What we’ve been doing this summer

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!

A party for Harlequin!

Cheers to Harlequin! Photo by Peggy Maness. Click to enlarge!

FRIDAY evening had a golden sunset–what a fitting display for the sunset of Harlequin’s hunting career and the start of his golden years!

Harlequin, nicknamed “The Boomerang” by the hunt staff, is one of our most remarkable hounds. To read his story, click here. But we’ll give you a taste of the kind of foxhound this rebel-turned-leader was with this excerpt:

“I can tell you he was a good leader,” Lilla says. And I’ll turn the mike over to Lilla to tell you how, because she tells the tale better than anyone, having seen it first hand:

“One time hounds were in a covert in Possum Hollow, and it had been a blank day up to that point, dry and hot, one of those days in the drought. It seemed hopeless. But we got in Possum Hollow, and one hound spoke, then two hounds spoke, and then they just erupted. At the very west end of Possum Hollow, out popped a coyote. There just happened to be a medium-sized cow standing there eating by itself. It had obviously gotten out of the field where it belonged. When the coyote came out of the covert, the cow took off and ran down the fenceline. The coyote got right underneath it and ran along with it for about 200 or 300 yards. Then the coyote turned right under the cow and went straight west while the cow continued on north.

Harlequin enjoyed hearing huntsman Lilla Mason tell his story. Photo by Peggy Maness.

“That particular day, we had a few older hounds and a lot of younger hounds, because the fixture was a good place to bring younger hounds. One of older hounds was Harlequin. The hounds came spilling out of covert in full cry, but when they got out they quickly had a check, I suppose because they could smell that cow. We’d all seen the coyote come out, but the cow had foiled his scent. So the hounds swirled around and around, and it was Harlequin that left the group and went up and down that fence line, up and down, again and again. You could see he smelled smething but wasn’t sure. But then he struck off on the line right where the coyote had split off from the cow, like he was saying, ‘Here it is! Here it is!’

“He was that kind of hound: he would rely on himself to help. He puzzled it out, and he was the one who went back on his own to do that. And that does a lot for the puppies coming along, when you have a seasoned hound like that to lead your puppies. That what makes your puppies.”

Harlequin arrives for his retirement party with escorts Michael Edwards (kennel manager) and Amy Dillon. Photo by Peggy Maness.

We auctioned tickets to Harlequin’s retirement party at the Hound Welfare Fund’s 2010 fundraising dinner and auction in March, and what a perfect evening it was. The location was a lovely refurbished log cabin, owned by Iroquois president Derek Vaughan and his wife Neal, that sits on the palisades above Boone Creek and the old Grimes Mill that serves as the Iroquois Hunt’s headquarters. Tucked away in the woods and surrounded by gardens, the cabin provided a perfect setting for Harlequin to receive his guests. Foremost among those was Betsy van Nagell, wife of joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell, and a special friend to this special hound. Huntsman Lilla Mason explained why when she took the floor to honor Harlequin: at hunt meets, when she and kennel manager Michael Edwards would count hounds, they often would turn up one hound–or a half-couple, as foxhunters say–short in the count. They’d count again, maybe even debate how many they’d brought, and then one of them would spot the “missing” hound. That would be Harlequin, who, upon being let out of the hound trailer would head straight off for Betsy and sit down next to her horse. Every. single. time. He would gaze adoringly up at her, and nothing would divert his attention from the object of his affection.

Harlequin (Shamrock Xray '96-Bicester Harmony '97), by Peggy Maness

Betsy loves Harlequin as much as he loves her, and his retirement party was made possible in large part by her generous donation, including the Moet & Chandon Champagne whose corks popped cheerfully before the big toast to the evening’s star.

Harlequin with his closest friend, Betsy van Nagell (right). Photo by Peggy Maness.

The Hound Welfare Fund thanks Betsy not only for her contributions to Harlequin’s party, but also for her years of support for the fund. We also thank Derek and Neal Vaughan for opening their cabin for this special occasion, caterer Cooper Vaughan of Dupree Catering for a splendid repast, and photographer and frequent Hound Welfare Fund volunteer Peggy Maness for capturing it all in pictures.

Thanks are also due to the many hound lovers, Iroquois members and non-members alike, who have helped to make wonderful retirements like Harlequin’s possible. Thanks to your support, the Iroquois Hunt retires all of its hounds, allowing them to live out their days in comfort at the kennel and to pass away peacefully and with dignity when the times comes.

The Iroquois Hunt has been around for more than 125 years. It was founded in 1881 in a very different era, and it has endured in large measure because its members and Masters have been responsible stewards who maintained the hunt’s good name and honorable reputation among landowners and in the larger community. It’s in this spirit that the Hound Welfare Fund continues the tradition of responsible breeding, care, and retirement for every member of the hunt’s working pack–a tradition that also burnishes the good name of the Iroquois Hunt Club, and, by extension, that of its members, both hunting and social.

An elegant setting for Harlequin's party.

All of our hounds are valuable to us, and, frankly, it’s not easy to come up with just one as our annual Retiree of the Year!

So, please, wherever you are, please raise a glass to Harlequin, and to all the other hounds you know. They deserve it!

Private Hunt with Iroquois Hounds offers rare insider’s view

 

Six members who purchased the private hunt at the 2009 Hound Welfare Fund auction got a close view of the hunt from the huntsman's perspective, as well as a tailgate and Champagne

Seven members who purchased the private hunt at the 2009 Hound Welfare Fund auction got a close view of the hunt from the huntsman's perspective, as well as a tailgate and Champagne

WEDNESDAY marked a special occasion, and the Iroquois hounds seemed to know it! One of the groups that bought a private hunt with the Iroquois hounds back in May at the Hound Welfare Fund dinner and auction scheduled their hunt that day, and so 1o couple of hounds, the full staff, the field secretary, and both Masters met at Dulin’s for an intimate meet. The field consisted of just seven riders, the “syndicate” that had purchased the privilege of spending a day out just for themselves.

They had asked to spend the morning learning as much as they could and seeing the hunt as much through huntsman Lilla Mason’s eyes as they could, and, by all accounts, it gave them a new perspective on hunting. The day began with a stirrup cup with port and sherry on offer.

Although the weather was gray, rain held off. It was a great day for the hounds and the riders, who got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ride in the huntsman’s hip pocket, so to speak, and listen in on the staff radio to hear everything that happened. Call it a backstage pass to the hunt, complete with detailed commentary from Lilla.

Huntsman Lilla Mason speaking at the meet

Huntsman Lilla Mason speaking at the meet

In planning the hunt, Lilla had asked Eloise Penn–who bid for the private hunt on behalf of the syndicate at the auction–what the group wanted to gain from their private hunting day.

“I told her, ‘I want to be inside your head. I want you to tell me what you’re doing and why,'” explained Eloise. “And she did. It was amazing.”

The field consisted of Eloise, Nancy Clinkinbeard, Cheri Pulliam Clark, Debbie Jackson, Maggie Wright, Mary Moraja, and Catherine Breathnach, whose husband Cormac also was a whipper-in. 

“I had no idea the amount of communication that has to go on between Lilla and the whips and the Masters about the hounds,” Eloise said. “I don’t know how Lilla can process all that information and do it so fast! It was overwhelming to me. And she has to make decisions right now. There isn’t time for thinking.

“We, as riders following Lilla, we’re back there having a good time, and we have no idea how much pressure is on her and how much she has to think about. When you’re in her back pocket like we were on Wednesday, it’s entirely different. It was a great educational day for the hounds, especially the puppies, and for us, too.”

Eloise Penn, far left, with MFH Jack van Nagell and Field Secretary Betsy van Nagell at the meet. "I can't remember the last time I had that much fun," Eloise said of the day.

Eloise Penn, far left, with MFH Jack van Nagell and Field Secretary Betsy van Nagell at the meet. "I can't remember the last time I had that much fun," Eloise said of the private hunt day.

Oh, yes, Paper was in attendance! He provided good entertainment early on when he appeared with his toy du jour (an empty plastic bottle this time) but he soon got down to the business of exploring coverts, which are especially thick this year. Seeing him also was a real highlight for Eloise.

“There was Paper, kind of looking up at me, and I said, “Hey, Paper, how are you?'” Eloise said. “And he cocked his head, like he was thinking, ‘Oh, she knows my name! Hi, how are you?’

“It made me feel so good to know a hound’s name. It really does make a difference when you know their names. It makes you appreciate them even more.”

Paper on the move!

Paper on the move!

After the hunt, the Hound Welfare Fund provided a tailgate of tomato soup with chili vodka (see recipe below), sandwiches (cherry tomato and brie, ham and Colman’s English mustard, and roast chicken with chive mustard butter), slabs of French vanilla pound cake, apple-cranberry casserole, and potato and tortilla chips with spinach artichoke dip, along with coffee, beer, or bottled water.

We’ve had several requests for the recipe for the soup. We thought for half a minute about trying to pass it off as an old family recipe perfected over generation after generation in the kitchens of ye olde Englande, but, well, actually we just got it out of The Field magazine, a favorite occasional luxury at Beagle House.  Here it is, if you’d like to try it yourself (and it is very warming after a cold day out hunting):

FOR THE VODKA, you’ll need four chilis, split. The recipe calls for “scary-hot habaneros,” but our chef used two giant jalapenos.

FOR THE SOUP, you’ll need

  • 4 celery sticks
  • 4 small carrots
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 hot chili pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 50 grams or 2 ounces butter
  • 5 tins premium chopped tomatoes, preferably good Italian ones (or so advises the all-knowing Field, with whom we are afraid of arguing!)
  • 1.5 liters or 2.5 pints of chicken or vegetable stock (our chef used chicken)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

From here we quote The Field, adding our own chef’s observations occasionally:

About a week before you want to make the soup, start by adding the split chili peppers to the bottle of vodka. It will be quite powerful after only a couple of days if that’s all the time you’ve got, but even better if you hang on for a week. (We had 24 hours, and, besides, we wanted to avoid causing any of the tailgaters to burst into flames, so we just left two in the bottle overnight)

Now go out and buy a hand blender, the most powerful you can find. Finely chop all the vegetables except the tomatoes and sweat them in a big pan with the butter for 10 minutes or so. … Add the stock and the tinned tomatoes, then simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Whizz the soup up until fully blended (with the hand blender), then pass it through a sieve (we didn’t do this, preferring it to remain a little thicker for the tailgate). Season well and transfer to a warmed thermos. Add as much chili vodka to each mug as is seemly and enjoy.

FYI, this recipe and several others that are equally wonderful-sounding are in the current issue of The Field, available at Joseph-Beth for about half your children’s college fund or several years of board for your horse. But the pictures, in fairness, are GORGEOUS, and the recipes are really, really good. Why not splurge?

The small field enjoyed an unusually close view of the hounds

The small field enjoyed an unusually close view of the hounds

By the way, we mentioned that the private hunt was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That’s not entirely accurate: you can bid for yours at the next Hound Welfare Fund auction on March 20! And remember … those winning bids are fully tax-deductible, and 100 percent of the money donated goes straight the retired hounds. We hope to see you there–and on the hunt field!

See you out hunting!

See you out hunting!