Peterborough foxhound show: The video!

Ringside scenes from the world’s most important show for working pack hounds! Thanks for your patience!

To see Part One of our coverage, click here. Two see Part Two, click here.

The show’s modern foxhound results are here. Old English foxhound results are here.

And the houndbloggers offer many hearty thanks to Creative Commons, the Free Music Archive, and composers Kevin MacLeod and Jonah Dempcy for use of their wonderful music.

Houndbloggers Abroad: Peterborough, part one

To see the show’s modern foxhound results, click here.

To see the Old English foxhound results, click here.

THEY call summer hound shows the “silly season,” and certainly it is not really the same thing as hunt season. Working pack hounds are bred for the hunt field, not the show ring, after all. But, all the same, showing at the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show is serious business for competitors, and the show offers Masters and huntsmen a great chance to look over potential stallion hounds and examine other hunts’ bloodlines. For the houndbloggers, the 2011 show was the perfect opportunity to see the hound world’s great variety, to eyeball some of the sport’s most prestigious pack members, and to spot some hounds from bloodlines that link with our own Iroquois pack.

A glimpse of Driver’s father

Perhaps the most notable “Iroquois relation” we saw was the Duke of Beaufort’s Gaddesby ’07, sire of our own young dog Driver ’10. We spotted Gaddesby in the Best Stallion Hound class, where, alas, he was unplaced. But we did manage to get a couple of quick snapshots.

Gaddesby '07 in the stallion hound class.

Gaddesby ’07 on the move.

Spot any similarities? Here’s Gaddesby’s son Driver:

Driver after a hunt in March.

Gaddesby’s conqueror in the Stallion Hound class was Duke of Beaufort’s Doynton ’09, who went on to win the Champion Dog Hound title over the Vale of the White Horse’s young dog Ptarmigan ’10.
Peel’s words of wisdom

The Grove and Rufford prepare to enter the ring at Peterborough on July 20. Their dog Stafford, right, won the Best Unentered Dog class.

In the issue of Horse and Hound that came out immediately before the Peterborough show, North Cotswold Master and huntsman Nigel Peel wrote, “Hound shows are wonderful summer gatherings, and it is a great joy to admire the best lookers of the breed. But remember that that is what it is–a beauty competition. Do not get downhearted should your hounds fail to find favor. Remember that you are taking part in a pageant and in so doing you are holding your hunt’s flag high for all to see. … We all get slung out of the ring from time to time, and sometimes it is quite hard to remember that it is the taking part and not the winning that counts.”

Huntsmen wore their prizes on their sleeves.

At Peterborough, as it happened, Peel’s hounds rarely were “slung out of the ring.” The North Cotswold bitches, in particular, had a fantastic day. Bobbin ’10, Bobtail ’10, Gradient ’10, and Gridiron ’10 won the Best Two Couple of Entered Bitches class, while Caroline ’08 was judged Best Brood Bitch. Bobtail went on to finish second, as reserve champion, to Heythrop Mellow ’10 in the Champion Bitch class.

The North Cotswold dog hounds fared well, too, taking the Best Couple of Unentered Hounds class with Gregory and Growler.

The crowd in Peterborough’s main arena, where the modern foxhounds were exhibited.

Remembering the Great Grundy

Having met up with him at the foxhound ring, we took the opportunity to ask Peel about some of the hounds he has sent to Iroquois–most notably our late, great stallion hound and superb coyote hunter Grundy ’98, who died in 2008.

Grundy in October 2006 with Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller

 Grundy was a son of the North Cotswold’s Peterborough winner Grapefruit, and Peel’s reminiscences of Grundy went back another generation, starting with Grapefruit’s own mother.
“Her mother was a very, very good bitch, a wonderful hunter, and Grapefruit we were very lucky with, because she was walked by Charlie Warren, a great North Cotswold puppy walker,” recalled Peel. “He actually had driven the first tank onto the battlefield at Alamein. We had a lovely hound that he had walked the year before that we had won a lot of prizes with, but, sadly, she was poisoned out hunting. Charlie said, ‘I think I’ve got one that might be as good.’ And, by God, he had: that was Grapefruit.
“In her first year here at Peterborough, she won the Best Unentered Bitch, and the following year she won the championship. She was a terrific hunter, like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord, and hated foxes. So we thought we must find her a really good husband. In those days, Tim Unwin was Master of the Cotswold and a very, very fine breeder of hounds and a good huntsman. We used his dog Patron, a gray dog, I remember. That produced Grundy.”

Peterborough isn't only about foxhounds. The show also featured woolly mink and otter hounds (see above), mournful bassets, beautiful beagles, handsome harriers, and lashings of lurchers!

What made Patron the right choice for Grapefruit?
“He was a lovely-looking dog, and he had terrific quality,” Peel said. “He just struck me as being a very good sort of stallion hound to use. And the breeding linked. I always line-breed our hounds, and the breeding fitted in beautifully. So we thought he was the one to have.
“Jerry Miller wanted a dog hound, and we called this whelp Grundy because, when Iroquois was formed, it was named after a horse that won the Derby.

Old English hounds exit the ring after a class at Peterborough.

“Grundy was walked by Charlie Warren, and our chairman at the time was Tim Holland-Martin, who had bred the horse Grundy, who had also won the Derby,” added Peel. “So that’s why we called the hound Grundy, because we thought that it was appropriate. Grundy came to you principally because Jerry Miller wanted a hound or two, and it’s rather difficult to refuse Jerry Miller!”

Peterborough show officials in the foxhound ring.

Peel later saw the hound Grundy in Kentucky, and he was pleased with how he had developed.
“I thought what a very good one he was,” Peel said. “His sisters we had, and we bred from those and we’ve got hounds that go back to them today here at Peterborough.
“I’m really pleased that Grundy did so well, not only in the showing, but also that he was a really first-class dog in his work.”
There’s more to come from our Peterborough report! Stay tuned for more pictures, some video, and more from Nigel Peel.

Houndbloggers Abroad: An autumn miscellany

Good grief, is that the time?

The houndbloggers have been overtaken by fall events, starting with the Keeneland September sale and planning for a Champagne reception at the Iroquois kennels (which we were unable to attend but hear was a success–when is Veuve Clicquot not a success?), and then heading back to Wiltshire.

It seems like a long time since we’ve seen the hounds, sadly, but we have at least been able to keep in touch with hounds in news and literature while in England. 

Hounds on the job

Country Life magazine, for example, featured Hector the Bloodhound in its “Best of British” column. We don’t have a picture of Hector, but you can entertain yourself with this one of our old friend Ulpian the Wrinkly, who appeared in a 1914 edition of the magazine, while we briefly detail some of Hector’s work, as described in a more recent Country Life:

The magnificently wrinkly Ulpian the British bloodhound

Hector has been working in the Sussex Police Dog Unit for four years now alongside PC Steve Williams, and he is the only bloodhound currently employed for “scent-discrimination work,” according to Country Life.  When he’s not on the job, he’s at home with Williams. When he is on the job, he sounds pretty amazing.

“First we go to the missing person’s house and find a scent article particular to them–this could be anything from clothing worn next to the skin to a pillowcase,” Williams explains. “Just 15 to 20 seconds is all Hector needs with the item to hunt that scent alone.”

The ensuing hunt can vary in length (their longest so far was three miles), but Hector sounds as if he was good at it from the start. In his first assingment, Williams recalled for the article, “we had to find a 12-year-old boy who had consumed a liter of vodka in a town center. Police searched for three hours to locate the boy before calling on Hector, who found him 20 minutes later in an alleyway behind a dustbin. The boy recovered after a night in hospital.”

If you’re thinking that the alcoholic fumes should have tipped everyone off, including Hector, remember that vodka has no odor.

Fancy Dress

Baily's Hunting Directories

We were fortunate to meet up on this trip with the editor of Baily’s, hunting’s Bible and one of the houndbloggers’ favorite things to read. Peter Brook is excellent company and a wealth of information, and so are the Baily’s directories. Mr. Houndblogger has given me a 1924-1925 directory to add to our collection, and we found this interesting description of the Hampshire Hunt’s evening dress in it:

“Blue coat, white waistcoat, black cloth knee breeches, black silk stockings, gilt buckles on breeches and shoes.”

Fancy, eh? And no wonder, given the hunt’s illustrious history, as also described in its Baily’s entry: “The H.H. dates from about 1745, when Mr. Evelyn hunted the country, with kennels at Armsworth. In 1788, the Prince of Wales, while residing at Kempshott, kept staghounds, which in 1793 were turned into foxhounds, hunting most of the northern portion of the present H.H. country.”

Baily’s entries are a very thorough guide for the foxhunter of the day, frequently going so far as to recommend particular types of horse for each hunt’s country. The Newmarket and Thurlow’s entry, to cite just one, opines that “the most suitable horse is a short-legged, compact, deep back-ribbed one, with bone and as much blood as is possible in this class of hunter.”

Advice to hunt by

Not surprisingly, while in England the houndbloggers have spent much of their time in bookstores.

Sporting treasures, these from John and Judith Head's shop in Salisbury

While we’re most interested in older sporting tomes, we do occasionally find a new hunting book we like. This trip, our choice among new books is The Keen Foxhunter’s Miscellany, compiled by Peter Holt.  It’s a wonderful sampling of sayings from and about foxhunting–not all of it flattering!–and in it we found some typically sage advice from one of our favorite authors, D. W. E. Brock MFH, who wrote mostly in the 1920s and ’30s. With cubhunting season barely two weeks away, we thought we’d quote his list of tips for the novice, as it appears in the new miscellany. It originally ran in his book The Young Foxhunter in 1936:

  • Never crack your whip.
  • Never flick at a hound with your whip.
  • Remember that your hunt has not bought a monopoly of the roads and lanes.
  • Remember that the hunt only crosses the farmers’ land by their courtesy.
  • Remember that you are not the only person out hunting.
  • Obey the Master’s wishes immediately and implicitly.

  • When hounds are drawing, keep behind and as close to the field master as you can get.
  • When hounds go away with a fox, never cut off the tail hounds from the main body.
  • Do not press on hounds at any time, especially during the early stages of a hunt.
  • Never ride between the huntsman and his hounds.

  • Stand still and keep quiet when hounds check.
  • When you meet hounds always turn your horse’s head towards them.
  • If your horse kicks, put a red ribbon on its tail, but do not trust to that alone to keep you out of trouble.
  • Learn to open and catch gates.
  • If someone dismounts to open a gate, no one must go beyond him until he is on his horse again.
  • Concentration is essential if you want to keep with hounds.
  • A sound take-off is the first essential when selecting your place at a fence.
  • A black, strong-looking fence is much safer than a weak, straggly one.

Another bit of Brock also appears in Holt’s slim Miscellany, and we’ll leave you with that. It’s the recipe for “the perfect hunting sandwich,” in case you were wondering:

“Hunting sandwiches differ from all other sandwiches in that they are eaten under vastly more rigorous conditions, and they should be prepared with that in view. They should be so cut, formed and packed that they can be enjoyed even though eaten upon the back of a runaway mustang, in a hurricane of wind and cold rain, by a man who has recently broken his right wrist.”

 On that note, we’ll leave you for now, with good wishes for your preparations for the new season!

The Hounds of the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event

Scout the American foxhound attended North America's only 4-star event wearing a sporty jacket that said ADOPT ME! He's available at the Lexington Humane Society at (859) 233-0044. Please consider adopting him! The houndbloggers ran into him several times on Saturday, and he's got a great personality!

THE annual Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington always brings out the dogs. Cross-country day, which always takes place on Saturday, is as good for dog-watching as it is for keeping an eye on the world-class equine athletes that are competing.

So this year the houndbloggers, aided by their trusty iPhone, took some snapshots of every hound we passed. We start with Scout, a lovely American foxhound currently up for adoption at the Lexington Humane Society (telephone number 859-233-0044). We ran into Scout everywhere we went, and we stopped to say hello each time. We’d have adopted him ourselves except that we already have three hounds and have committed to adopt a fourth if she needs a home within the next year, and that puts us at capacity. Our favorite thing about Scout: he’s a leaner. If you’ll stand there talking to him, patting him, or scratching his ears, he’ll lean gently against your shins. It’s a wonderful, trusting gesture that is also very pleasant for the leanee! Please consider adopting Scout if you have the room and inclination. He’s been at the Lexington Humane Society since October.

Chillin: Faith the six-month-old bloodhound found a comfy spot to nap.

When the weather looked threatening, we did what anyone would do: we headed for the trade fair! The first dog we bumped into in the indoor arena where the trade stands were was Faith, a six-month-old bloodhound who was napping at the Bluegrass Search and Rescue stand. Between calls to go find people, she sure is laid back. She happily allowed all and sundry to pat and scratch and fondle her enormous jowls and giant-sized puppy feet, and she only opened her her eyes once.

Cyril, the happy shopper.

Nearby, but at the opposite end of the age spectrum, was Cyril, who was accompanying his human companion around the trade fair booths and wearing a big smile. Take a picture? No problem! Cyril was happy to pose before heading off into the merchandise again.

A basset hound who thought we looked more interesting than the popular Head of the Lake water jump.

Fortunately, Saturday’s stormy weather held off for the cross-country portion of the event, so the houndbloggers got to spend a lot of time walking from jump to jump and watching some truly outstanding horses and riders. At the Head of the Lake (see eventual Rolex Kentucky 3-Day winner Cool Mountain and William Fox-Pitt jump this complex in the video below), we found a basset watching us instead of the course. You can see why: if you’re a basset, it’s not that easy to see through the forest of human legs.

Cody and dad.

Nearby, Cody and his people also were enjoying the action at the Head of the Lake. Cody, they informed us, is a coonhound. he reminded us of Driver, and not just because of the color: he was massive! His owner told us both Cody’s parents were about 100 pounds, and he’s even heavier. But he’s still got some height to gain to catch up to Driver.

Avalanche, a former racing greyhound, enjoyed pats at The Hollow.

We came across two greyhounds on opposite ends of the cross-country course. This gratified our guest for the day, Robin Foster, one of our favorite people and the devoted owner (with her husband Steve) of several greyhounds: Badge, who died in 2009, and now Popeye and Donny, all former racing greyhounds.

Robin, if you’re reading this, congratulations! We’re giving you the coveted Game As Grundy Award for completing almost the entire cross-country course on foot, as well as a round of the extensive indoor AND outdoor trade fair, all with a broken toe!

The first greyhound we met was Cleo (short for Cleopatra), who was more than happy to pose for a photo, which was messed up slightly by my fame-seeking finger peeking in on one side of the lens (continuing the houndblogger tradition of photographic mishaps).

The lovely Cleo on a brief stop between fences on the cross-country course.

The second greyhound we met was Avalanche, who was allowing charmed passersby to give him as much petting as they wished. That was a lot of petting, including from us. Avalanche was stationed at The Hollow, where rider Oliver Townend and his mount Ashdale Cruise Master had a scary fall that knocked them from the competition. Both horse and rider are okay. Here’s a more successful ride through The Hollow: Townend last year on Carousel Quest. Note that this year, the path through The Hollow ran the opposite way; in other words, horse and rider jumped a fence, then jumped down the two steps into the  grass bowl, then galloped up to an exit fence on the opposite end. In 2009, the took the two steps and fence combination on exit.

Do you know someone who has room for Scout?

Those of us who have bought Lexington Humane  Society t-shirts will recognize that Avalanche’s owner, holding the leash, is wearing one. Which brings us back to Scout. Here’s another view of this nice hound, who is currently at the Lexington Humane Society and needs a good home soon!  Please consider adopting him.

The weird and wonderful world of horse and hound

A heart-stopping moment for a high-jump competitor, preserved in the Gerald Webb papers at the National Sporting Library

SOMETIMES you come across stuff you just have to share. That’s happened a lot in the last couple of weeks here at the National Sporting Library. I’ll be poring over dusty tomes from hunting history, or scouring a huntsman’s ancient scrapbooks, or perusing the leather-bound Country Life and The Field magazines from the last century, and something unusual or eye-catching will pop up. Most involve hounds but don’t really apply to my research. Some, like the Country Life photograph of a giant mushroom (37 inches in diameter!) that was labeled “Five Pounds of Edible Fungus,” don’t fit in anywhere. But these curiosities are too wonderful to let go. So they fit in here.

J. Mell, the oldest foxhunter of the time in North Carolina, photographed with his most unusual hunting horn

Like Mr. Mell here. There’s no telling what year he had his photo taken, but here’s what the back of the photograph said: “J. Mell, one of General Lee’s men, age 84, oldest fox hunter in North Carolina, wearing the horn which he carved from the horn of a steer captured by him from the Federal forces at Petersburg, Nov. 5, 1864.” That looks like a mighty nice Walker hound you’ve got there, too, Mr. Mell.

The silver collar was given in Madison County, Kentucky, "to the Fastest Foxhound in the State" at a field trial on April 25, 1866. It is lined in red leather and is fastened "by a small padlock with a secret spring by means of which its circumference may be adjusted to the neck of any Foxhound," according to its history. The field trial was held three times consecutively, and a foxhound named Rock, owned by Bill Terrill, won the coveted silver collar twice.

Some of the weirdest items in the National Sporting Library’s collection aren’t photographs. They’re words, stories, accounts of events that happened on the hunt field. Or in a Los Angeles office building. This is from The Sportsman’s Review in the early 1900s:

The chase began in the gymnasium on the third floor of the Knickerbocker Building on Olive Street near Seventh. It ended with the capture in a steam bath cabinet of a small but exceedingly spry and bloodthirsty beast of the cat, coon, or marten family.

For nearly two weeks the occupants of the big skyscraper have been mystified by tracks over the floors, desks, and furniture. The tracks were believed to have been made by an astonishingly large rat or a cat with a curiously shaped foot.

No glimpse of the strange animal was caught, however, until yesterday noon, when George Bartini, the jiu jitsu instructor in the establishment, opened a small dressing room in the gymnasium. Bartini has the reputation of being afraid of nothing, but when he opened the door he let out a yell that could be heard outside the building and made a dash for the stairway.

With brooms, fencing foils, Indian clubs, and other weapons, men chased the creature into a bath cabinet.

The hunt field, such as it was, managed to tip the creature into a cage, where “it barked much like a small and exceedingly peevish terrier and snapped savagely at any article stuck through the meshes of its cage. The animal is about two and a half feet long, brownish gray in color and has a long black-and-white ringed tail. ”

The verdict was that the quarry was a civet cat, but no one ever figured out how it breached the ramparts of the Knickerbocker Building.

If you think the civet cat sounded well dressed, how about Lord Ribblesdale (below)? The very essence of dash, yes?

The elegant Lord Ribblesdale shows how a gentleman dresses for hunting

The writing of the late 1800s and early 1900s was often clever and frequently florid. You could open The Field or Turf, Field, and Farm and find more words in a paragraph than most people put in a page nowadays. An example, from an 1873 story that led The Field‘s “Hunting” column:

“There is a story told, of the bygone three-bottle day, to the effect that an old gentleman, whose rubicund visage gave suspicious indication that his precepts as regarded temperance did not exactly tally with his practice, felt called upon to lecture his son on the vice of over-indulgence in stimulants.”

Got that? Essentially, he was a teetotal-preaching drunk.

For sheer beauty, it’s tough to beat the rare book room’s volumes of Daniel’s Rural Sports, the first of which was published in 1801. These were donated as part of the extensive and valuable collection that John and Martha Daniels donated. The leather covers surround inlaid watercolors on vellum. Together, the volumes are valued at $5,000, and it’s easy to see why.

A volume of Daniel's Rural Sports, part of the widely varied Daniels collection

Inside the covers of Daniel's Rural Sports, a history in bookplates

This volume tells some amazing tales of canine and hunting feats and also includes this nice sentiment: “Where has Zeal, Fidelity, Boldness, and Obedience, been so happily united as in the Dog? More tractable than man, and more pliant than any other animal, the Dog is not only speedily instructed, but even conforms himself to the movements and habits of those who govern him. Savage must that nature be, which can ill treat a creature who has renounced his Liberty to associate with Man, to whose service his whole life is devoted, who, sensible of every kindness, is grateful for the smallest favour, whilst the harshest usage cannot make him unfaithful; he licks the hand that has just been lifted to strike him, and at last disarms resentment by submissive perseverance.”

Feeling wrinkly? Consider Ulpian, who has, I assure you, got you beat in the wrinkles department.

Ulpian the Wrinkly

Ulpian, photographed in 1914, was one of many wonders to be found in Country Life‘s pages. This long-running magazine and its other British sibling, The Field, provided some of the most entertaining headlines and stories. I found a story this morning in an 1874 issue of The Field that discussed “The Octopus and Its Eggs.” Octopus? Eggs? Seriously? There was also a summary of a game–cricket, I think–between the Royal Engineers and The Wanderers; hard to imagine they were very compatible in temperament. The American periodical Turf, Field, and Farm also provided an impressive array of topics for its readers’ edification, ranging from “Strange Stories about Rooks” to “Gudgeon Fishing” to “A Wonderful Eel,” as well as a surprisingly riveting competition of “base ball” between the employees of the New York and Brooklyn post offices (presumably, their games were never called off on account of rain!).

Speaking of surprisingly riveting … It’s hard to tell who got more gussied up for this hound show, but they deserved to win–and they did!

While we’re talking about Country Life, how about this fellow? Word: you can’t beat the Country Life‘s letters to the editor department for obscure topics.

What the ... ?

I’ve also found a new artist to fall in love with. He’s not new (he lived from 1857 to 1927), but he’s new to me, and his name is Gustav Muss-Arnolt. The National Sporting Library has a group of nine hound paintings that Muss-Arnolt did in the 1890s, and they were my favorite things at the library. I will leave you with the largest of them, a portrait of a hound named Matchless who appears to personify the quality of sagacity that we always hear applied to hounds:

Matchless. Doesn't he look as if he sees right into your soul?

Needless to say, it will be hard for this houndblogger to leave the marvelous vault, shelves, and galleries of the National Sporting Library. Fortunately, I’ve stocked up on interesting stories that I can unwind over the next few months or years, so the National Sporting Library’s books, archives, photographs, and collections will continue to make regular appearances here.

Thank heavens we have such a priceless resource right here on our shores! I hope you will support them by joining, so that they can continue to help keep the history of field sports alive, thriving, and available to the public.

St. Hubert and the Blessing of the Hounds

Bonfire at 2008 Blessing of the Hounds

Bonfire received a personal blessing at the 2008 Blessing of the Hounds. The St. Hubert's medals, which the riders receive at the Blessing, are being readied to the right.

AT Iroquois, the formal hunting season traditionally opens with the Blessing of the Hounds on the first Saturday of November. That puts it close to the Nov. 3  feast day of hunting’s patron saint, St. Hubert of Liege (circa 656-circa 728), a huntsman himself.

The Blessing of the Hounds is the highlight of the opening meet, and at Iroquois we do things a little differently: the Masters, huntsman, and staff invite some of the hunt’s retired hounds to be blessed. (The retirees certainly have a good few blessings to count, not least the fact that they receive good care until the end of their days, thanks to the Hound Welfare Fund and its supporters. And we at the HWF count those supporters among our many blessings, too!)

The Blessing of the Hounds isn’t, of course, unique to Iroquois or even to foxhunting. In Belgium, where Hubert was Bishop of Liege, the Blessing of the Hounds (and their huntsmen) is mainly a ritual to ward off rabies, because the saint was famous for curing the dread disease using either (or both) of two tools: thread from a white and gold stole the Virgin Mary was said to have bestowed on Hubert and the St. Hubert’s Key, supposedly given to Hubert by St. Peter. Both were used up even into the modern age by monks in the Brotherhood of St. Hubert. The thread cure involved making an incision in the skin of the sufferer’s forehead, then placing the thread in the wound. The key cure wasn’t much better, according to this account: “A priest would prick the forehead of a rabies sufferer and a black bandage would be applied for nine days while the heated key was placed on the body where the bite had occurred. This could actually help, because if the heated key was applied immediately it could cauterize and sterilize the wound, effectively killing the rabies virus.”  To see a picture of the key, which was used in some parts of Europe even up to the 20th century, click here.

The Brotherhood of Saint Hubert, or Compagnons de Saint-Hubert, is headquartered in the small Ardennes town of Saint-Hubert (surprise!), where they put on a really big show for their Blessing of the Hounds.

File:Saint eustace.jpg

St. Hubert: prince, huntsman, healer, and saint. He is the patron saint of hunters, but other groups that also claim him include butchers, machinists, mathematicians, and metal workers.

In 2004, one enchanted travel writer described the crowded scene:

“Every year on November 3rd the green-cloaked Compagnons de Saint-Hubert proceed to the basilica followed by the scarlet-coated hunters with their hounds, the sonneurs carrying huge circular hunting horns over their shoulders, the flag-throwers, and–this being Belgium–a solid contingent from the brewers’ guild. During the High Mass, hounds stand next to hunters in the nave, good-naturedly waving their tails and tilting their heads in recognition whenever the service is punctuated by the refrain of the hunting horns, whose chords reverberate amid the soaring columns. The sound disturbs something primordial; it is impossible to remain unmoved.

“After Mass, the hounds are sprinkled with holy water. Outside, the large square is packed with such a throng of people holding up their dogs to be blessed that the priest can hardly move amongst them: ‘Glory to dog on high,’ indeed. … When I was there, a group of pilgrim hunters had ridden for four days to Saint-Hubert; they sang a song about the glories of hunting and its empathy with nature, and then clattered off into the frosty sunshine.”

It’s customary to eat bread (variations on the Blessing of the Hounds often have the hounds and hunters eat bits of blessed bread as protection from rabies), as well as other traditional game dishes.

File:Saint Hubert Basiliek Interieur.JPG

The basilica of Saint-Hubert in Belgium

But just who was St. Hubert? The story of his conversion to Christianity is very similar to that of St. Eustace, and both are clouded by suspicion that they were fictional. St. Hubert, so the story goes, was the oldest son of Bertrand, Duke of Aquitaine, and grandson of Charibert, King of Toulouse. He did not appear at first to be saint material. He was a worldly courtier, a married father, and not at all a regular churchgoer; he preferred to hunt his hounds. He was doing just that one Good Friday morning when a stag appeared to him. Between its antlers he saw a crucifix, and he heard a voice say, “Hubert, unless you turn to the Lord and lead a holy life, you shall go quickly down to the abyss of hell.”

(St. Eustace was a general named Placidus under the Roman emperor Trajan who changed his name upon his conversion, which also came about after seeing a stag with the crucifix between its antlers. Eustace died in about 118.)

Hubert’s wife, Floribanne, died soon after this experience, and it seems Hubert took that as the clincher. He renounced his worldly life and all his possessions, left his son in the care of his brother, and devoted himself to priestly studies. He later became the first bishop of Liege. Legend also has it that Hubert accurately predicted the date of his own death and died just as he had begun reciting, “Our Father, who art in heaven–.”

In addition to being the patron saint of hunters, he also has been associated at one time or another with furriers, trappers, mathematicians, metal workers, and machinists, and he is invoked against both rabies and bad behavior in dogs–especially in hounds and other hunting dogs (Harry and Driver, meet Hubert!).

Hubert may have given up all his worldly possessions, but he didn’t give up his love of hounds, and the monks of the St. Hubert abbey honored this by naming a breed of hound they developed the “chien de Saint-Hubert”: Saint Hubert’s hound.  The breed originally is thought to have been all black or black and tan, medium-sized, and smooth-coated, a forebear of the bloodhound and others. The modern version, seen below, looks very like the bloodhound, but some historians believe today’s version differs significantly from the original bred by the Belgian monks.

Some say the originals were powerful but shorter-legged than their modern brethren, and principally valuable in hunting boar. The bloodhound and modern St. Hubert’s characteristic loose, wrinkly skin also, one hound breed historian noted, “was not at all typical of the St. Huberts of the Abbey.” Others say that the modern bloodhound was developed by crossing black St. Hubert’s hounds with white Talbot hounds, the latter a large early hunting hound, now sadly extinct.

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The Talbot hound. Now extinct, this large white hunting hound features in medieval paintings, stone carvings, and coats of arms.

Given the passage of so much time, it’s difficult to know exactly what the originals looked like. It is usually said that William the Conqueror first imported the St. Huberts to England, calling them bloodhounds.

But, in Hounds of the World, Sir John Buchanan-Jardine makes an interesting note about the early St. Hubert hounds:

“Probably the most direct importation of St. Hubert’s hounds into Great Britain was the present of a pack of hounds made to the monks of Margam Abbey in Glamorganshire. The tradition is that these hounds were presented by the monks of some continental abbey, presumably by St. Hubert’s Abbey itself, as I have failed to trace any other monastery that bred hounds. In any case, these hounds are traditionally reputed to have been of St. Hubert’s  breed, smooth-coated and black and tan in colour. They were kept and bred at Margam Abbey until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, when they passed into the hands of the Lord of the Manor and later, about 1700, the descendants of this pack become the property of Mr. Jenkins of Gelli.

“Probably the modern Welsh foxhound owes much of his fine nose and voice to this particular importation.”

The gene that makes some of the Iroquois hounds woolly is Welsh, so could our woollies like Sassoon hark back to St. Hubert? It’s awfully nice to think so, especially today, on St. Hubert’s feast day.

“There’s nowt so queer as scent”

The nose knows ... but we don't, entirely.

The nose knows ... but we don't, entirely.

As Mr. Jorrocks said in Handley Cross. Jorrocks ended this pronouncement by adding,” ‘cept a woman.” But I think I’d end it differently: “There’s nowt so queer as scent, ‘cept what we’ll do to try to understand it.” More of that in a moment.

“Oh, that weary scent!” exclaimed Mr. Jorrocks, “that weary, incomprehensible, incontrollable phenomenon! ‘Constant only in its inconstancy!’ as the hable hauthor of the noble science well said.”

Indeed. Everyone knows what scent is, by definition: it’s an odor, or “an odor left in passing, by means of which an animal or person may be traced,” according to www.dictionary.com. But it’s almost impossible to get a precise understanding of how scent behaves, though many have tried. How, exactly, does something generate a smell, what carries the scent, and how does a hound’s nose capture the odor? The jury is out on that, apparently. There are two basic theories of how smells work that are competing for subscribers. One says that molecules’ shapes and how those shapes fit with sensors are what give something a distinctive scent; the other says that the particular vibrations of molecules are what does it. We do know that hounds, like dogs generally, have large olfactory lobes in their brains, meaning that scent and the ability to detect it is important to them and they are highly attuned to it. No one understands that better than the people who handle working hound packs, whether beagle, basset, or foxhound, as well as the people who work with bloodhounds.

And yet we still know so little about the thing that is at the very center of our sport: scent and the ability to track it. There have been many attempts to understand and measure scent, to unravel the effects of temperature, geography, moisture, and wind on its behavior, and these efforts have driven scientists, huntsmen, and curious amateurs to some peculiar (and highly entertaining) experiments. One book by Milo Pearsall and Hugo Verbruggen noted that “experiments have shown that a person traveling above the ground when suspended from a cable trolley could not be tracked by dogs.” (More importantly, what did the neighbors think?)

If that were not alarming enough, consider the next phase, in which Pearsall and Verbruggen tested the importance of human skin flakes to a hound’s ability to track a person: “A person dressed in full surgical gear, wearing total body isolation garments, laid track for a dog who had successfully tracked that person several times. The result: the dog showed no interest at the starting flag, nor anywhere else even when led on lead. When the person removed hood and mask, the dogs easily could follow a fresh track … When the person’s boots were cut off but while he wore the hood and mask, the dog easily followed both a fresh and aged track.”

On the other hand, responding to that experiment’s conclusion, one Lieutenant Weldon Wood wrote an essay for the National Police Bloodhound Association Book and asked, “If this is true, then how is it explained that a dog has followed the trail of a person on a bicycle or in an open car?”

Good question, Lt. Wood, and we still have no idea, despite decades upon decades of study.

Happily for trackers of hare, cottontail, fox, coyote, and the like, game doesn’t wear “total body isolation garments,” although there are times when scenting conditions are so poor it seems as if the quarry is. Scent and its operation on the canine nose are mysteries, but the more pressing mystery, from a huntsman’s point of view, is why scent is so changeable and how conditions of land and weather can change its behavior. Here again, ceaseless study has not led us very far. It is generally understood that hot weather and sunlight are bad for scenting, but there are myriad theories as to why this might be true.

The English Master of Fox Hounds H. M. Budgett wrote a classic text, Hunting by Scent, in 1933 that amply illustrates the lengths hunters were driven to in their fervor to get a grip on scent. Budgett employed a pair of magnificent bloodhounds, Ledburn Baal and Hopeful of Hambrook, to help him test his theory that what hounds actually track are particles and oils left behind by the quarry (human or animal) touching the ground ahead of the hound and laying a scent trail directly on the grass or soil, not by the mere whiff of air over the body as it moved past. He was ferociously thorough. He used runners on glass-capped stilts, runners in tall wooden sandals, runners clad in riding boots and rain gear secured with rubber bands to prevent any particle from flying loose to make even the fragment of a trail, convinced that if the man did not contact the ground, the hound would not track him (more or less what Pearsall and Verbruggen had found). But it didn’t always work out that way.

“Even when these precautions were taken the bloodhound picked out the trail with perfect ease, and appeared to have learnt by experience how to follow the scent left by the stilts and foot-boards,” Budgett reported in some frustration. “I must confess that at this point my faith was badly shaken. I had hitherto felt convinced that  the ‘body scent’ theory would prove to be fallacious, and that scent tracks would be found solely to consist of particles of matter left by the contact of the quarry. It now appeared, however, that I had been mistaken, as it seemed impossible for any odorous particles to be deposited on the ground from the carefully washed glass bottles on which the stilts were mounted. My family marvelled at the obstinacy with which I stuck to my convictions; they suggested that I should give up the unequal struggle and accept the opinion of others having a wider experience of bloodhound tracking than myself.”

I don’t think I blame them.

Budgett, however, didn’t stop his inquiries, and the subheadings of a couple of chapters in Hunting by Scent will sound very familiar to hunters who have asked the same questions, and devloped their own theories based on their own experiences, about what variables affect scenting on a hunt day–and why. The subheads outline every hunter’s quest for understanding: “Conditions under which scent is good or bad. Direction of air currents on which scent is carried. Relative temperatures of air and ground. Examples. Effect of sun. High wind. Woodlands. Ploughland. Snow and frost. Hound’s knowledge of scent conditions. Meterological considerations. Forecasts of scenting conditions. Effects of moisture in the ground and in the air. The use of smoke to determine movements of air currents. Experiments with anemometer fan and spider’s web. Valuable results obtained with this delicate apparatus. Reasons for its abandonment. Electrical scent instruments. Walking-stick scent indicators.”

If that reads like a cross between Merlin’s lab book and the diary of a man slowly going insane, well, probably there are many huntsmen who feel a little like both as they try to parse the scenting and the weather and then determine where to cast their hounds.