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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hound of the Day: Battle

Battle at work.

BATTLE is one of the Iroquois pack’s younger hounds. A member of the BA litter we’ve been following since their birth, he joined the working pack in 2010. But he’s already distinguishing himself.

The March 5 hunt was a great one, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason reported. A gray fox led the hounds and the field of horses and riders on a rapid tour of the local coverts. “He came out of Bud’s covert and went to Tommy’s Dove Field, then through the Deer Covert, over to the Silo Pond Covert and on through the Cabin Covert, and then over to Murphy’s Covert, through Barker’s, and into the cliff behind the Schwartzes’ place,” Lilla said. “They finally lost the scent near there.”

Lilla collected the hounds, trotted them down a nearby road, and put them into a covert behind Pauline’s. “They immediately found a coyote, and we ran through Pauline’s Ridge, through Garden’s Bottom, through Gentry Cliff, over to the covert behind Robertson’s, through Athens Woods,” she said. “We went 14 miles in an hour and 15 minutes.”

On this outstanding day, young Battle came to the fore. “He’s always been in there doing the right thing, but all of a sudden that day he really came to life. He has the confidence to try to help on his own. When they would get at a check, he immediately would cast himself around like the older hounds do. Sometimes when a puppy does that they’ll keep looking up, like they’re wondering, ‘Am I going to get left behind? Do I really know what I’m doing? What’s the hound doing over there?’ They’re a little more jealous of each other. But Battle was doing what I call turning into a machine. That’s when they’re so efficient, and they know exactly how to frantically try to find the line again. They do it without even thinking; it’s instinct. He was just like an older, seasoned hound.

Battle on the trot.

“He’s gotten to be so big and rangy and strong,” she added. “He was always a confident hound, but now it’s the kind of confidence that if there’s a problem on a hunt, he can help with it.”

Battle’s BA littermates also performed well. “All day, you could have thrown a blanket over them,” Lilla said. “Everyone stayed up, and everyone was a help. And it went so fast. They were awesome.”

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.

A memorial, things to ponder, and a puppy Smilebox

Brownell and Bear, as captured by their close friend Debbie Jackson, on Thanksgiving Day 2007. We love you, Brownell, and we will miss your gallant partner, too.

WE begin on a sad note. The houndbloggers wish to send condolences to Iroquois Field Master Brownell Alexander Clark on the recent loss of her close friend, that most gallant field hunter Bear. We hope to write a fuller tribute to this brilliant and kind gentleman in the coming weeks, but, for now, we think there can be no better tribute than this beautiful photograph taken by Iroquois member Debbie Jackson. It’s the perfect image and says everything there is to say about Brownell and her Bear: impeccable, elegant, sporting, joyous, entirely at ease in the natural world, and in absolute harmony with each other, the ideal partnership.

Of hunters and habitat

The Associated Press printed this worrying statement this week in an article: “Hunting’s popularity has waned across much of the country as housing tracts replace forests, aging hunters hang up their guns, and kids plop down in front of Facebook rather than venture outside.”

Hunting with hounds depends on countryside and wildlife preservation--and on the generosity of landowners to keep their country open and undeveloped

Whatever your views on deer and dove hunting, or indeed other forms of hunting not involving horses and hounds, the loss of land is a major concern for foxhunters, too. And as the hunting population dwindles, more land could be under threat for development, which means loss of wildlife habitat and, in turn, loss of wildlife. So all those kids who are tuned in to Facebook might never get a chance to see a fox, unless it is scavenging among their families’ trash cans. And loss of habitat affects not just game animals like foxes and coyotes; it also takes out everything from field mice to herons to bears. From the AP article:

“‘As paradoxical as it may seem, if hunting were to disappear, a large amount of the funding that goes to restore all sorts of wildlife habitat, game and nongame species alike, would disappear,’ said Steve Sanetti, National Shooting Sports Foundation President.

“Hunting generates billions in retail sales and pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into government conservation efforts annual through license sales and federal taxes on firearms an ammunition sales.”

On horseback and in the country, not in front of a TV or computer screen! Some of the young riders pose with huntsman Lilla Mason at a children's meet this year at Iroquois.

As the story points out, hunting is still a pastime–or, in times of deep recession, a necessity to put food on the table–for millions of Americans. But as suburbs encroach, hunters age, and outdoor life slips lower on citizens’ list of activities, the implications for all outdoor sports are alarming. In Pennsylvania, hunting license sales have dropped 20 percent in the last 20 years. One of the effects? The state game commission has had to trim its pheasant repopulation program.

Nature lovers, hunters, conservationists, and family farmers should be natural allies in the effort to preserve natural habitat and the wildlife that live there. Because, as Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Gerald Feaser told the AP, “Whole farms turned into housing developments or shopping malls. Once that land is lost, you can’t get it back.”

Yoicks, indeed

Did you know that Manhattan was a foxhunting center for 70 years? It’s true, according to a great old story the houndbloggers found in a 1941 edition of The New Yorker magazine. The short piece featured an interview with J. Blan van Urk, author of the two-volume set “The Story of American Foxhunting.” Volume I was published in 1941, prompting The New Yorker‘s visit to van Urk’s apartment in the Dryden Hotel on 39th Street. Van Urk explained that foxhunting was a craze in the Big Apple between 1750 and 1820.

From the resulting story:

“The town was absolutely foxhunting mad in those days,” he said enthusiastically. …

In those days, the greater part of Manhattan, with the exception of a few rustic villages uptown, consisted of marshes, grassy valleys, and wooded uplands, with a few orchards and cleared fields here and there–ideal coursing country.  Foxes were indigenous to the island, and you could pretty well count on starting one on the upper West Side. The big, highly organized hunts–the three biggest were the St. George, the Colonial, and the Belvidere–often set out from Cato’s Inn, which stood in what is now East 54th Street, two hundred feet east of Third Avenue. It was famous for its food, brandy, and Havana cigars.”

A local fox. Can anyone remind me who sent this wonderful photograph in? UPDATE: Thank you, Nancy Clinkinbeard! Nancy reminds us that she sent in this photograph, which was taken by Doug Watkins.

It is here that we must mournfully report that bagged foxes were commonly turned out at Cato’s Inn, a deplorable practice that rightly is considered unsporting and, well, shameful. Tsk, tsk, tsk on Manhattan’s early foxhunters!

The magazine reporter asked van Urk how he thought an old-fashioned Manhattan run might have gone, assuming it started in the East 50s, and here was van Urk’s answer:

“Naturally,” he said, “the fox wouldn’t head for the river. He’d head over toward the Waldorf-Astoria and Rockefeller Center. If he turned north, he’d have a choice of three or four courses in the rocks and hollows of what is now Central Park. If he turned south, he might find temporary sanctuary in the Inclenburg Woods, which covered Murray Hill then. Routed from there, he might skirt the edge of Sunfish Pond, now occupied by the Vanderbilt Hotel, and head for the woods of West 42nd Street, going through the fur-and-garment district.”

That’s pretty ironic. Or daring. Van Urk continued:

“A stouthearted fox might go south along Fifth Avenue, through Greenwich Village, and all the way down to Canal Street before he was caught.”

Or not caught, if he found a nice place to go to ground. Today, of course, finding any place to go to ground would be more difficult, owing to the vast amount of urban concrete in today’s Manhattan. What was it we were just reading about land preservation?

Puppies, puppies, puppies!

Meanwhile, back at the kennel … Baffle and Hawkeye’s puppies are growing! They’re also exploring everything in their nursery, as you can tell from the collection of photos here by the intrepid amateur photographer Dave Traxler. These photos were taken on Dec. 5. Is there anything better for the holiday season than warm, wiggly puppies? No, I didn’t think so!

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We’ll continue to keep you up to date as the puppies grow and as their training progresses. In the meantime, Happy Holidays, everyone!

Hound of the Day: Dragonfly

WEDNESDAY dawned chilly, with the season’s first light frost and thin fog here and there. A perfect morning to start the houndbloggers’ hunting season! We missed the first hunt of the informal cubhunting season on Oct. 2 in order to attend the World Equestrian Games, and we were glad to be back out again in the hound truck with Michael Edwards, the Iroquois kennel manager and a road whip for the hunt.

Huntsman Lilla Mason, on the bay horse, and joint-Master Jerry Miller discuss the morning's strategy with the whippers-in at Wednesday's meet. Iroquois joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell is visible to the left and behind Lilla, mounted on a gray horse.

The fog gave way to golden sunlight as hounds met at Foxtrot. Wednesday’s pack marked the debut of several of the year-old puppies, including Driver (whose mother, Dragonfly also hunted Wednesday and is our hound of the day!). Lilla opted to introduce the 10 puppies in small groups rather than all at once, and Driver had been angry not to be chosen in the first group of three that went out on Oct. 2. According to Lilla and Michael, he threw a bit of a tantrum over being left behind, flinging himself against his kennel gate and howling his disappointment.

Dragonfly's son Driver, second from right, was glad to make his debut.

So Wednesday was a day of great excitement for Driver and Bangle, also hunting for her first time, as well as for the houndbloggers. We feel as if we’ve been too long away from the hounds, and it was good to see them again.

It was also a day of lessons for Driver and the BA litter puppies who are brand-new to the chase.

If anticipation has a sound, this is it. These are the hounds waiting to get off their hound trailer at the meet. As Michael prepared to unload them, they followed his every move. This video also includes some distant footage of a coyote we spotted mousing in the afternoon after scent had all but burned away.

Speaking of the heat, it’s worth noting the scent conditions. After a very wet spring, we have had drought conditions for the last half of the summer. If you’ve been watching the World Equestrian Games, you can see the frizzled, brown grass around and get some idea of the Sahara conditions after a rainless nine weeks in the Bluegrass country!

The wet early spring produced thick, scrubby coverts, but the drought and temperatures heading back into the 80s (is it really October?) mean there’s almost no scent to speak of.

Last year, curiously, we had much the same weather pattern, and when cubhunting season rolled around, it seemed as if there were no game at all. In retrospect, here’s what we think happened: in the hot, dry autumn weather, coyotes figured out that, under such poor scenting conditions, they could lie low in the thick coverts. Instead of running out in the open across the fields, they could simply creep from covert to covert with less fear than usual of raising a strong scent for hounds to pick up.

“Early in the season, what you really want is for the hounds to stay in the covert that you’re drawing until you move on to the next covert,” Lilla explained. “Otherwise, puppies will get left behind or hounds will get into another covert and possibly get on a run before puppies even have time to honor the cry.”

To help keeps hounds in covert, Lilla asks the whippers-in to surround the covert. That way, when a hound–particularly a puppy–pops out of the covert and sees a whipper-in, it’s more likely to return to or stay near the covert rather than independently move off to the next one. The whippers-in stationed around the covert also serve as extra sets of eyes on the huntsman’s behalf.

A stirrup cup always adds a little cheer!

“I had two and a half couple of puppies out,” Lilla said. “That’s not that many, but when you try to put them in corn for the first time, it’s not very inviting to them. You have to rely on the older hounds to convince the puppies. So I stood there for a while. I had two first-time puppies, Driver and Bangle, with me. They stuck their noses in the corn, but there were thorns and things, and at first they decided, ‘No, I don’t think so,’ and they stayed with me. But then the older hounds started speaking, and suddenly they wanted to go in the corn. That was great. The older hounds’ voices draw the puppies into the corn, and then they want to stay in there, because they get excited about the fun going on there.

“Corn is a good way to teach puppies to draw a covert, but in some corn fields there can be weeds and thorns and things in there, too. But they get in there, and they follow the other hounds and hear the other hounds. It can make for good training.”

Backfire: keen as mustard

Hounds spoke in the corn, and the coyote ran around and around, and then joint-Master Jerry Miller spotted six couple of hounds running the line into the Cabin Covert.

“So I moved the rest of them into the Cabin Covert,” Lilla said. “They spoke there, and then a coyote was viewed away from the east end of the Cabin Covert.”

In the rising heat and dry conditions, the scent did not stick around for long, and the hounds cast themselves back into the corn in some beautiful hound work. They screamed off again in the corn, but lost once again. They cast themselves north and east toward the Silo Pond Covert, but with no success this time.

At this time of year and in these dry conditions, and given what the coyotes are doing–lying low in the thickest scrub–it’s more advantages out to cast those areas, because that’s where game is. So Lilla headed south with the pack toward one of the thickest, biggest, most inviting coverts in the area: Murphy’s Covert. Her plan: cast the hounds there in hopes of recovering the line.

All muscle: Dragonfly training at home before placing second in her class at the Virginia Hound Show this summer.

The grass on the way to Murphy’s Covert was tall, obscuring her view, and as she rode on, Jerry radioed again with a crucial piece of information: Dragonfly, with a few older hounds not far away from her, was behind Lilla and feathering madly–a sign that she had picked up scent. Dragonfly and these hounds, it appeared, had made a U-turn in the high grass and were working back north toward the Cabin Covert again, while Lilla, with the young hounds, was heading south.

No sooner had Jerry told this than Lilla heard a wonderful sound: Dragonfly’s voice, behind her.

“She opened up,” Lilla said. “Everybody immediately honored her, and I thought, ‘Well, I can count on that,’ and I encouraged the hounds with me to join her.”

Banker, recently arrived from the North Cotswold in England, got his first experience of the Kentucky countryside at the Foxtrot meet.

Lilla’s decision to count on Dragonfly proved wise. Dragonfly, an import last year from the North Cotswold in England, knew what she was doing. Lilla put her faith with this hound who had hunted only fox in England and smelled her first coyote just last year.

“Dragonfly was just screaming, and off they went again,” Lilla said. “You know, coyotes will do that. They’ll get behind you a lot. And Dragonfly was smart. I think she’ll really beginning to figure out coyotes. She turned around and went back, toward the direction we’d already come from, and a lot of the older hounds were with her. Most of the hounds that were with me that I was taking to Murphy’s Covert were younger, and that made me think I should go back to see. And, yes, she was right.

“That’s why you count on old hounds like that. They call it fox sense. Well, Dragonfly’s got coyote sense now. She might not have last year, but she sure does this year, and she showed it to me Wednesday.”

Goodbye, moles: Bangle on the move.

So how about Driver? How did he do on his first hunt?

“Driver and Bangle, it was their first day out, and so they didn’t want to go in the corn, and they were happy just to stay with me,” Lilla said. “When hounds spoke in the corn, they went in. But every time the hounds would quit speaking Driver would come out and start lollygagging about. Betsy, our field secretary, was standing out by herself, and she told me that Driver came galloping by her, as if he thought he’d just go off and explore on his own, maybe put his nose down and start investigating things.”

We’ve seen him do that early in his houndwalking days this summer, too.

“But suddenly Driver noticed her there on her horse, and she said he stopped as if he was startled to find her there. She got on the radio and told one of the whips he was over there. A whip came to get him back to the pack, and she said he glared at her, like he was saying, ‘You told on me, I know you did.’

Driver (center) back in April.

“His immaturity showed that day. We’ll bring him out every hunt day. Paper was the same way, if you remember. He would sort of play and pick up garbage, but then once the hounds started speaking he was always there.”

And Bangle?

“She got a little intimidated by all the horses, and at one point she got behind all the horses and couldn’t catch up to me. So I asked both fields to stop and I rode back there and got her eye and brought her forward. After that, she figured it out and knew not to get in back with the horses but to stay in front of them.”

Here’s another interesting side note about Bangle’s development. She might finally be outgrowing her mole hobby. Some people have a passion for fly-fishing, antique-collecting, or vintage cars. For Bangle, it was all about moles. It’s easy to see the appeal: they’re sniffable, they’re small and soft, and they probably make a pretty good snack if you dig down far enough to catch one before a whipper-in shows up to break up the party.

Yuck.

On hound walks, Bangle would slip away from the group and pull up to her favorite pasture for some digging–something the whippers-in and houndwalk volunteers quickly learned to anticipate and head off whenever possible. Because once Bangle was in her mole field, she was planning to be there as long as it took to find every single mole. (To see video of Bangle on summer walk–but no moles!–click the play button below)

But, on Wednesday, Lilla said, “I think Bangle is finally saying goodbye to the moles.”

I think we can all agree this is good news for both the hunt and the moles.

“On Wednesday, I saw her digging in a mole hole, and then the hounds went on past her,” Lilla continued. “She looked up at the hounds, looked at the mole hole, then looked up at the hounds again. She took a last look at the mole hole, and then said, ‘I think … I think I’m going to go with … the hounds.'”

Good call, Bangle!

The star pupil at the moment: Backfire. We’d all been eager to see this handsome guy out on the hunt field, because he seemed so sharp even on hound walk in his early days integrating with the pack. He seemed precocious, and now it looks like that initial impression is bearing out.

“Backfire is really turning on,” Lilla said of Backfire after his second hunt. “He’s learned to honor cry, he’s very quick to cry, he’s just alert. Hyper-alert. The minute he hears something, he’s over there to find out about it. It’s not like he just stands and cocks his head trying to decide what to do. He automatically does it. He still doesn’t know what his nose is, but he is really enjoying this. It’s like he’s thinking, ‘This glove fits. I can do this!’ He’s just crisp and sharp.”

Conclusion: “It was just a great day.”

Next up … More oddities and some great marathon driving from the World Equestrian Games!

Spinning the Golden Thread (with video!)

The van Nagells' Boone Valley Farm provided a splendid setting for an unusual training tactic by Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. Photo by Dave Traxler.

DRIVER and some of the BA puppies took it amiss when their huntsman, Lilla Mason, stopped walking out with them on foot and came out on horseback this past week. It’s a change that signals a transition from gentle, summertime on-the-ground training to faster-paced fitness work, but the year-old males weren’t so sure they liked this new way of doing things. They pouted and avoided looking up at her, even as their sisters went about business as usual.

Eye contact is important, Lilla explained.”It’s absolutely paramount,” she said. “On a hunt day, when I leave a meet, the first thing I do is call the name of each hound that’s hunting and I look them in the eye. It’s a way of saying hello to them, and it means I’ve got their eye. It means, ‘Okay, we’re a team now. I’m in control, I see you and you see me, and we’re on our way. We’re on a mission, and we’re a pack.’

One regular follower found a good way to keep her flash cards with the hounds' pictures handy!

“On a hunt day, if you can’t ride to the first covert, call a hound’s name, and have it look up at you, it’s not such a good thing. I don’t want them to tune me out going hunting.”

Bonsai says hello to Lilla during hound exercise on Sept. 5. Photo by Dave Traxler.

To reconnect with the year-old males, to “get their eyes” again, Lilla employed an unusual tactic at Boone Valley last Saturday. Instead of riding immediately, she started off the exercise by leading her horse as she walked with the hounds. The idea was to get the young hounds to associate her with her horse–in this case Bonfire–and to know that she is still the same leader she was for all those summer walks. This also let the puppies, male and female, get used to working close around Lilla’s horse.

As she and the hounds made their way around Boone Valley, Lilla alternated riding with walking, giving the once-pouty males every opportunity to see her on horseback while also letting them know that she is still among them and paying close attention to them. The hounds seemed to be learning this lesson.

And was there anything new that Lilla learned about them?

“One thing I see is that Driver really needs attention,” she said. “One interesting thing is that, you know, sounds echo. When you’re on a horse, you have to be very careful about when you do and don’t call hounds. If your voice echoes off a wall of trees, or if you’re in a low place, the sound comes to the hounds from another direction. You have to be careful when you call them when it’s windy, too, like it was Saturday. I could see the puppies looking around. There were also a lot of people out yesterday, and sometimes when I would call them they’d run to someone and then realize that wasn’t who called them. Then they’d come back to me. They need to focus more on just me and not other sounds.”

Tall grass and windy conditions were additional challenges for the hounds.

Now that Lilla is generally on horseback with the hounds, the puppies also must learn to be comfortable farther away from her, while still tuning in to her and coming back when called. Developing the trust to allow the hounds to work farther away is not always easy, but it’s critical for a hunt chasing the fast-running, wide-ranging coyote.

“An overly controlling person would want them right around their horse all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily serve me well during hunt season,” she said. “I could do that, go out on hound walk and have the whips keep them in really tight and under my horse’s legs, but then when hunt season comes and I want to cast them into a covert, why would they go away from me? I need them to have the freedom to go away from me. So, on hound exercise, I need them to be close to me, then away from me to a degree–but not as far as they might want to go–then stop when I stop and come back to me.”

Summer is finally beginning to turn into fall. The cooler temperatures are providing better scenting, and as the scent improves and hounds get fitter, the pack is readying to hunt. They got a chance during their last walk at the hog lot, where, suddenly, the older hounds in the group struck off in full cry on a hot coyote line. The puppies, who have yet to go hunting, knew there was some great excitement afoot … but what, exactly?

“You never realize how much hounds hunt by scent until you see puppies try to figure out what the heck the older hounds are doing with their noses,” Lilla said. “The hounds came right upon that coyote, and the older hounds got right behind it in full cry. The puppies, who were with me, heard it and decided to go toward the cry.”

When the older hounds stopped speaking and Lilla called, the puppies immediately headed back toward her. But when the older hounds spoke again, the puppies halted in their tracks, then heeded the sound of their packmates.

“They know they want to be over there where the older hounds are speaking,” Lilla said. “Every time the older hounds would make a lose and go quiet, the puppies would come right back to me. But when the older hounds would speak again, they’d go running over to them.

“They actually passed the coyote on their way to catch up with the older hounds! They may or may not have seen it, but they still don’t know what their noses are. They don’t know what they’re doing. It was funny to see that. The most exciting thing about hunting hounds is to see a puppy realize what it’s doing with its nose. That’s what they don’t know yet.”

Autumn’s in the air

The hounds with huntsman Lilla Mason on their Aug. 26 walk.

DID you catch a whiff of it this morning, too? The faint scent of autumn? The houndbloggers did. I love the smell of autumn. It reminds me that, no matter how miserably hot the summer, cooler weather–and hunt season–are right around the corner.

Cool temperatures also sharpen the hounds’ senses. They’re also fitter, and the puppies (Driver and the BA litter, all just over one year old), who have yet to join the pack out hunting, are getting clued in to the fact that there’s a point to all this training they’ve had on summer walk. By the way, they seem to be asking now that the air is cooler and morning scents are stronger, what’s that delicious smell?

“The challenge today is that it’s cool and the ground’s really moist,” Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason said. “The whips need to be on their toes to see if any of the hounds put their noses down. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if a puppy puts his nose down, but if you get some of the older hounds putting their noses down, you better watch out.”

A keen, fit pack of hounds plus cool air plus scent lines could equal chaos. The Iroquois hounds are keen, all right, but they were remarkably relaxed when the houndbloggers joined them on summer walk this morning. Their lessons about cattle also seem to be sticking. On Wednesday, Lilla brought 17 couple out for hound walk only to discover an entire herd of cattle had crowded up to the front of the field where she walks the  hounds.

“Cattle were stretched everywhere,” kennel manager Michael Edwards said. “Calves, mamas, bulls. Calves were running all over the pace, and these hounds were unbelievably good.”

Everything, at this point, can provide a good lesson for hounds that are almost ready to hunt–especially for the puppies, who are nearing their debuts with the working pack this fall. When two young women accompanying the hound walk on horseback began chatting, Lilla pointed out that the extra voices–while not ideal in the hunt field–could be useful today.

“They’ll have to get used to that in the hunt field,” Lilla said of the hounds. “They have to learn to distinguish my voice from other chatter.”

The hounds rushed into the pond, eager to play in the own waves and catch the biscuits Lilla threw to them. Paper, now an old hand at summer training, simply stood and waited for a biscuit to come his way.

"Toss a biscuit over here, please," says Paper.

“They’re ready to hunt,” Lilla said. “There’s not much else I can teach them on hound walk. They’ve learned to stay behind when I need them to, they’ve learned to stay with me. We’ve hit lines on certain days and gotten them off those and settled back down again. You can see that they’ll trot off and then turn around and check on where I am. I’m still carrying biscuits, but I’m not using them very much.

“They’re really on schedule,” she added. “Kind of ahead a schedule, really. We’re still working on a few little things. For example, when I say ‘Come behind,’ Bangle and Bandstand still shoot ahead. It isn’t a big deal, but I do need to fix those kinds of things. Out hunting, if I’m trotting toward a coop and say, ‘Come behind,’ if they get ahead I can’t jump the coop. They might get hurt. So I need to keep working with them on that.”

Lilla believes one reason the hounds stay so relaxed out walking even at this energizing time of year, is because the Iroquois kennel provides a lot of turnout. The hounds give themselves plenty of exercise in the 15-acre fenced paddock adjacent to their kennel, and even that has offered some unexpected training.

Three deer, Lilla explains, have taken to jumping into the hounds’ turnout pen. That gives the hounds more opportunity to get used to –and ignore–deer and their scent, and it seems to be working, because the deer keep jumping in. That’s a sign they don’t feel threatened by the hounds, which means the hounds aren’t pursuing them.

Pats all around from huntsman Lilla Mason and kennel manager Michael Edwards as the group pauses at Cormac's Elbow.

This seems a good time to get an update on Driver, whose first hound walk we remember so vividly! How has he progressed since June? There have been some surprises about this pupposaurus, Lilla tells us.

“He’s doing well, but he’s gotten shy a couple of times,” she explained. “One time we had to walk by some work trucks, and he was shy about that. I hope that was just because he was exposed to a new thing where he normally walks and that the shyness is something he’ll get over. But it’s something for the whips to keep in the back of their minds when we start hunting, to make sure nothing happens to make him scared or that, if he gets scared, he doesn’t get left behind, or something like that.

“That’s what the summer is for, to file away little personality traits or issues that might surface later and cause a problem,” she added.

Samson and Barman

This hound walk also marked the return of two much-loved English characters, Samson and Barman. Both haven been off in recent months due to health issues. Samson, whom you probably will remember very well as the opinionated traveler, had a tumor removed from his right hind leg back in February and looks to be back in good form. No doubt he’ll be glad to get back to hunting! Last season, despite his imperious style at the airport, Samson turned out to be a surprisingly laid-back hound who also helped another import, Strawberry, figure out the new surroundings shortly after their arrival from England.

Red-and-white Samson

Barman was taken out of the hunting pack after having a seizure and is now doing very well on the anti-seizure medication phenobarbital. Fortunately, both phenobarbital and potassium bromide–the two treatments of choice for seizures in dogs–are both highly effective and relatively inexpensive.

Barman, one of the kennel's Big Men on Campus.

Phenobarbital is something the houndbloggers know a little bit about, thanks to our late king of the household and his successor, Felix and Harry. Felix had epilepsy, and Harry, too, has had seizures regularly; in both dogs, the seizures were controllable by one or the other medication at a very doable price.

We’re very glad to see two of our most personable hounds, Samson and Barman, back at work!