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!

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.”

Summer strolls

The BA puppies are taking their first summer walks with older members of the pack this summer.

AND SO we come back to where we started–on summer hound walk! Driver has yet to make his debut, but the year-old BA puppies are gradually being introduced to the working pack. At this early stage, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason is bringing them out in small groups with some of the older hounds, who can lead by example as the youngsters meet up with new sights, smells, and adventures off leash and away from the kennel. Cattle are one of the important new sights and smells combined, and it’s crucial that the puppies get a good introduction to them, because once they join the pack on hunts, the hounds must be able to ignore cattle (and their scent) when tracking coyotes. The quarry often will run through cattle in an attempt to foil the scent, and hounds must maintain professionalism under those circumstances, parsing out the coyote’s scent without disturbing the cattle.

The Iroquois pack’s early summer walks take place in a large cow pasture. That gives the hounds the opportunity to work around cattle every day, to learn that they are simply part of the landscape, and to grow comfortable with them.

In the video, you’ll recognize quite a few of the puppies: Bangle, Banknote, and Bailey feature prominently!

Other goals on hound walk: to teach the puppies to come, even when something interesting has their attention, and to introduce the concept of working as a pack. It’s early days yet, and the walks at the moment are very gentle affairs as the puppies explore the wonders of the cow pasture, particularly the pond, where they take a dip twice in the course of the walk. But everything serves training.

The hounds clearly enjoy wading and chasing the biscuits Lilla tosses for them in the pond.

Stay tuned for more of their adventures, including Driver’s debut on summer walk!

All hail Hailstone!

Iroquois Hailstone with huntsman Lilla Mason (kneeling) and (back row, left to right) Jim Maness, kennel manager Michael Edwards, Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller, Sally Lilly, Cice Bowers, and Cooper Lilly, and (front row, left to right) Peggy Maness and Robin Cerridwen.

THE RESULTS  from the Virginia Foxhound Show are in! The big Iroquois news from the show was Hailstone’s victory over a crowded and highly competitive group in the Single Crossbred Dog – Entered class. He showed well throughout the class, demonstrating great composure despite the crowded showring and the Virginia heat, and he wowed ’em with his beautiful way of going.

Judge Tony Leahy took his time looking over the doghounds in Hailstone’s class, and it’s easy to see why. They were a gorgeous group, and we’re so proud of Hailstone for putting in a performance that helped him stand out in such a group.

You can see Hailstone’s class, which was one of the largest and toughest of the day, below.

Other highlights of the day:

Dragonfly ’07 finished second in the Best English Brood Bitch class, a real testament to her value for the Iroquois breeding program. As the dam of our promising young puppy Driver, she’s already proving her worth!

Sassoon ’04 came up against Live Oak Maximus, the eventual grand champion foxhound, in his class (Single English Dog – Entered) but showed himself with his typical dazzling presence and that charming face. He placed fourth.

Stanway ’08 finished third in the Single English Bitch – Entered class, another encouraging result for the Iroquois breeding program. Stanway is by our handsome stallion hound, the late Gangster.

Iroquois Sassoon, in the ring with Peggy Maness (left) and huntsman Lilla Mason, finished fourth in the Single English Dog - Entered class.

The Puppy Report: Not all of our youngsters showed with confidence, but there were two particularly important positives for them. Driver and the BAs got strongly favorable reviews from English judge Nigel Peel, who noted that they were showing against older puppies and, while less mature than many of their show-ring rivals, they were beautiful hounds who will have promising futures. That’s the kind of take-home message any hound person loves to hear, especially from a judge as well-regarded as Peel.

And the pups gained vital experience in the deep end of the hound-show pool, experiencing a road trip, a stay away from home, several hundred new hounds, countless spectators, golf carts crunching along on gravel, big fancy hats, hordes of babies and toddlers, and lots of other entirely new things.

We should point out that Bagshot showed well, and Bailey and Barwick received third place in the Couple of English Dogs – Unentered class!

Handlers and hounds at Morven Park on Saturday, the day before the Virginia Hound Show.

We’re proud of everyone!

Over the next few days, we’ll post more video from this extraordinary–and extraordinarily beautiful and old-fashioned–hound show, and we’ll give a more complete description of the Virginia trip, too. With pictures! But for now, your houndbloggers are going … to … go … get … some … sleep.

It’s show time! Hound Show Primer (with video)

The Iroquois Hunt's young hounds--Paper, Gaelic and Hailstone, in this picture--are preparing for the season's hound shows

THE Kentucky countryside is lush and green, and hunt season has been over since the end of March. We’ve put our wool hunt coats in the closet until next fall. But some of the Iroquois hounds are still at work. This time, they’re preparing for upcoming hound shows.

How a hound performs on the hunt field–its fitness for the breed’s purpose–is the ultimate test of a hound’s breeding and physical conformation. But the show ring presents a chance for hunts to get outside opinions on their hounds’ breeding programs–at least regarding conformation. Even so, as at any dog show, judges at hound shows have their own likes and dislikes, in addition to their opinions on what conformation works and what doesn’t. In other words, judging a hound isn’t simply an exact science, it’s also an art significantly colored by personal preferences.

One common bias, for example, is against broken-coated, or “woolly,” hounds. I was once asked to help our huntsman, Lilla Mason, show one of our woollies at the Mid-America hound show, and while the two judges were looking the hound over, I overheard one of say to the other, “You know you’d love that hound if I threw a bucket of water over his back!” The hound won, by the way, so I guess Judge A convinced Judge B!

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason trains the hounds for showing. They will be required to stand in a way that shows off their good conformation. Working hounds also are often shown off leash, galloping after thrown biscuits, so that judges can see their way of going.

The art of judging hounds is mysterious to me. Conformation faults that hound breeders can spot at 300 yards while wearing a blindfold are often invisible to me. Unless a hound’s leg is actually put on backwards, or it has three ears, I am probably going to miss whatever it is the judges find–especially at a show like the upcoming Virginia Hound Show, where the competition is so fierce that the judges will be asked to choose, time and again, the best of a perfect group of hounds and will have to get pretty nitpicky in order to determine winner from runner-up.

We got a chance to get a judge’s eye view at a recent open house at the Iroquois kennel. Lilla and Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller have been working with the hounds that are candidates to show this summer (Iroquois joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell will be judging the American hounds this year at the Virginia Hound Show; because Iroquois only has English and crossbred hounds–meaning English crossed with Americans–he won’t be judging of his “home” pack!). At the open house, Jerry offered his view of some of the hounds’ conformation and Lilla described how she handles hounds in the show ring. Both talked about how important it is to build hounds’ confidence and obedience before shows. In a ring full of other hounds and other huntsmen tossing biscuits, Lilla’s hounds have to be able to concentrate on her and her alone–a big task for some puppies, for whom everything is new! Hound shows may be something of a beauty contest, but training for them also serves a good purpose on the hunt field, too, by reinforcing this concentration and attention to the huntsman.

IHC member Cooper Lilly says hello to one of his favorite hounds, Payton, a winner at the Virginia Hound Show in 2007.

We’ve followed Driver’s progress since he was a not-so-tiny pup, and in mid-April he got rave reviews from visiting huntsmen who toured the Iroquois kennel as part of the Master of Fox Hounds Association’s biennial hunt staff seminar.

So we were especially interested to hear Jerry’s remarks about Driver now that he is developing into an about-to-be-entered hound (he’ll join the Iroquois pack this coming fall). Below, you’ll find a video showing Jerry’s take on the strapping young doghound, who is still developing as he reached his first birthday this month.

Jerry compared Driver favorably to some of the younger puppies, who were born about a month after he was last year, noting that Driver naturally has got more muscle development this year. His chief attribute, not surprisingly, is power. He springs lightly over the ground with little apparent effort, and he has a ground-eating stride. Lilla’s task with him is to control his exuberance and maintain his concentration, and in this clip you see some of the strategies she has to use in the show ring, such as keeping the hound far enough away from her so that they don’t hold their heads up too high in the air, which makes their necks and shoulders difficult for a judge to assess accurately.

As a reminder, Driver is one of our English hounds. Iroquois imported his mother, Dragonfly, from the North Cotswold.

While working with young Battle, one of the BA litter out of our imported English hound Cottesmore Baffle, Lilla and Jerry pointed out some of the finer points of hound conformation: does his left paw turn in slightly or does it not? These are the kinds of details that an experienced judge will be focusing on, especially when presented with a ring full of uniformly high-quality hounds like those at the Virginia Hound Show. Lilla and Jerry also provided a lot of insight into the art of showing hounds effectively. There are strategies a huntsman can use to, as the song goes, accentuate the positive and “lowlight” the negative in a hound’s conformation, and a hound’s own personality can also make showing him easier or harder. A shy hound, for example, is difficult to show and is far less likely to earn a good mark than a more exuberant one who appears enthusiastic in the ring. More on showring strategy later this week, including a lesson we can take from hound-show training and apply to better behavior in our house dogs! Except probably for Harry the charming villain.

In addition to discussing hound conformation, Jerry also touched on some of the history of modern hound breeding, specifically how the size of English hounds has changed somewhat over the decades. He also talked a little about the differences between chasing fox and chasing coyote, effectively a change of the working foxhound’s job description. To hear a short clip on those topics, see the video below.

The Virginia Hound Show is coming up on May 30, and we’ll keep you posted on the hounds and their training between now and then!