and look me in the eye and reestablish that connection. If I’m on horseback, it can be a little bit more difficult to do that because I can’t touch them. Sometimes those things, like massaging their backs or touching them, gets them more relaxed. On horseback, sometimes when you call them and they come back, a second later they’ll turn around and still be looking at the far-off place where they want to be. If I can touch them, they’re not as quick to just check in for a biscuit and spin around and go back to whatever they were doing. When I touch them, you can see them relax and it’s like they’re saying, ‘Yes, I’m with you.’ It’s fun to watch.”

As with students in a classroom, some hounds find it a little harder to pay attention, especially when delicious scents are tempting them. Hailstone (a veteran hunting hound, who, despite his name, isn’t one of the young HAs), Gaudy, Gaelic, Starbuck, Stride, Bailey, and Barwick have come in for special attention in recent weeks. So, too, has the winsome Bangle, though her issue is relatively minor. (You might recall Bangle for her love of moles, now happily outgrown and detailed just below the final video near the bottom of our Oct. 12, 2010, post)

Bangle.

“Bangle’s only problem is she’s not getting the ‘get behind’ order very well, but if I don’t fix that now, every time I come to a jump out hunting she’ll be busting ahead and hopping over the jump, and then she’s under my horse’s feet,” Lilla explained. “She should have known that from last year, but she sort of gets behind and then squirts out of the group.”

The HAs, meanwhile, have been a piece of cake. They spent much of the spring training for the Virginia Hound Show, which paid off handsomely. “They’ve gotten everything down,” Lilla said. “Here’s the problem we’re addressing now as we approach hunt season. Some of the third- and fourth-season hounds have been there, done that, know it, want to go hunting and are great hunting, but they’re not as disciplined as I need them to be. It’s harder for them, because they’ve hunted before and they know the country. Some of the older hounds, like Baffle and Bonsai, they know we’re still on summer walk, and come hunt season they’ll change. When we start hunting, they’ll be out there pushing. But the aggressive males in the list I gave you, they’re just jealous and I lose their attention because they’re reactive to each other.

“Last season, I tried to never put this group together,” she added. “I always split them up. But there might come a hunt day when I have to put them together because, for whatever reason, those are the hounds we have to  use that day. Maybe we’ve had a really hard Saturday and somebody’s in the heat pen, and maybe I’ll have to take these out together. And it’s a lot easier to address their jealousies now that it would be on a hunt day.”

Hound jealousy, a competitiveness or personality conflict between certain hounds, can cause a practical problem for a huntsman. As hounds compete with one another to find a line, they can pick up speed and momentum, blowing through coverts too fast instead of working cooperatively with each other and their huntsman. Hunting can be very fast indeed when a pack is on a run after the speedy coyote, but to find that coyote’s (or fox’s) line, it takes careful, methodical work. And that means being slow enough to have a real sniff.

“That’s the problem: they’ll pull me through coverts,” Lilla said. “They’ve been pulling me on hound walks, and that’s what they’ll do in coverts, just blow right through it and out the other end, and that makes them difficult to steady on their noses and go slow. Especially during cubhunting (the early, informal part of the season that starts the hunting year in early fall), I want to go slow because I want the puppies to learn to learn to be slow and methodical, to take their time and put their noses down. If I’ve got these jealous, type-A males running on ahead, the puppies naturally are going to go with them, and that’s what they’ll learn to do.”

Some of the pack’s type-A males, like Gaelic (center) have had some issues to iron out on summer walk.

For now, Lilla has been keeping the HAs and those “type-A” hounds apart until she feels the latter group will not be too racy an influence on the newbies. On their own hound walks, the HAs have so far shown a lot of promise. “They’ve been comporting themselves beautifully on hound walk,” Lilla said. “I feel like I have the control and attention I need, and they’re relaxed. they’re ready. They’re prepared. But as Jerry (Miller, joint-Master of the Iroquois Hunt) said, ‘You’re only as good as your least biddable hounds.’ Even if you have 15 couple out and 13 are biddable, the two couple that aren’t can make you lose them all.”

Boone Valley’s resident cattle have been curious onlookers on hound walk.

An interesting side note about one of the type-A males Lilla mentioned: Bailey, one of the highly successful BA litter (half-siblings to the HA litter who will be in their third season this year), was one of the first of his litter to “switch on” to hunting as a youngster in his first season back in 2010. He and Backfire were both on the muscle early, though Backfire has proven more attentive to the huntsman recently.

Boone Valley.

The hounds’ individual personalities are important, but as Lilla said: “Come hunt day, nobody can be an individual. They have to work together.”

Ironically, the best way to achieve that seamless pack is to work with hounds individually, which is why this summer Lilla has been taking out smaller, separate groups out on hound walks rather than lumping the whole pack together for a single walk. And she’s happy to work on smoothing out these personality conflicts in small groups now, because she finds the alternative–more aggressive whipping-in to a larger group–unappealing.

“We’d have to resort to the whips being hard on them, getting in front of them as they go in a covert and steadying them,” she said. “But I don’t like that, because you have to make a lot of noise to do that, and you have to get in front of the hounds to do that.”

That can scatter game, and it also has the effect of punishing or putting pressure on the whole pack for the infractions of a few overly aggressive hounds.

Betsy, Lucy, and Janie keep an eye on the hounds.

The type-A hounds have responded well to their summer work. Instead of pulling too far ahead of Lilla or fanning out too far, they’ve been packing up well around her. A big test came on Saturday. A squall line blew through the night before, leaving cooler, damp conditions on Saturday morning as the hounds poured out of their trailer at Boone Valley. In those improved scenting conditions, and even with coyote-rich Pauline’s Ridge as a backdrop, the type-As held together and showed a lot of discipline to resist whatever wafting scent might have tempted them away.

It’s not too long before we will ALL be tempted away from our daily cares to follow the hounds out hunting again! We hope you’ll stay tuned.

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Guest blogger: Buck Wiseman on rapport between huntsman and hounds


Clear Creek Beagles huntsman and joint-Master Buck Wiseman. Photo by Brian Blostica.

Recently, while writing a short description of foot packs at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, I made the mistake of wandering off task and shedding some thoughts about pack cohesion and pack response, both to a huntsman and to one another.  Mrs. Houndblogger picked up the line and reminded me that I had told her, well over a year ago, that I’d write something on the subject.  She’s now run me to ground, I suppose.

What follows may be a lot of nonsense, and, for the most part, it certainly isn’t science, but having hunted packs of hounds, foxhounds, beagles and bassets, mostly beagles, with a couple of short reprieves, since the mid-1960s, I do have views, and, right or wrong, I’ve never been overly restrained in expressing them, so here goes.

Rapport, hound sense, the “golden thread” is no one thing.  It is a complicated amalgam of hound breeding, hound management, practice and, I believe, a certain genetic component on the human side as well.  Of the terms, I prefer “rapport” which is defined as “relationship, especially one of mutual trust or emotional affinity”, which is about as close as one can come to my view of this subject, especially as to mutuality, and it is particularly appropriate that it derives from Old French “raporter” meaning “to bring back.”

"Biscuits, lots of biscuits!" one early mentor advised Buck when he formed his first pack. Houndblogger photo.

We have all seen huntsmen for whom hounds just “do.”  They seem to have the touch, the right body language, to hit the right note of voice or just have a feel for hounds and seem to have always had it.  They can hunt a large pack of hounds without resort to a whipper-in, walk out the entire kennel likewise and pick up the horn with a strange pack almost without missing a beat. In many cases, I believe that they may not know exactly how they do what they do, may be puzzled that others cannot duplicate their results and may take years to really analyze what it is that they do. At this point, we’ll put that subject largely aside because the purpose here is to look at intentional and conscious acts with the goal of approaching, if not equaling, the results that those huntsmen achieve.

The right personality in the pack helps.  A good huntsman can get response from a gaggle of thick-headed independent types, but we all know that some hounds are more responsive to a huntsman and to one another than others.  I believe that the two are clearly linked.  As an example, if hounds need to be moved from one spot to another across a field or within sight or sound of the huntsman, the entire pack need not see or hear the huntsman.  If the pack is responsive both to the huntsman and to one another, it’s only necessary to catch the attention of the hounds nearest you as you call and point to where you want them, the other hounds will respond to the first who have responded to you and stream over.

Buck and the beagles at Shaker Village in March. Houndblogger photo.

I often walk out hounds by myself. Puppies need to learn to walk with the pack, but you can’t discipline them until they understand what it is that they are to do and to not do.  When I got my first pack of beagles, many of the hounds came from the Nantucket Treweryn Beagles of Bun and Becky Sharp.  Becky knew that I would be largely handling my new little pack alone and gave me one of the best tips of all time: “Biscuits, lots of biscuits.”

I make a concentrated effort to address each young hound, every hound for that matter, frequently by name and to toss a biscuit to catch.  Each must not only learn his name, but also learn that response to your voice and to your hand brings good things. Only when a hound has learned those things should you touch them with the whip and chastise them.  Each has to understand that the discipline is the result of ignoring someone who otherwise dispenses blessings.  It’s also at this point that the pack sense is important.  If, say, two couple of puppies start up the road bank on their own little mission, if you can, with an encouraging voice, swing one couple to you, with the right sort, the other will turn right with them. Have the biscuits ready when they reach you.

Lilla Mason (and the biscuit bag) with some of the Iroquois hounds. Houndblogger photo.

If you have the luxury of assistance in walking out and of whippers-in in number when you hunt, teach yourself not to rely on them.  A whipper-in should be viewed by a huntsman as the last, not the first or even the intermediate resort.  If hounds are always or even frequently put to you by your whippers-in, then, in some measure, their return to you is a response to the threat of the whipper-in, not to their rapport with you.  It is better to have the sometimes slightly slower response deriving from rapport with the huntsman than the faster coerced response.  In fact, when walking out with whippers-in, discourage them from being more than a reminder of the possibility of reproach unless that whipper-in is pretty well endowed with hound sense or knows the hounds very well.  Whippers-in tend to want to be helpful and, if overly so, are not helpful at all.  This is especially true if you have puppies out.  Develop rapport and trust it.  Whippers-in should do likewise.

When hunting, I do not want my whippers-in even near me.  Ideally, they should be eyes and ears, your distant early warning and spotting system.  The title “whipper-in” should relate to their function only in difficult circumstances.  The goal is that rapport will fill the gap.

Studies in animal behavior and language have shown that certain types of sounds have similar effects across a wide range of mammals.  Without going into a great deal of detail, suffice it to say that higher-toned, excitable sounds encourage, soft tones soothe, growls caution or chastise.  It works for hounds and humans.  Your voice must change constantly to match your message.  Cheer them on, cheer them in, growl and crisply bark warnings.  Again eye contact and body language is also critical. Many times, when getting the attention of a particular hound to return into the pack while walking out, I will not only call the hound’s name, but once he looks at me, point directly and growl “Yes, you” or “You know your name.”  Recent scientific work has, in fact, shown that the dog is one of the few non-primate species which will follow the point of a human hand. They do.  If you can get eye-to-eye contact, you’ve got him, at least as long as you are the dominant personality in the pack, not the hound.  If you are not, go for a softer sort.

Modulate your voice at all times in tune with the circumstances.  When walking out, a conversational voice is probably just right. Talk to your hounds.  If you are drawing cover, suit your voice to the way the hounds are drawing.  If they are quite close, not much above conversation is necessary.  If hounds are drawing widely, as mine typically do, the volume must increase.  The goal is that all of your hounds can always hear you when drawing because you must be at the center of that process, if you are going to direct it.

Huntsman Lilla Mason with the Iroquois hounds on summer walk.

When calling hounds in from a distance, don’t yell for them.  Instead, go for a deep in the chest, rolling tone of encouragement.  They will respond.  It’s not unlike the signaling howl of a coyote or hounds singing in kennel.  Hounds being put on to a line, once they have reached the huntsman, should be put on quietly with low encouraging sounds and with the arm, hand and body motion directing them in the direction that they should go.  Rapport is bi-directional. Watch every hound for the body language and focus that tells you when they are “with” you.

Also watch hounds for the signals, sometimes very subtle signals, that hounds can give you–and trust them if they do.  Hounds may appear to be simply drifting from a check.  The temptation is to pull them back, but if watched closely, slight body signals may indicate that, while they are not speaking or even visibly feathering, they are focused on some slight scent, perhaps even air scent on a bad scenting day, to which they are drawn and which may result in a recovery. Even if those hounds fall in with the movement of the pack and return, if the line is not recovered, go back to where they went, if it is the only message that the hounds have sent you, and a more diligent cast in that direction may work.  It has before.

In the houndbloggers' experience, some hounds are beyond controlling, even if you have a rapport with them! Houndblogger photo.

Try never to give a command which you do not believe will be obeyed.  Your voice will convey your hesitancy.  When calling hounds, say out of covert, you must believe that they are coming to you even though you may curse their dawdling under your breath.  If hounds start to break as we are walking back to the trailer, if you can rate them just as they start when you see the first change of focus from you to the trailer, they’ll stop.  If you can’t because you were distracted and didn’t catch the first hints, let them go and make a mental note that next week they’ll come in packed up behind you until they get that foolishness out of their minds.  If they go away on deer and do not stop at the first rate, turn your attention at once to how you and the whippers-in are going to get to their heads.  Roaring at them futilely merely teaches them that your voice is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

With that thought, I’m going to leave rapport because, in a real sense, I already have and drifted, like hounds losing the check, on to the role of dominance in working with hounds which is a subject better left to another day.

Many thanks to Buck for contributing this great piece! If you’d like to read more from Buck, please click here to read his earlier piece on hunting over game-rich restored native grasslands.

Strolls with the HASABOs


SA puppies Brookfield Traxler 01-15-12

Sault, Sawmill, and Sayit (foreground) explore some snowy branches. That looks like Sample in the background. Photo by Dave Traxler.

WHEN winter weather freezes or drowns out hunting, we’re lucky that we still get to spend time with the hounds. It’s been a week since any of the houndbloggers have hunted in the saddle, but we’ve made it out three times recently with the Iroquois Hunt’s boisterous batch–make that batches–of puppies.

Two of these litters you’ve already met: the HAs (by Hawkeye out of the great BA litter’s mother Baffle) and the SAs (by our former pupposaurus, now houndasaurus, Driver out of Sage). There’s a third litter that also has illustrious parents, and which the houndbloggers have been remiss not to introduce you to before now. They are the BOs. Their parents are two of the great Iroquois characters, easily recognizable by their color and by their prowess on the hunt field: their mother is Bonsai and their father is Samson, known to the houndbloggers as The Voice,  who famously made a scene at Heathrow airport.

We’ll start with the HAs, who have matured into elegant, leggy individuals, something you could see coming even in their early days, and they certainly have been stamped by their sire, Hawkeye.

Hawkeye. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Their training is progressing well, and you can see during this walk that they’re figuring out exactly what those powerful noses can do! There are a few wistful looks toward the rich hunting grounds of Pauline’s Ridge. No doubt the alluring scent of coyote was wafting down from the ridge and into eager HA nostrils, and although they can’t know all that that scent means yet, it already seems to pique the HAs’ interest (and instinct)!

If the HAs are the high-school set, the SAs are still in elementary school. You probably already have noticed something wonderfully unusual about them: they’re not white! A number of the HAs have a bit of subtle buff, lemon, and oatmeal here and there, but the SAs have made a dramatic departure from the paler shades that dominate the Iroquois pack. This gives the houndbloggers some hope that, at some point in the future, they will be able, finally, to reliably identify hounds galloping full throttle half a field or more away.

SA puppy walk Brookfield 01-15-12

The SA puppies and friends at Brookfield. Photo by Dave Traxler.

And here’s another tremendous thing that has the houndbloggers all atwitter about the SAs: they’re wire-haired. We had hoped, not very secretly, that matching the dark Driver and the luxuriously woolly Sage would result in some dark or tri-colored woollies, and while none of the SAs are as flamboyantly woolly as their mother, they are distinctly broken-coated and completely adorable to look at. Their names are Saigon, Sample, Sault, Savvy, Sayit, and Sawmill, the females being Saigon, Sample, Savvy, and Sayit, and the males Sault and Sawmill.

The BOs also have enjoyed romping in the great outdoors. Most recently, they’ve been out and about with their bigger packmates, the SAs, who seem to relish their roles as worldly “big dogs.” The BOs are smooth-coated and colorful, as you’d expect from the pairing of the dark, bronze-eyed Bonsai and the red-and-white Samson.

Saigon, Sawmill, Sample, Savvy, Sault, and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Saigon, Sawmill, Sample, Savvy, Sault, and Sayit having a big time! Photo by Dave Traxler.

The houndbloggers were out for two recent walks with the SAs and BOs, first at Miller Trust and then at Dulin’s. You can see the results–including Savvy’s courageous pursuit of a waterbound dog biscuit!–in the video below. The BOs, the kindergarteners, are named Bobbsey, Bombay, Bombshell, Boone, Bootjack, Bouncer, Bounder, and Bourbon.

With three litters of puppies, it’s going to take some time for everyone, from hunt staff to houndbloggers, to learn which name goes with which hound. And, as huntsman Lilla Mason pointed out, it doesn’t really work to ID a hound by some small mark you only see when you’re up close. Come the day these puppies take to the hunt field, the staff most often will be identifying them by watching them run across a field or by looking straight down on their backs from the saddle. So everyone now is trying to familiarize themselves with the three litters’ back and side markings and tail markings, for example.

Saigon Sayit Brookfield 01-15-12 Traxler photo

Saigon and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

So far, the houndbloggers only reliably know a handful, if that. But as we follow the puppies through these initial walks, and on to spring training and summer hound walk, we’ll learn more about them as they learn more about working in a pack. Stay tuned!

Casting back on a rainy day

Photo by Dave Traxler.

Thank heavens for rain. God knows we need it sometimes, and so do our landowners. But does it have to fall, and fall so heavily, on days when hounds are supposed to meet? At least there is a silver lining: poor weather provides a fine opportunity to think back to sunnier days. The summer hound walk and roading season ended several weeks ago, but we thought we’d cast back a bit and enjoy a last look at some video and photographs we and photographer Dave Traxler collected over the summer.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Now, of course, our thoughts have turned back to fall and the new hunt season. Which means the return of the Hound of the Day series, as well as more photos from Dave, and video when the houndbloggers are out with the camera. Stay tuned for all of that when the weather allows us back out again, and, in the meantime, stay warm and dry!

Congratulations, Driver and Sage!

Some snoozing SAs. Driver and Sage are parents of the newest Iroquois puppies, the SA litter. Gene Baker photo.

YOU read it right: Driver is a daddy! He and Sage are first-time parents of the newest Iroquois litter. Mother and six puppies are doing well! If you’re a regular hound blog reader, the first thing you’ll notice, once you get past the sheer cuteness, is that these puppies are a colorful bunch in a pack that has a quite a number of white hounds. This gives the houndbloggers some hope of someday being able to identify these SAs properly in the hunt field! Our fondest hope is that some of these will turn out to be woollies like their mother. It will be some weeks before we will see any hints of the broken coat we love so much, and we promise to provide updates if we see indications of woolliness!

Look at all that color! The new SA litter looks like it might bring more black and tan into the Iroquois pack. Gene Baker photo.

It’s unusual for joint-Master Jerry L. Miller to breed a first-season dog, and when we heard that he’d decided to mate Driver we took it as an indication that the huge–and hugely popular–young doghound is indeed something a little special.

Since the puppies were born, we checked back in with Miller to get his thoughts on the mating.

Driver at the Virginia Hound Show in May. Photo by Dave Traxler.

One reason, Miller said, is that Driver is the only hound Iroquois has by the Duke of Beaufort’s Gaddesby ’07–you can see a photograph of him here, and he’s also in our video from the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show earlier this summer. Gaddesby is Driver’s sire. A good-sized hound, he’s also a great outcross to the Iroquois hounds’ predominant bloodlines. The promise that Driver showed in the hunt field last season, in his first year of hunting, sealed the deal.

“He had a great season last year in the hunt field,” Miller said. “He was in on a couple of coyotes and he settled down nicely, and so I knew he was going to be a great hunter. He has nose, and he has unbelievable physical ability, so we figured we’d better not chance losing him next season in an accident or something.”

Congratulations, Sage! Houndblogger photo.

Sage and her brother, Sassoon, also go back to Duke of Beaufort’s breeding. In fact, Miller has tried to breed Sassoon twice but, so far, without success. That’s one reason he opted to breed Sage–to continue the great qualities that earlier SA family possesses. The older SAs including Sassoon and Sage hail from the brilliant ST Carlow line that we’ve written about before, and, in addition to being tremendous coyote- and fox-chasers, they’re also enormously biddable and personable.

“We were extremely lucky to get Sandal, who was by Heythrop Sanford ’97, a big stallion hound,” Miller said of Sage and Sassoon’s mother, Bicester with Whaddon Chase Sandal ’00. “We bred Grundy to her and got Sassoon, and you really couldn’t ask for any more. It’ s just top-notch, blue ribbon breeding.”

Two of the Driver-Sage pups enjoy lunch with their mother. Houndblogger photo.

We’ll keep you posted on the newest puppies’ progress, and as soon as we can get back out again on hound walk, we’ll check in again on the HA puppies that Hawkeye and Baffle had back in late October. They’re out with the pack on hound walk now, and the word we’ve gotten so far is that they’re big, beautiful, and confident. Can’t wait to catch up with them again!

What we’ve been doing this summer

An Iroquois first: a puppy show! (with HD video)

Iroquois Hunt will host its first puppy show on Saturday at the hunt’s headquarters, the Grimes Mill, seen in the video above. The six-month-old HA puppies and the young entered hounds, including the beloved Paper and Driver, have been hard at work practicing for the big day–and so have the Iroquois members who have volunteered to be on the human end of the leash!

To see what they’ve all been doing and hear Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason’s comments on the hounds’ progress and on the purpose of the puppy show, click on the video. To see the video in high-definition, after you click the “play” triangle, look for the box in the upper-right corner that says HD. Click it!

Our puppy show will have a different twist on it from the traditional ones in England, which you can see in this Horse & Country TV video from the Berkeley Hunt’s puppy show. The most significant difference is that our attendees on Saturday, including children, will have a chance to try their hand at hound-showing, too! And kids also can enjoy supervised playtime in a pen with the HA puppies, now about six months old. There also will be snacks for kids.

For the adults, there will be the traditional puppy show Pimm’s, as well as hors d’oeuvres. Bud Murphy kindly has agreed to be our judge for the day.

The HA puppies will be shown for the first time on Saturday, but the now-entered BA litter will be using this as a dress rehearsal in their training for the prestigious Virginia Hound Show at the end of the month. You can see how they and other Iroquois hounds did last year at Virginia, and get a feel for this beautiful hound show, here.

The  houndbloggers will be at the Mill Saturday to catch some video, and later this month we’ll see you in Virginia!