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.

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!

The season that was

THE Iroquois hunt season ended in late March, but we didn’t want to let it get away entirely without  looking back on some good days out with the hounds! Personally, the houndbloggers love the summer hound-walking season, but it’s always nice to keep in mind the point of the exercise: preparation and training for the hunt field next fall. So with that in mind, after a long pause, we return to our computers with a look over our shoulders at the hunt season that was in our featured video today (above).

Meanwhile, the focus is on getting hounds ready for the Virginia Foxhound Show this Sunday at Morven Park near Leesburg, Va. Among the hounds Iroquois will take to the big show are members of the leonine HA litter, Baffle’s second litter for us, who have matured into magnificent, graceful, statuesque creatures very much resembling their sire, Hawkeye.

The HAs are featured in the video above, taken back in February, and we have more recent footage of them on a post-season hound walk that we’ll try to post before the show on Sunday. In the meantime, let’s turn on the Wayback Machine, to October 2010, when the HAs were very wee indeed!

And a little video of the little HAs:

My, how they’ve grown! We wish the HAs and all the Iroquois hounds the very best of luck at the Virginia show!

Stammer’s retirement party draws a crowd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

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

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

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

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

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!