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.

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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!

He’s Mr. Foxhound now!

Paper on hound walk this summer. Dave Traxler photo.

REMEMBER Playper? The tri-colored Class Clown? The puppy who liked to unearth and carry random objects around in the hunt field? Well, treasure those memories, because Paper ain’t a boy anymore. He’s the man.

The last time we got out with the hounds was on Sunday, Jan. 30, a day that was notable because the sun came out. Which it hasn’t done for a long while. We were all delighted to be out in relatively warm temperatures and with the sun on our backs, and we didn’t expect the day also would mark a milestone for our young friend Paper. We’ve been following his development since he first started going out on hound walk back in the summer of 2009, and it’s probably worth a brief recap.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason and the hounds leaving the meet at Foxtrot on Jan. 30, 2011. Photo courtesy of Peggy Maness, who rode in the hound truck with us.

Paper came to Iroquois from the Live Oak hounds in Florida. He arrived in Kentucky still a puppy, and he exhibited a silly streak very early. He got his name, in fact, while he and Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller were making the 10-hour drive from Kentucky to Florida. Jerry had put Paper in a large traveling crate with an absorbent paper pad on the bottom of it, and Paper found that pad rather a lot of fun. He started shredding it not long after Jerry left the Live Oak kennel, and he didn’t stop until they rolled into Lexington. As the young pup kept himself busy with this, the bits of paper piled up in his crate until, finally, when Jerry looked in his rear-view mirror to check on him, the hound had disappeared completely in the mound of ripped paper he had created.  Hence Paper.

Paper has become a favorite at Iroquois because of his various antics on hound walk and out hunting. But, it must be said, this year he has graduated into quite a serious member of the working pack. And, last Sunday, he led the pack on a coyote run, showing the ability we always knew he had in him.

The field and the hounds at the meet. Peggy Maness photo.

Last Sunday afternoon was a remarkably warm, breezy day after a long frigid spell. The ground was frozen cold, but the air above it was warm, and what scent there might have been stirred and dispersed in a strong breeze. The sun, while nice to feel after its long time away, also didn’t help the scent to linger for hounds’ noses to find. The hounds’ body language signaled to huntsman Lilla Mason early on that scenting conditions were very poor. It was, Lilla said, as if they were telling her, “We’ve got our noses on, but they’re not picking up much that’s interesting.”

The scenting conditions might have been less than ideal, but the pack was as good as they could be. Bringing them back to the hunt field after a long absence due to the long stretch of “unhuntable” weather was like putting on a comfortable old shoe, as Lilla described it. The hounds were as responsive as ever and settled quickly to their task. “It was like we’d never left,” Lilla said.

Lilla Mason on Sackett at the meet. Photo by Peggy Maness.

The hounds started winding something in the field near Grundy’s barn. They started feathering–but then couldn’t quite make out the line, another hint that scenting was difficult on a day when the earth was cold and the air relatively warm. The hounds tried, feathered, and even sometimes spoke, but the line proved elusive. They kept casting themselves to the south, feathering enthusiastically. They were clearly trailing up to something but couldn’t quite get consistent enough scent to strike off. When joint-Master Jack van Nagell tally-hoed a coyote heading into Pauline’s Ridge, Lilla harked the hounds to that line less than a minute behind the quarry. The hounds feathered, desperately working what little of the line there was–but it was not enough to send them into full cry. That told her how difficult scenting was going to be, and, if she needed any more evidence, Lilla got proof positive that scent was not the hounds’ friend that day when a curious thing happened on top of a cliff.

“I could see a coyote in the grass, that black coyote,” Lilla said. “It was quite a way off, and it was just standing there in tall grass. I’d already harked hounds to the line once with my voice, and they didn’t pick up scent, so I couldn’t do that again, because it’s like I’m lying to them. I couldn’t risk that again.”

Paper has taken the leap from playful puppy to serious working pack hound. Photo by Dave Traxler.

“It’s terribly frustrating, as a huntsman,” Lilla added. “You’re sitting there staring at a coyote. I could get the hounds into the high grass, and I could see the coyote in there. He was lower than the grass, and through the wisps of grass I could see him moving back and forth in front of the hounds. And they couldn’t smell it. And he knew they couldn’t smell him. They were feathering, but they couldn’t quite pick up the line.”

Flash back to summer hound walk: “When you watch the hounds on summer hound walk, you realize how much depends on their noses,” Lilla said. “That’s true of almost any dog. If I throw a red biscuit two feet in front of me, and they see me throw it, they don’t look for a red biscuit in grass–they smell for it where they think it landed.  It’s hard for humans to understand how much hounds depend on their noses. Their noses are so much more sensitive than ours, whereas we depend on our eyes.”

Iroquois joint-Master Jack van Nagell gave a tally-ho when a coyote headed into Pauline's Ridge. Peggy Maness photo.

You can also see this difference–hounds’ reliance on their noses rather than their eyes–when Michael Edwards and Alan Foy scatter biscuits in the grass before unloading the hounds at a meet. When the hounds rush out of the trailer to hunt for the biscuits, they don’t look for the for red and yellow dog biscuits. They come out of the trailer with their noses down to smell for them.

“So even though we can see a coyote, they’re using their noses to smell for it,” Lilla continued. “The problem is, you don’t know how many coyotes are there, either. If I rely on my eyes to tell the hounds what to do, I’m committing an error. With a pack like ours, hounds that don’t switch coyotes, you have to let them establish their own line.

Lilla and the hounds at Foxtrot. Dave Traxler photo.

“When you know it’s a bad scenting day, and you know there are multiple coyotes, you sort of have to wait to let the hounds pick up one of them. You can’t assume which one it will be until they tell you. They might be working hard, about to pick up a line, and if you lift them and cast them and put them on another line, well, that’s no good. You want to teach them to work it out for themselves.”

A four-hound group did just that, finally speaking on the line of a reddish coyote that had headed out the east end of Pauline’s Ridge. Paper, Sassoon, Battle and Bagshot took off on the line they’d found, but the hounds had cast themselves widely, a necessary tactic on a bad scenting day when you’re hunting coyote. As Paper and his three companions raced on close behind the coyote, they distanced their packmates. The other hounds behind them caught onto the same line, but when they reached the sunny open ground after Paper’s group, the main body of the pack had trouble holding on to scent as it dwindled rapidly in the warmer air. As Paper, Sassoon, Battle, and Bagshot hurtled toward the western boundary of the hunt country–and a busy road where horses could not follow–their packmates were left puzzling over a line that, to their noses, was nearly invisible. When they made a lose, Lilla opted not to cast them forward and risk having them run toward the road, too.

Road whips Michael Edwards (foreground) and Alan Foy picked up two of Paper's compatriots: Sassoon and first-season hound Battle at the Jan. 30 hunt. Road whips are essential! Dave Traxler photo.

“I also knew there were coyotes back in Pauline’s Ridge,” Lilla said, “so it wasn’t too egregious for me, as the hounds came out of the ridge, to send them back in again and let Michael and Alan get those two couple back.”

It turns out that Paper and Bagshot, spotted by whipper-in Elizabeth Playforth, came back on their own, and Alan and Michael quickly picked up Sassoon and Battle.

The moment when Paper struck off and led his group on a coyote, and in far from perfect scenting conditions, didn’t last long. But it was an important indication that the Class Clown is becoming a serious student, and is even on his way to being a potential pack leader. Not for him the tempting aluminum can or old cow bone. Not anymore.

No more decoys for Paper: he's the real deal! Eloise Penn photo.

“He’s Mr. Foxhound now,” Lilla said. “No puppy left in him. He’s running with the big boys. He’s just changed, hasn’t he? He’s no longer goofy.”

As Paper and Bagshot filtered their way back to Lilla, their colleagues in the pack, meanwhile, had struck off again in the east part of Pauline’s Ridge. “That helped bring everyone back together,” Lilla said. But when hounds went quiet soon afterwards, the pack, working their noses hard the whole time, scattered out again, trying to find scent anywhere they could. As hounds worked silently, snuffling through the grass, woods, and cliff, Lilla headed back up to the ridge and blew her horn. She soon collected 10 or 11 couple and headed west with them, intending to draw the covert at Pauline’s house.

The field got a nice view at Foxtrot on Jan. 30. And welcome back, Brownell! Peggy Maness photo.

Just then, another tally-ho, this time from field secretary Betsy van Nagell, who spotted–guess who! The black coyote, of tall grass fame, emerging from his weedy haven.

“He looked over his shoulder just like he was saying, ‘Hi!'” Lilla said. “And he just trotted away down the hill. I immediately took the hounds over there and put them on the line. And they couldn’t do anything with it.”

I’m not sure who ticked off the Scent Gods that day, but someone did, and the black coyote knew it.

“He was moving so slowly,” Lilla said. “He knew we could see him in the grass, and he knew we were going to see him when came out of the grass and went down the field. He trotted right by the field. He always goes that way: he comes out of the top of the ridge and goes south like that. Sometimes he’s a lot of fun, but this time he knew there was no scent and wasn’t bothering to move very quickly, just trotting a long and not giving off a lot of scent from his pads. At least the field had a nice view.

Because, really, you can't have too many pictures of Paper. Lilla Mason took this one on a 2009 hound walk.

“To an uneducated eye, they’d probably wonder, ‘What is wrong with those hounds?’ But those kinds of days really teach you how much they hunt by scent.They hunt by scent, not by sight. They can hunt a little bit by sight, but scent really is the key.”

Missing just one and a half couple, Lilla took the pack into Pauline’s Scrub, a good covert for game and also near where Lilla suspected the three absent hounds would be. Hounds spoke in the fenceline between Pauline’s Scrub and the Deer Covert, a good, strong cry on to the Deer Covert. Spirits lifted–but the burst was short-lived.

Whipper-in Hannah Emig on Comet at the Jan. 30 Foxtrot meet. Peggy Maness photo.

“They went to the Swamp Covert, to the Deer Covert, then went quiet for a minute before picking it up again,” Lilla said. “They ran across the field by Salt’s Barn, then turned sharply west out in the open into the Silo Pond Covert, right where we started. They made a lose there. The line was very, very strong going into the Silo Pond Covert, but once they got in there, they hardly even feathered. They tried really hard: they had their noses down, they were frantically looking around. If it hadn’t been so close to sunset, I would have tried to cast a little to the south, but I think they had done as much as they could with it.”

Having battled the Gods of Scent all afternoon, Lilla called it a day. From a hunting standpoint, the day was understandably frustrating for huntsman and hounds alike. But there were at least two important saving graces: the mere fact of being out again, galloping a horse alongside hounds over the countryside, and Paper’s brief, shining moment, leading the pack on a line.

The Puppies’ Open House

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BAFFLE and her newest litter of puppies hosted their own holiday open house on Sunday, and what an occasion it was! More than 40 people came to visit, some even bearing Christmas chew-toys, understandably a big hit with the pups. It was hard to tell who had more fun, the puppies or the visitors, particularly the children!

The open house took place from 6 to 6:30 p.m. in the puppies’ nursery at the lower kennel. Of course, the puppies had some help in putting the event on. Special thanks are due to Hound Welfare Fund committee member and longtime hound supporter Uschi Graham for all the decorations, to Cice Bowers (also a HWF stalwart and kennel volunteer) for her work to make the puppies so confident, and to Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for making time in their already full schedules to share the puppies with the visiting Iroquois members.

The puppies clearly were delighted with the turnout, as you can see on the attached Smilebox.

The guests also contributed their suggestions for the puppies’ names. Because we already have a large “Ba” litter in the working pack–Baffle’s first litter for Iroquois, born last year–her latest puppies will be named based on the first two letters of their sire’s name, Hawkeye. Here were some of the suggestions the open house attendees have made for names: Harry, Hayden, Happy, Harriet, Harley, Havoc, Hammock, Haywire, Hawthorne, Hanover, Joe B. Hall, Halport, Hart, Haddon, Hash, Handsome Hal, Halo, Hayward, Harper, Halston, Hank, Hapalong Handy, Happy, Hallie, Harper, Hawk Hannibel, Handy Manny, Hawler, Handler, Hackboy, Handel, Hannah, Hacker, Harriet, Habit, Harress, Hanky, Hallow, and Hamper.

Looks like we might need some more puppies!

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!

MFHA hunt staff seminar, day 1: Iroquois kennel visit

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason shows the BA litter to Live Oak MFH Marty Wood (left) and Iroquois joint-MFH Jerry Miller. Photos by Gene Baker--thanks, Gene!

THE Master of Fox Hounds Association’s hunt staff seminar only comes around once every two years, so imagine our delight when the governing body of North American foxhunting selected Lexington as the venue for 2010. The seminar weekend drew foxhunters from around the nation to the Iroquois kennel, and the gathering of so many hound people in our town provided a priceless opportunities to listen and learn.

On Saturday, April 10, the Iroquois Hunt hosted a kennel tour for attendees, and about 70 Masters, huntsmen, hunt staff, and members of many hunts showed up despite chilly temperatures. Two highlights really stand out for the houndbloggers: the warm reaction so many hunt members had to seeing the Hound Welfare Fund‘s retirees happily snoozing in their warm room, and watching Live Oak Master Marty Wood reunite with Paper, Hailstone, Gaudy, and Gaelic, young hounds that he bred that began their hunting careers this year with the Iroquois pack. Wood looked just like a proud papa when he saw how these puppies have developed, and he even joked that letting them go might just have been a mistake! And here’s another interesting note: asked to choose their favorites from our current crop of puppies, the BA litter and Driver, all scheduled to begin their training with the pack this summer for the first time, Wood and several other huntsmen present picked out Driver the pupposaurus for special praise, citing, among other things, his powerful, muscular hind end.

Driver (center): Not quite a year old, and already a muscle man.

It’s true: Driver has lost a lot of his baby fat and is showing distinct signs of turning into a hunk. But he’s lost none of his charm–or his energy. It was especially rewarding, by the way, to see how confident all the puppies were –not that Driver’s confidence has ever been much of a question!–around  a crowd of 70 strangers. Their lack of shyness under these unusual circumstances drew favorable comments from many and is a testimony not just to the puppies’ personalities, but also to their early handling and training.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason tosses biscuits for some of the new entry as MFHA hunts staff seminar attendees look on.

In addition to seeing the new entry and viewing many of the other hounds in the Iroquois active hunting pack, seminar attendees also toured the inside of the kennel. Many were especially interested in the tracking collars demonstrated by Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards.

Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards demonstrates the tracking collar and antenna that we use to help protect hounds when they are out in the country.

Iroquois joint-Masters Jerry Miller (left) and Dr. Jack van Nagell at Saturday's kennel tour.

Iroquois board member and former president Dr. Herman Playforth also explained how the hunt club itself is structured to allow both hunting and social, non-hunting memberships. Seminar attendees asked good, detailed questions that covered every imaginable topic: kennel management, hound feeding, the use of radios and tracking collars on the hunt field, and much more.

Thanks are due to everyone from Iroquois who volunteered to help with the morning. These included Cice Bowers, Christine and Gene Baker, Nancy Clinkinbeard, and Eloise Penn, and I sure hope we haven’t forgotten to mention anyone else! Thanks also to Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for their work with the hounds, and to guest Robin Cerridwen for her help, too.

One of the first-season hounds, Gaelic, gets some lovin'.

We’ll leave you with some images from the day that particularly caught our eyes, and tomorrow we’ll summarize the meat of the weekend: the seminar programs from Sunday, including  a presentation by coyote researcher Dr. Stanley Gehrt and a panel discussion that included Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason.

The visitors expressed interest in many of the kennel's features, including the retired hounds' warm room and the hounds' 15-acre grass-and-woodland turnout paddock

The kennel tour also drew new entry of the human kind!

Paper and his breeder, Live Oak MFH Marty Wood, do the cha-cha.

The hounds and their visitors enjoyed perfect weather once the spring chill wore off by mid-morning.

Puppy’s Life: Leashes 101 (with two videos!)

Houndbloggers, kennel staff, and hunt members helped with the puppies' first day of leash training. Sorting out leashes, volunteer walkers, and wiggling, puzzled puppies is harder than it looks!

HOUNDS aren’t born walking on leashes, after all. On the two-legged team were huntsman Lilla Mason, joint-Master Jerry Miller, kennel staff Michael Edwards and Alan Foy, and a phalanx of volunteers: Nancy Clinkinbeard, Christine and Gene Baker, Robin Cerridwen, and the houndbloggers.

The four-legged team were Dragonfly’s son Driver and “the BAs,” Baffle’s puppies who all have names beginning with BA, following the custom that puppies are named using the first letters of their mother’s name.

Before the leash-training exercise started, there was some introductory biscuit-throwing. There’s a style to it. If you’re preparing hounds for a show, you need to know how to make a nice long, low throw that gets the hound to gallop lightly over to the biscuit–while showing off their way of going to the judges. This is all new to the puppies, who have to learn this new game. It’s more than a game, Lilla explained, because this kind of training also exposes the young hounds to new people and teaches them to keep their focus on the huntsman without getting distracted by the other things around them at a show: spectators, spectators’ ham sandwiches, squalling children, other hounds in the ring, and other huntsmen’s biscuits. Not to mention the stands just outside the ring that sell custom stock ties and hunting-related doodads, which I personally find hugely distracting at hound shows!

Paper, who was entered in the hunting pack this year, was very happy to demonstrate how good he is at chasing biscuits. And bouncing around–isn’t he beautifully light on his feet?

Our “Playper” has learned a lot this season and has grown into a truly handsome young man, hasn’t he? To remind yourself of his adventures in his first season with the pack, read about (and see some video) his days on summer houndwalk hereherehere, and here. Check out his performance on the hunt field, also including some video, this year here and here.

But the real task of the day was to introduce the puppies to leashes. If you’ve ever taken a child for a first haircut or applied the first pair of “hard” shoes to a skeptical baby, you’ll understand that putting collars and leashes on young hounds that have never known them before isn’t always straightforward. Hounds might not object, but they might. They might not worry, but they might. A few did. One bolted right back into the kennel, leash trailing behind. “Can you outrun it?” Michael said as the puppy, one of the BAs, made her dash, seemingly pretty convinced she could. She soon returned to the group with the understanding that this snaky-looking leather thing was not, in fact, a snake, and was not going to hurt her.

Bagshot wrapped himself around a houndblogger and suggested that a biscuit might make him feel better about this whole leash thing ...

... and got a biscuit. Well, what would YOU have done?

The few puppies who worried about their new leashes were teaching us, too. The lesson was about patience and kindness, perhaps the most critical elements in handling young hounds. Confidence-inspiring pats helped (especially when reinforced by biscuits!).

Biscuit-chasing and leash training are important early steps in a puppy’s life for the upcoming spring and summer hound shows. And, like those shows, these early sessions galloping after biscuits and learning to walk politely on a leash also teach some critical skills that will be important on the hunt field. How to focus on a single person in the midst of distractions. How to be confident in the face of new situations. How to adjust. How to work one-on-one with a person.

For the record, Driver was a star at walking on his leash!

To see more of the puppy-walk, including Lilla’s explanation of the training philosophy and her comments on what she and the hounds learned from the session, check out the five-minute “documentary” below.

And just as a reminder (not that I even need an excuse to post cute puppy pictures!), here’s what those BAs and Driver looked like last spring:

Baffle's litter in April 2009.

Driver as a tiny (well, okay, not THAT tiny) pup.

Have a great weekend, everyone! The houndbloggers will be beagling and basseting–yes, basseting!–this weekend and hope to post some video from that over the weekend!

Backstage with the Hound Guys – Part II

While the rest of the pack snuffled in the grass for their pre-hunt biscuits, Latch discovers that huntsman Lilla Mason has returned as huntsman. It was Lilla's first day carrying the horn since breaking her ankle in November. She's out of her cast, but not yet in her proper tan-topped boots because they don't fit over her swollen ankle.

The January 23 meet at Foxtrot was gray and damp. But it was a happy day for huntsman Lilla Mason, who picked up her horn again after almost three months on the sidelines.

When they rushed out of the hound trailer at the meet, the hounds went about their usual business–that is to say, they immediately sniffed around in the grass for the biscuits Michael Edwards and Alan Foy scatter at every meet (a pre-hunt biscuit or two helps prevent stomach acid build-up).

“It was such a thrill when the hounds got out of the trailer,” Lilla said. “Latch came running over to me and leaped up in the air, standing on her back legs and jumping up and down. It  was like seeing old friends you haven’t seen long time. When I blew the horn, their heads snapped right up and they moved right off with me.

“Stanza was out in front of me, and when I said her name, she froze, turned and looked, then came running back. She ran a circle around my horse, then ran out and back again, like she was saying, ‘It’s you! You’re back!'”

Lilla has kept largely out of the hounds’s sight and hearing since she broke her ankle in November and handed the horn over to joint-Master Jerry Miller. Miller’s task since then was to maintain the pack without putting too much of his own imprint on them (read more about why and how he did that here). Did he accomplish that goal? The verdict from Lilla: yes.

“The best thing about the day I came back was that I could tell by the hounds’ demeanor and body language that they were the same as when I got hurt,” Lilla explained.  “That was so meaningful to me. If someone other than Jerry had taken them over and managed them differently, it would have been heartbreaking if the hounds had cowered or been different when I came back. After an absence, you wonder, ‘Are we all going to be on the same page mentally?’ And we were. They were the same pack they were when I left: confident, enthusiastic, obedient, just as they were when I left them in November. I’m very thankful to Jerry for that.”

Before the hunt, Lilla tells the whippers-in, including road whips Michael and Alan, her planned route and directs them to where they are most needed.

The conditions were … I guess “gooey” would be the technical term. We’ve had drenching rains all winter, and the ground was deep. It was only thanks to a generous landowner that we were able to hold the meet at Foxtrot, and it turned out to be a showcase for how complex and important Michael and Alan’s work really is on a hunt day.

This says it all about the footing on Jan. 23

Lilla and the whippers-in all carry radios, and so do Michael and Alan. That communications network is solely for the hounds’ protection. It allows Lilla to direct the whippers-in even over long distances when they are out of sight, allows Michael and Alan to position themselves along a stretch of road where a coyote (and thus the hounds) might try to cross, and allows everyone to communicate and get to hounds as needed.

I hopped in Michael’s truck once the hounds had moved off. When Lilla radioed that the hounds were heading into the Silo Covert, Michael drove on top of a rise to the south of the covert. From there, we could view a wide swath of landscape, keep tabs on the hounds, and speed back toward any of three roads that border that part of the country, if need be. Alan, in a second truck, was stationed exactly opposite our position, watching north and east across the same acreage.

“We always like to keep the hounds between us,” Michael explained.

The radio, seen here in a leather case attached to the saddle, is an important part of a whipper-in's equipment. The hunt staff, including Michael and Alan in their trucks guarding the roads, use radios to coordinate their positions in order to protect the hounds

We sat watching and waiting, following Lilla’s radio reports as she tried a few coverts without finding anything. Then she brought the hounds to Junior’s Scrub, a brushy area with a thickety treeline and tall grass. Suddenly: coyote scent. The hounds’ noses played rapidly along the ground, searching, trying to parse out the coyote’s path. The hounds’ movements became electric, and they waved their tails quickly from side to side, feathering, a sure sign that they smelled something.

Lilla’s voice crackled over the radio: “Hounds are in Junior’s Scrub. They’re really feathering. Bonus and Stifle are really trying to work something out.”

The view from Michael's dashboard

“It was one of those days when air is dead still,” Lilla said later. “Sound really carries on a still day like that, and I could even hear the traffic from all the way out on the interstate. I thought I’d try moving through coverts a little more quickly, because surely the coyotes would hear us coming. When the hounds came in to Junior’s Scrub and started feathering, my heart started beating.

“I thought might be an old, cold line. So I waited to let them work it out. When the hounds started to feather, I didn’t move my horse forward with them, because any sound would echo through the still air, and I didn’t want to to distract them. There was something there, but they couldn’t quite work it out, and I wanted to give them ample room and opportunity. The field was quiet too, which was helpful.”

And then, all at once, the hounds struck off.

“It was like a clap of thunder,” Lilla said. “There was no preliminary yipping, it was just BAM and they were off–really thrilling. I knew they’d worked the line out and were right on top of whatever it was.

“But it was like a bad dream, too, because the mud was so deep,” Lilla added. “The horses were being so careful, and you almost had to push them into a canter. It was slippery, and they had to take it down a gear, where on a regular day you could have run on. We just couldn’t move fast enough.”

As the hounds shot away from them, Lilla and the field on their horses were mired down, slowed by the heavy ground. Jumping coops was out of the question, and even getting through gates proved tricky.

“It was very slick in the gateways where the tractors had gone through the gates, and some of the ground was still frozen, so it  was treacherous going,” Lilla said. “We ended up far behind the hounds. It was a good example of why things are different when you’re hunting coyotes. Unlike foxes, coyotes just get out of there so fast. It’s harder to protect hounds’ safety on days like that because you can’t push your horse and can’t get to the hounds as quickly as you could on days when the footing is better.

“We knew the footing wouldn’t be great that day, but I didn’t think it would be that deep. Still, we had to get the hounds out.”

Two coyotes had run simultaneously out of Junior’s Scrub, one heading west and the other south, a common tactic coyotes often use to confuse a pursuer. This time, the ploy didn’t work especially well, because the main body of the pack, 15 hounds, stayed together in pursuit of the southbound coyote. One hound, young Griffin, headed west after the other.

Griffin on the fly.

From where we sat in his truck on the hill, Michael and I couldn’t hear the spine-tingling sound of the pack until Lilla came back on the radio, breathlessly giving directions at a gallop. In the background we could hear the pack, too, off in the distance.

“This is my favorite part of the hunt, even though I don’t see a lot of it,” Michael said. “This is what it’s all about.”

We sat tight for a moment, tensely listening for the next update that would tell us which direction hounds were running, and therefore which way we should head.

The radio crackled again, but this time it was all a muddle of strong wind, flapping saddle leather, and an unintelligible voice calling out. Static. More wind, and then the signal clarified into the voice of one of the whippers-in: “Tally-ho! They’re right on it!”

Another whipper-in cut in to say the hounds had turned south and were running along the banks of a wide creek, just at the bottom of coyote-rich Pauline’s Ridge. There was a pause when hounds lost the scent and wheeled around like a school of fish, tails feathering busily as they searched silently for the coyote’s line, and then full cry again! The whipper-in closest to the hounds reported the pack had climbed the ridge and turned east at the top.

Back on the road, Michael headed east, too, the radio signal fading out and in again as we negotiated turns and crested hills. Committing to the east was a gamble, as all decisions on the hunt field are, but it put Michael in a flexible position if hounds switched direction and headed south again, something Michael thought was a strong possibility. “If they keep going east, I’ll be right in position,” Michael explained. “If they head back south, from this road I can get south pretty fast.”

We roared along, waving to landowners as we rushed by and keeping our eyes open for the hunted coyote. Instead, we saw ponds, flocks of Canada geese, horses grazing peacefully in their paddocks. At one point we passed a yard where three house dogs sat in a line, bolt upright and ears pricked, clearly tuning in to the distant cry of the foxhound pack.

All seemed quiet and pastoral outside our windows, but inside the truck the excited radio transmissions described a dramatic chase as it unfolded. Radio messages poured in from Lilla, from whips in their various positions, from Alan in his own truck as they spotted hounds, heard hounds, or requested information to adjust their positions.

Then hounds did indeed turn again, as Michael thought they might, and headed back south–a path that would bring them onto a busy road if they didn’t lose the line first. Michael detoured onto the back roads, taking a short-cut to the street in question, near the hunt country’s southern border. Our goal now was to get to the road before the hounds did and stop any oncoming traffic.

File:Canis latrans2.jpg

Wikipedia photo

And then, as we came up a hill to the place where Michael anticipated coyote and hounds might try to cross, we saw it: the coyote, a big one with a heavy coat highlighted with tawny gold. He loped along across the top of a ridge we call Smitha’s Cliff, too far away for me to catch on camera, then disappeared into a dip near the road. The next few minutes were frantic. Hounds, no longer speaking but still on the line of the coyote, appeared on the ridge and ran on. We backtracked, and so did Alan, just in time to see the coyote cross the road. That, we now knew, was the path the hounds would take, too. Michael and Alan braked, hopped out of their trucks, and stationed themselves along the road, arms spread wide, to stop oncoming cars and trucks.

Before they reached the guard rail on the road’s north side, the hounds were speaking again. They squirmed under the rail and screamed across the road, barely conscious of us as they passed. They were focused on one thing: following that coyote.

The coyote, meanwhile, had leaped up the rocky hillside on the opposite side of the road. He still had a significant lead over the hounds, and he made good use of it, skipping over the top of the ridge and disappearing. The hounds streamed after him but went silent along the top of the ridge, out of our sight. Their quarry evidently had made it to safety in a hole among the rocks and trees, and the hounds gradually began to filter back down the hillside toward the road again.

Lilla, hampered by the treacherous ground, was riding five or ten minutes minutes behind the hounds and still hadn’t made it to the road. By the time she arrived, Michael and Alan had held the road safe for the hounds. Lilla decided that, given the exhausting ground conditions, it was best to call it a day after a ripping welcome-back coyote run.

By day’s end, horses had gone 16 miles round trip over some of the most testing ground the hunt had ever faced.

The end of the day

Michael and Alan, who carry tracking equipment to track any hounds that are late in returning, loaded up the hounds. The hounds were damp from running through the wet thickets and mud. A few ears were scratched by brambles, but the hounds’ eyes shone with the startling intensity that working hounds are famous for. Sayso, below, is a good example. She came back when called, but her eyes suggest that, in her mind, she was still homing in on that coyote.

Sayso, a daughter of our beloved Stalker. She picked up some bramble scratches on her ear in the thick coverts, but she doesn't appear to care. How about those amazing eyes!

We headed back to the kennel, but for the kennel guys the day was far from done. While Alan attended to the hounds he’d picked up, returning them to the hound trailer at the meet, Michael pulled into a nearby farm to make sure a farmer’s gate we’d used was shut and locked, as the farmer wanted it. Michael counted up hounds as he went, to make sure everyone was accounted for. Griffin, the hound that followed the westbound coyote by himself at the start of the run, had hooked up with the hilltoppers, and Michael wanted to be sure he’d returned to the meet with them without incident.

Poor Griffin missed all the excitement. He eventually lost his coyote and came back looking for the rest of the pack, who had followed the southbound coyote. Along his way, he met up with the hilltoppers, who had not kept up with the first flight and therefore couldn’t return him to the pack. Horses, at least, were familiar, so he stayed with them until the end of the day when he was reunited with the pack back at the meet.

Joint-Master Miller confirmed for Michael that Griffin was safely in, and then Michael drove back to make sure the road signs warning about horses and hounds had also been collected; they had.

Back at the kennels, the hunting hounds still needed their dinner, as well as a thorough examination to be sure bramble scratches were the only things the hounds had picked up on their run across country. The hounds that hadn’t hunted also were waiting for their turnout time in the paddock. The puppies, having spent several hours out, were now ready to come back in.

It was, like most days at the kennel, a long day for Alan and Michael. But it was worthwhile, especially knowing that the hounds they care for had performed so well.

“This is a blast to me,” Michael said. “It’s what I live for, chasing these hounds. I get depressed just like they do if the weather’s bad and we can’t hunt. We spend the whole year getting them ready for this, it’s what they’re about and what I’m about, and I love it.”