Rose’s last hunt

YOU’VE probably been around us long enough to know that the Houndbloggers are partial to old hounds (even when they are as bad as our Harry) and hounds that won’t give up (even when, as in the case of our Eider–late of the Clear Creek Beagles–their desire to hunt anything and everything, all night if necessary, results in their being expelled from a respectable pack with a disgraceful report card). We can’t help ourselves: we love them.

We also have a real soft spot for The River Bottom, a quietly wonderful blog about life in the country with beagles. The posts over there are a highlight for me, and when a new one goes up, I stop whatever I’m doing and pay attention, right then, in order to savor whatever news there is from River Bottom country in Litchfield, Minnesota. They came up with a beautiful one today that spoke to us, partly because it was about an old beagle who is a tried-and-true hare-tracker. Didn’t hurt that it reminded us a little of Mr. Box who, in his youth, failed to return from a hunt with the sun going down and the snow blowing in (to read about his great adventure, click this link and scroll down the page to “Mr. Box’s Epic Journey”).

Here is how The River Bottom began this afternoon:

I’m listening but I can’t hear anything. The spruce trees are all covered in snow, big snowflakes are drifting down. It’s getting dark, And cold. I don’t think Rose is coming back.

Pete is down on the south road waiting and listening. We covered all the roads looking for tracks, two or three times. No dogs crossed the road.

I’ve been in and out of this trail it seems like ten times. Under that dang jack pine that hangs over the trail. Its branches slide up over the windshield. I swear it’s going to pull off my wiper blades next time through.

The woods are deep to the west, she could have gone a few miles that way. Even if she is right here and something happened, I could never find her in this stuff. Me and Pete have walked all over this spot looking for her.

When I was loading dogs this morning Rose was there waiting. I was going to put her in the house. She would have cried all day. She’s about 14 now. I loaded her in the dog box too.

I guess I would rather see her disappear into the spruce trees running a hare in the snow than live a long and unhappy old age.

This spot is loaded with hare. Thick heavy spruce trees, aspen and brush when they go out the west side with thick alder and willow swamps. The dogs ran steady all day long.

Rose hasn’t hunted much the last couple years, she mostly just follows me around. I didn’t think she needed a tracking collar.

She started a hare on her own. Her voice is just as loud and pretty as ever. I heard her a couple times after that. With all these dogs running it was tough to pick her out.

When we started catching them up we hadn’t heard or seen Rose for a couple hours. Now we are trying to guess what happened to her.

Read on, please do, at The River Bottom. It’s fine writing telling a good story. With pictures that will make you smile. Enjoy.

Advertisements

Happy Blessing Day!

Just part of the Blessing Day field!

The hounds at this year’s blessing ceremony included Hound Welfare Fund Retiree of the Year Sassoon, the giant woolly in the middle of the picture, who retired at the end of the 2011-2012 hunt season.

Grimes Mill, the Iroquois Hunt Club headquarters, all dressed up for the big day.

Whipper-in Cice Bowers accepts a piece of cake from hunt member Leslie Penn as part of the stirrup cup Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason hosted after the blessing ceremony. Looks like Cice’s horse, Turnip, would like some, too!

Happy Blessing Day, everyone!

Hard-working hounds

TOMORROW is Blessing Day, so today presents a good moment to look back on an excellent cubbing weekend. The last weekend in October was damp, misty, and chilly with highs in the 40s–a perfect weekend, really, for a spooky Halloween. Despite a stiff breeze, the hounds had no trouble finding coyote lines, and, in fact, the pack hardly ever stopped working during two days of hunting. The video above is from both days combined and gives you some indication of hounds’ general work ethic. You’ll spot quite a few familiar faces, too: red and white Samson, whose trip from England to Kentucky made him very conservational; bounding, powerful Banker; Sage, the mother of our current SA puppies, and their father Driver, too; as well as Paper, better known in his youth as “Playper”!

Tomorrow the formal season begins. Looks to me as if the hounds have absorbed their lessons well during the informal training season!

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!

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.

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!

Virginia Hound Show 2012: A big day for Iroquois hounds!

The HAs picking up a trophy at the Virginia Hound Show on Sunday.

What a day for the Iroquois Hunt’s English hounds! The houndbloggers were not in attendance this year at the Virginia Foxhound Show, but we got updates throughout the day from the English ring, where our hounds showed–and we’re pleased to say they brought home some of the silver! The show draws some 800 hounds from across North America, a real feast for the hound lover’s eyes. If you’ve never been, we encourage you to attend next year! For the complete list of results from the 2012 show, click here.

We’ve been following the HA puppies since their birth (and they were born, auspiciously enough, just before Blessing Day in 2010, when the annual Blessing of the Hounds kicks off the formal hunt season). They are sons and daughters of two hounds we imported from the Cottesmore in England, the doghound Hawkeye and the bitch Baffle, who also is the dam of our much-vaunted BA litter. The HAs have matured into an exceptionally regal group, and the houndbloggers had high hopes for this pride of young lions, who will join the hunting pack this coming fall.

Hawkeye (left) and his sons in the class they won, English stallion hound and three of his get. Photo by Nancy Milburn Kleck Equine-Sporting Artist.

Perhaps the most notable victory of the day was Hawkeye’s in the class for stallion hound and three get. Shown alongside his sons Halo, Hawksbridge, and Hanbury in front of judge Henry Berkeley from the Berkeley Hunt, Hawkeye scooped the trophy from a highly competitive class that also featured Live Oak Maximus, the Virginia Foxhound Show’s grand champion foxhound back in 2010, just a few months before the HAs were whelped. Hawkeye’s win is a big thumbs-up for the Iroquois Hunt’s breeding program, which already has seen success from the BA litter, Baffle’s first for us, on the hunt field.

Baffle and the HA pups back in the day.

Some of the hounds and volunteers taking pre-show exercise Sunday at Morven Park, scene of the prestigious Virginia Foxhound Show.

We’ll have to wait until fall to see how the HA puppies perform on the hunt field, but here’s how they did in Virginia:

Halo won his single doghound-unentered class. Hanbury was third in this class.

Halo and Hanbury came back to win the couple of dogs-unentered class, and Hardboot and Hawksbridge finished second to them.

HaloHawksbridgeHardboot, and Hanbury, all unentered, won their two couple of doghounds-entered or unentered class.

Thanks to his victory in the unentered doghound class, Halo moved on to the unentered championship against the day’s top unentered bitch and placed second, making him the show’s reserve champion unentered hound.

A bath before the big day.

To see the HAs cover some ground, see the video below, taken in January at Boone Valley. A video from February is here.

Another winner at Virginia was Samson, our entered red-and-white doghound who is a big asset on the hunt field and the sire of our new BO litter out of Bonsai. He won his English stallion hound class, then came back to place third with Edie in the junior handlers’ class! We think Samson’s puppywalker in England, Nina Camm, will be especially thrilled with that news! To see Samson’s baby pictures that she sent us, click here.  To see our adventures bringing the very talkative Samson and Hawkeye with us by air from England (where they hunted with the Cottesmore) to Kentucky, click here. Yes, it was worth it!

The likeable red-and-white Samson, photographed in 2010.

In the afternoon’s bitch classes, another member of the HA litter, Hackle, finished second in the unentered bitch class, and Havoc finished third. This pair of Hackle and Havoc also finished second in the couple of bitches-unentered class. Dragonfly, a North Cotswold import and the mother of our famous doghoundasaurus Driver, placed second for the second consecutive year in the brood bitch class. To see a video of her (and the other Iroquois hounds) in action at last year’s Virginia Hound Show, click here. Dragonfly is at about the 2:20 mark.

Another houndblogger favorite, the powerful North Cotswold import Banker, also finished third in his class, the entered doghound class that Samson won.

Dragonfly, Driver’s mother, picked up a second in the English brood bitch class.

Banker at his first meet in Kentucky back in October 2010.

We understand that the Iroquois joint-Masters Jerry Miller and Jack van Nagell, huntsman Lilla Mason, kennel manager Michael Edwards, and the passel of hound volunteers led by Cice Bowers arrived back at the hotel exhausted but understandably pleased with the day’s results.

Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller does the honors. A toast to the Iroquois hounds and their supporters!

We know how much work went into making this day happen, and the hounds’ success was richly deserved. Congratulations, everyone, and safe home!