ON Saturday, the annual Blessing of the Hounds will mark the transition from October’s informal part of the hunt season (generally known as cubhunting or autumn hunting) to the formal months that run from November until March. Blessing Day is the “high holy day” of the Iroquois season, and it’s made even more special by the fact that some of our retired hounds get to participate in the ceremony each year.
The Blessing of the Hounds harks back to St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, and it’s his medal that our riders receive on Blessing Day as part of the ceremony (you can see them on their red ribbons, above, lined up along Iroquois joint-Master Jack van Nagell’s hunt whip). To learn a little more about St. Hubert and the history of this beautiful and curiously affecting service, click here.
The Blessing of the Hounds takes place each year on the first Saturday of November and attracts the hunt’s landowners, neighbors, and friends, who enjoy the service, the spectacle, and also a traditional stirrup cup hosted by huntsman Lilla Mason. The schedule this year starts at 11 a.m., when the riders, horses, and guests arrive at the hunt club’s front lawn. The hounds themselves–including 2012 Hound Welfare Fund Retiree of the Year Sassoon!–will arrive at 11:30 a.m. The Iroquois joint-Masters and huntsman will make a few brief opening remarks, followed by the blessing by the Venerable Bryant Kibler, Senior Archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington. Each rider will then take his or her turn to receive the St. Hubert’s medal.
At noon, the riders will proceed up the road on horseback to Miller Trust Farm, while guests and spectators follow by car. The huntsman’s stirrup cup–featuring ham biscuits, cake, port, sherry, and apple cider–will take place in one of the Miller Trust fields. All those attending the Blessing of the Hounds are welcome to join in for the stirrup cup, which got its name, incidentally, because the mounted riders are served their food and drink at stirrup level by the unmounted person holding the tray!
Tomorrow, we’ll take a last look back at the informal season with video from the last weekend in October, when superlative hounds combined with cool, damp weather and fast coyotes to give October a great sporting send-off!
ARTIST Sandra Oppegard is one of the hounds’ best friends. Not only is she a staunch supporter of the Hound Welfare Fund who regularly donates her wildly popular art to the fund’s annual auction. She’s also got a foxhound of her own, Whistle.
Sandra already has donated her painting–photographed here shortly after its completion–for next year’s auction. The watercolor has a timely subject: it depicts part of the Iroquois Hunt’s annual Blessing of the Hounds, which Sandra attended. Thank you so much, Sandra, for your generous support of the retired hounds!
Please go on and mark your calendars! The 2012 Hound Welfare Fund dinner and silent/live auction will take place on June 16 at Grimes Mill!
To see photographs of last year’s event and some of the people who supported it, click here. To see short videos highlighting some of last year’s auction items, click here. We hope to see you at this year’s event! If you can’t be there in person, you can still bid–watch this space for more details closer to the auction. And, of course, you can donate to the retired hounds anytime either by snail mail or via PayPal. Visit the donation page at www.houndwelfarefund.org to get the HWF mailing address and PayPal information.
All donations are tax-deductible, and 100 percent of your donation goes straight to the hounds’ care.
AND so begins the formal season, with the blessing of hounds and riders gathered once again at the old Grimes Mill. Blessing Day harks back to St. Hubert, about whom we have written a great deal in the past. But it also, in a way, “harks forrard” to the hunting season proper, and God knows we need blessings aplenty for that, when somber weathermen and the Farmer’s Almanac both are making ominous noises about a winter of snow and ice. Phooey. The temperature is in the 40s today, and, though it is wet, the houndbloggers are determined that It Will Not Snow as much this year as it did last year.
The Iroquois hounds and followers were blessed on Nov. 5 to have very fine weather for celebrating hunting’s high holy day, as you can see from the pictures and video accompanying. The hunt, founded in 1880 and reincorporated (after a 12-year hiatus) in 1926, has been honoring the Blessing Day tradition since 1931, when Almon H. P. Abbott, 2nd Bishop of Lexington presided. To read more about the history of the club and of the hunt’s Grimes Mill headquarters, click here. Norm Fine, our good friend over at the Foxhunting Life website, recently unearthed a tiny jewel of a film that provides a glimpse of the Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing Day from 1934. To see it, click here. Interestingly, the 1934 blessing shown in this one-minute Universal newsreel isn’t at Grimes Mill, but, we believe, a stone church near Winchester. The following year, on Nov. 4, 1935, the Blessing of the Hounds took place at Grimes Mill (click here for a Universal newsreel of that Blessing Day), where it looked very like today’s ceremony: horses lined up along the drive, hounds brought down from the kennel behind the huntsman’s cottage, where our kennel manager Michael Edwards now resides. The priest today, as then, stands on the same old millstone to deliver his remarks.
From the Houndbloggers’ perspective, it’s especially interesting to look at the hounds, which then were of the rangy, longer-eared American type prevalent in the area at the time.
Today’s Blessing Day, as illustrated in the video below, shows that the hounds and the setting may have changed since 1934, but the basic ceremony (and its appeal to the general public) have not:
We’re also pleased to include a photo slideshow of pictures that our excellent friend (and excellent photographer!) Dave Traxler took on the day.
Several years ago, a friend sent me the text of the 1984 Blessing of the Hounds made by the Right Reverend Robert W. Estill, 9th Bishop of North Carolina, who, incidentally, also came back to the Mill for its centennial in 2008. Estill also was an Iroquois member before he moved to North Carlina, and so he was an especially interesting candidate to bless the hunt’s hounds for the 1984-’85 formal season.
“When I got my buttons and began to hunt with you while I was rector of Christ Church,” Estill said in 1984, “my Senior Warden and godfather, Cllinton Harbison, penned a poem to ‘Our Riding Rector.’ It read:
‘A parson should have a ‘good seat’
Amd ‘light hands’ and an ardor complete
For riding to hounds
Where clean sport abounds.
May no spill that parson delete!
“So you and I and this crowd of friends and well wishers come together for the Blessing of the Hounds,” Estill continued. “Yet are we not the ones who are blessed? Look around you. Even the person farthest removed from horses, foxes, or hounds could not fail to catch the blessings of the day, the place, and the occasion. We urbanites often lose touch with the good earth and with its creatures. We Americans have shoved our sports so deeply into commercialism and professionalism and competition that we have lost the sense of pleasure in sport for sport’s sake.
We lose touch with our past, too. With those who have gone before us. You and I are blessed today (in this time of the church’s year called All Saints) by those whom George Eliot first called ‘the choir invisible … those immortal dead who live again in minds made better by their presence.’ When those of you who will hunt step into the stirrups today, you will join, if not a ‘choir invisible,’ at least a bunch of interesting women and men who have done just that in years gone by.
“From the time of 1774 to about 1810, settlers from Virginia ‘came swarming over that high-swung gateway of the Cumberlands into Kentucky,’ bringing with them hounds, whose descendants are here before us now carrying their names as Walker foxhounds. They were first developed by John W. Walker and his cousin, Uncle ‘Wash’ (for George Washington) Maupin. Wash hunted as soon after his birth in 1807 as was practicable and continued to do so until close to his death in 1868.”
Today, the Iroquois hounds are English and crossbred, and the game is more often the coyote, who came into Kentucky from the opposite route that the Virginia settlers took, arriving instead from the West. We do still see the occasional fox, and the Houndbloggers take it as a lucky sign. We viewed a long red one on Blessing Day, racing across Master MIller’s driveway, and we hope he was an omen for good sport and safety for the season to come. But we are just Houndbloggers, and we will leave the actual, formal blessings to the professionals! And so we return to Estill, whose 1984 Blessing of the Hounds seems entirely apt today:
Lord, you bless us this day with all the abundance of your hand.
For horses which obey our commands,
and for mules with good manners,
for hounds in joyful voice,
for foxes given us to hunt,
and for covert in which you provide for their safety,
for friends and partners in the chase,
for food and drink and for those who prepared and served it,
for those whose vision and care made all this possible and for those who have gone before os and are now in your nearer presence,
for St. Hubert, our Patron, and his life in fact and fantasy, we give thanks to you, O Lord.
The Houndbloggers would like to add a particular blessing for the retired hounds, several of whom attend the Blessing of the Hounds each year. We’re lucky to have them and however many months or years of their good company left, and they are blessed to receive the Hound Welfare Fund‘s support. We hope you’ll give them a blessing of your own, a way of thanking them for their years of service and sport, by donating to the Hound Welfare Fund. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation goes directly to the retired hounds’ care.
… we thought we’d take a look back at some highlights from the cubbing season that ended Wednesday. Some of it you’ve seen already in the recent preview, but a lot of it is footage we haven’t shown before. Most was taken with Zoom, the older of the houndbloggers’ two cameras, so most of it is not in high-definition. But we’ll be taking the HD camera to the Blessing of the Hounds tomorrow morning! (If you’re new to the traditional Blessing of the Hounds ceremony and would like a little background, click here)
We hope the new video will help you reminisce about what we’ve seen of the season so far–and about how far the BA litter and Driver have come, not to mention Paper! Paper has blossomed so far this year and we hope to hear more from him during the formal season.
Thanks to the Hound Welfare Fund, all the canine stars of this highlights video can expect a peaceful, dignified retirement. They give us great enjoyment while they’re members of the working pack, and we value every one. As we prepare to celebrate these magnificent animal athletes at the Blessing of the Hounds, please consider helping the Hound Welfare Fund provide for the hounds in their golden years!
BORN just in time for St. Hubert’s Day and the annual Blessing of the Hounds, which kicks off the formal season, Baffle had 11 puppies. You read that right: there are 11 (or five and a half couple, as they’ll eventually be counted), almost enough to start a new pack! These are by Hawkeye, who, like Baffle, is an import from England. Baffle and Hawkeye both are from the Cottesmore hounds.
Baffle started to whelp on Friday night, and the last of the puppies was born on Saturday morning. Mother and puppies are doing well so far, and we are looking forward to following their adventures as we have those of Baffle’s first litter for Iroquois, the BA litter who are now in their first season with the working pack. And doing extraordinarily well, we should add!
An interesting side note: because there are already so many BAs (Baffle’s first litter was nine puppies strong), it looks likely that this litter will not have names starting with BA, the first two letters of their dam’s name, as is the usual custom. Instead, to prevent confusion from so many BA names, they’re more likely to be named with HA, for their sire. In which case, we humbly suggest one name for consideration, considering their birthdate: Halloween!
To see about 20 second of adorable puppiness—more than 20 seconds would risk cute overload–click on the video below. Congratulations, Baffle and Hawkeye!
WE have mixed feelings about spring. Sure, it’s great to be done with icy footing, frozen-out hunt meets, and high heating bills. It’s good to see the sun again. It’s even better to have daylight after 4 p.m.!
But it also means another hunt season has ended. In spring, we swap hunting for houndwalking and our own personal hunt stories for those in sporting books.
Needless to say, there’s less news at the moment than there is during hunt season, so today we offer a selection of notes on recent happenings as well as some to come.
The MFHA biennial seminar this weekend!
The U.S. Master of Fox Hounds Association will hold its biennial hunt staff seminar in Lexington, Kentucky, this weekend. There’s a lot of interesting stuff on the agenda. Iroquois huntsman and hound blog contributor Lilla Mason will be on one panel with five other young huntsmen, discussing their work with the hounds on the hunt field. Coyote expert Dr. Stanley Gehrt will give a talk about “Wiley Coyote.” And there’s more, including a kennel visit to the Iroquois Hunt kennels and the Hound Welfare Fund. By the way, if you haven’t seen it before, check out the MFHA website’s gorgeous introductory slide show.
There are stunning pictures of hounds, coyotes, foxes, and horses. My favorite part is the excellent audio: hounds in full cry, the horn, and the sometimes eerie echoes of huntsmen calling to hounds. It’s a fine way to recall the past hunt season. Incidentally, the very first picture is of the Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing of the Hounds from a few years ago. That’s Lilla being blessed, and the photo was taken by hunt member and former Iroquois president Harkey Edwards.
The Goodall Horn at auction
At long last, here’s our video from auction at Cheffins in Cambridge, England, where Will Goodall’s hunting horn sold for 2,600 pounds. To learn more about the horn and the remarkable story of the couple who found it in Zimbabwe, click here and here.
Sellers James and Denise Davies say they remain convinced, at least until further evidence to the contrary, that the horn belonged to Will Goodall of Belvoir Kennels, not to his son, Will Goodall of the Pytchley. We wonder what the buyer thinks? If we find out, we’ll let you know!
And not just any days: birthdays (or what we consider birthdays). Spring is the season for all of the Beagle House hounds to celebrate their adoption days. Harry, the wickedest beagle in the universe, joined the family on April 30, 2003. That was before I knew how bad he is; at this very money (that was a Freudian typo. I meant “moment”; can you tell I have a vet bill due?), he is sneaking by my desk with a contraband paper towel he plucked from the trash can. We adopted Tobermory Icebox, the former Clear Creek beagle, on March 27, 2005. And the most recent addition, Bingo, arrived on May 9, 2009.
Here’s another kind of Dog Day, and it’s hound-related. You don’t get to see Scottish deerhound puppies terribly often, but, man, are they ever cute. Pet Connection blogger Christie Keith took her new puppy, Rawley, to visit an office the other day, and the resulting photographs are cute (surprise!). See more of Rawley, including video, here and here. He’s about 12 weeks old, which gives you some idea of how big a Scottish deerhound will turn out to be full grown. Isn’t he beautiful?
THERE is no sadder task than parting with a good friend, but there are times when it is right to do so. That was the case Monday, when kennel manager Michael Edwards realized that it was Stalker’s time.
Stalker’s time was something that we were all dreading, but come it did, and Michael shouldered the heavy burden of making the last drive to the Richmond Road Vet Clinic so that Stalker, his favorite hound, could be put to sleep. And so one of the Hound Welfare Fund‘s great favorites, and one of the Iroquois Hunt’s bravest hearts, died peacefully in Michael’s arms.
Stalker was 11. He was entered in 2001 and hunted right up until 2008. The circumstances of his retirement tell you a lot about Stalker, and also help explain why Michael, in particular, was so close to him. The following description of Stalker’s last hunt day is from the Hound Welfare Fund website’s “Meet the Hounds” page:
It was a windy day in 2008, making scenting conditions challenging. A cold front was blowing through. Hunt staff knew coyotes would be tucked in coverts out of the wind; on a still day, they’re more likely to be found out in the open.
The hounds moved off and explored one covert after another: the Railroad Track, Norton’s Clover, then Betsy and Knox’s Coverts, moving east to west, but found nothing. They moved on to the Swamp Covert but moved past it quickly, as if they knew it was empty and were anxious to try somewhere else. It began to seem hopeless that the hunt would find any game. But then they reached Possum Hollow and swarmed in. After a few minutes, Stalker’s unmistakable voice rose out of the underbrush. The other hounds harked to him and began speaking, too. They went around and around, speaking, then going quiet. Whatever game was in there didn’t seem to want to come out. The hounds knew they had found something, but where exactly was it?
Most of the pack finally came out of the covert but looked back into it, frustrated but listening. Stalker, one of our English hounds, stayed behind, thrashing around in the brush. Soon he spoke again, and out popped a coyote. Tally ho! The chase was on. It was a thrilling but brief run, as the coyote soon ran across a road too dangerous for hounds to cross.
The hounds stopped, and the hunt staff gathered them together, but one hound was missing. It was Stalker, who had stayed at Possum Hollow, happy to have found the coyote, but clearly out of breath and unable to keep up with the pack. We later discovered that he had developed a heart ailment and would never hunt again. But Stalker found that “invisible” coyote and mustered the energy and desire to get him up and running for the rest of the pack. …
When he came back from the vet hospital where they discovered his ailing heart, Stalker slept at the foot of kennelman Michael Edwards’s bed—on the mattress, of course!
“That’s the only hound that’s ever slept on my bed,” Michael said.
Stalker’s last public appearance was at the kennel open house earlier this month, when he waggily greeted visitors and enjoyed pats and scratches from children and adults alike. You can spot him in the video below, the giant woolly with the big smile that made him look absolutely delighted to see you:
Stalker was the son of two Iroquois greats: Grundy, probably the most famous hunting and stallion hound Iroquois has had to date, and Stamina, the grand dame who served as Miller Trust Farm’s unofficial mascot after her own retirement to the HWF.
“I remember when he was a puppy, we’d turn him out with the other puppies in the back paddock and play with them,” Michael recalled. “He would just run and run and get so fired up he’d be going about 90 miles an hour, making these grunts and growls as he went around. He was always very boisterous, and he had an opinion about everything.”
Another favorite game of Stalker’s in his puppy days was to find Michael when he hid in the thickets of the turnout paddock. “We’d see how long it would take them to find us,” Michael said of the ST litter that included Stalker. “It didn’t usually take them very long. They could smell pretty well.”
In addition to his good nose, Stalker also had good sense. He once got his hind toes caught in a wire at the top of a fence he’d tried to jump out hunting. Rather than thrash and do more damage to himself, he waited patiently, certain that he’d be found and rescued. Which he was.
“He was just so smart,” Michael said, “and he had such heart. I can always remember him and his brother Standout, who was big like him. They both had a lot of heart, and if we ever had to stop them from chasing a coyote across the road, they’d both get so mad at us.
“Stalker was big and tough. He probably was one of the most powerful hounds I’ve worked with here. But the thing I like about him was that he wouldn’t take anything off of anybody, but if he got mad at another hound he’d never carry it too far. He’d let them know that he was mad, but once they’d get the message he’d stop: lesson learned.”
In November, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason selected Stalker as one of the retirees to join in the Blessing of the Hounds ceremony at the Iroquois Hunt Club, an invitation Stalker appears to have taken with great seriousness. You can see him in this video, alongside his larger and younger packmate Sassoon (who is still an active hunting hound). Incidentally, you can also spot Michael at the start of the video in his white kennel coat and orange Hound Welfare Fund cap. Toward the end of the video, Stalker is still standing at full attention:
“He couldn’t have been happier to be there,” Lilla recalled. “I chose him to join us because he was retired and we knew he wouldn’t be with us that much longer. I thought he needed a blessing, and he deserved one. He was magnificent.”
“I liked his boldness,” said Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller. “He had the courage of his convictions and was very bold out front when he was running. He was sure of himself, he was all business, and he was always right.”
Stalker was the boss in a lot of ways, but he also was a model team player, said Lilla. “Stalker was everything we want in a hound, for our country and for our quarry,” she said. “He was perfectly conformed and biddable and intelligent and tenacious. He just had everything, and he was always a contributor to the day. He really epitomized what that ST Carlow outcross brought to our pack when our quarry became coyotes.”
Stalker’s tenacity served him as well in retirement as it did on the hunt field. “He certainly was tough, and he lived longer than we expected,” Lilla agreed. “There were many times when we thought it might be over, but he was happy and wanted to continue on. He clearly enjoyed his life to the end.”
You might think that a hound that tough on the hunt field, and who loved his work that much, would be difficult to retire, but Stalker adjusted to his new life of ease without any trouble.
“He just settled right into it,” Lilla said. “You know, I think he knew something was wrong. He couldn’t keep up with the pack anymore, and he was happy in his retirement. His retirement was seamless.”
Fortunately, Stalker has left us more than just fond memories. He’s got sons and daughters currently in the hunting pack, including Sage and Sayso. Son Salt, sadly, died late last year, and another son from that litter, Sackett, recently retired and is now, like his father was, in the care of the Hound Welfare Fund.
“You’d think it’d get easier, but it doesn’t,” Michael said sadly. “He was one of my all-time favorites. But he was ready. You could tell. He had a look in his eye, and he was tired.”
When Stalker skipped a meal, that was the sign to Michael that the brave old hound was telling us something.
“He just had that look in his eye like, ‘I’m ready,'” Michael said. “He was one of a kind.”
SO I thought I had captured some great moments in 2009 Blessing Day history. And I did capture the moments, but they’re all blurry! Well, they’re not blurry if you look at them in thumbnail size. This is what happens when a person breaks her camera by dropping it in the airport and has to resort to taking still shots on a video camera.
All of which makes me all the more pleased to have met Jim Lane on Saturday at the Iroquois Blessing of the Hounds. Jim knows his stuff, and his pictures are, well, let’s just say they are profoundly NOT blurry. They’re excellent. See for yourself, and enjoy reliving the day!