Strolls with the HASABOs

SA puppies Brookfield Traxler 01-15-12

Sault, Sawmill, and Sayit (foreground) explore some snowy branches. That looks like Sample in the background. Photo by Dave Traxler.

WHEN winter weather freezes or drowns out hunting, we’re lucky that we still get to spend time with the hounds. It’s been a week since any of the houndbloggers have hunted in the saddle, but we’ve made it out three times recently with the Iroquois Hunt’s boisterous batch–make that batches–of puppies.

Two of these litters you’ve already met: the HAs (by Hawkeye out of the great BA litter’s mother Baffle) and the SAs (by our former pupposaurus, now houndasaurus, Driver out of Sage). There’s a third litter that also has illustrious parents, and which the houndbloggers have been remiss not to introduce you to before now. They are the BOs. Their parents are two of the great Iroquois characters, easily recognizable by their color and by their prowess on the hunt field: their mother is Bonsai and their father is Samson, known to the houndbloggers as The Voice,  who famously made a scene at Heathrow airport.

We’ll start with the HAs, who have matured into elegant, leggy individuals, something you could see coming even in their early days, and they certainly have been stamped by their sire, Hawkeye.

Hawkeye. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Their training is progressing well, and you can see during this walk that they’re figuring out exactly what those powerful noses can do! There are a few wistful looks toward the rich hunting grounds of Pauline’s Ridge. No doubt the alluring scent of coyote was wafting down from the ridge and into eager HA nostrils, and although they can’t know all that that scent means yet, it already seems to pique the HAs’ interest (and instinct)!

If the HAs are the high-school set, the SAs are still in elementary school. You probably already have noticed something wonderfully unusual about them: they’re not white! A number of the HAs have a bit of subtle buff, lemon, and oatmeal here and there, but the SAs have made a dramatic departure from the paler shades that dominate the Iroquois pack. This gives the houndbloggers some hope that, at some point in the future, they will be able, finally, to reliably identify hounds galloping full throttle half a field or more away.

SA puppy walk Brookfield 01-15-12

The SA puppies and friends at Brookfield. Photo by Dave Traxler.

And here’s another tremendous thing that has the houndbloggers all atwitter about the SAs: they’re wire-haired. We had hoped, not very secretly, that matching the dark Driver and the luxuriously woolly Sage would result in some dark or tri-colored woollies, and while none of the SAs are as flamboyantly woolly as their mother, they are distinctly broken-coated and completely adorable to look at. Their names are Saigon, Sample, Sault, Savvy, Sayit, and Sawmill, the females being Saigon, Sample, Savvy, and Sayit, and the males Sault and Sawmill.

The BOs also have enjoyed romping in the great outdoors. Most recently, they’ve been out and about with their bigger packmates, the SAs, who seem to relish their roles as worldly “big dogs.” The BOs are smooth-coated and colorful, as you’d expect from the pairing of the dark, bronze-eyed Bonsai and the red-and-white Samson.

Saigon, Sawmill, Sample, Savvy, Sault, and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Saigon, Sawmill, Sample, Savvy, Sault, and Sayit having a big time! Photo by Dave Traxler.

The houndbloggers were out for two recent walks with the SAs and BOs, first at Miller Trust and then at Dulin’s. You can see the results–including Savvy’s courageous pursuit of a waterbound dog biscuit!–in the video below. The BOs, the kindergarteners, are named Bobbsey, Bombay, Bombshell, Boone, Bootjack, Bouncer, Bounder, and Bourbon.

With three litters of puppies, it’s going to take some time for everyone, from hunt staff to houndbloggers, to learn which name goes with which hound. And, as huntsman Lilla Mason pointed out, it doesn’t really work to ID a hound by some small mark you only see when you’re up close. Come the day these puppies take to the hunt field, the staff most often will be identifying them by watching them run across a field or by looking straight down on their backs from the saddle. So everyone now is trying to familiarize themselves with the three litters’ back and side markings and tail markings, for example.

Saigon Sayit Brookfield 01-15-12 Traxler photo

Saigon and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

So far, the houndbloggers only reliably know a handful, if that. But as we follow the puppies through these initial walks, and on to spring training and summer hound walk, we’ll learn more about them as they learn more about working in a pack. Stay tuned!

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.”

Two Tastes of Summer

Bonsai and Jerry Miller at Boone Valley on Aug. 28. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Summer hound walks are over now that huntsman Lilla Mason is on horseback and the hounds’ exercise picks up speed. Now our attention turns to the hunt season ahead, but not without some lingering memories of fun times from the summer just past.

To celebrate the start of September, we’ve got the above video and a Smilebox photo slide show (see below) of some of the Iroquois hounds’ summer moments. We hope you enjoy reminiscing about the summer as much as we did!

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Hounds among cattle

Getting hounds used to cattle is an important part of the summer training regimen.

CATTLE are boring. That’s the message Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason wants to give the hounds. Whether or not you happen to like cattle, or even find them exciting, it’s important that the hounds find them as unexciting as possible. Why? Farmers don’t like their cattle to be chased or harassed, and it doesn’t aid in chasing the quarry–coyote, in our case–if the pack decides they’re too interested in visiting with the cattle in a field the quarry has run through.

But hounds (and especially puppies) are curious beings, and so are calves. Letting the two populations meet and find each other dull company is something that has to be managed carefully.

“In our training program, our goal is to let the hounds investigate something, make the right decision, and learn from that,” explained Lilla. “What you don’t want on hound walk is, every time you get around cattle, the whips and I get nervous and all the hounds want to do is, like a child, the thing you tell them not to do. That’s what you don’t want. What I prefer is for them to go out, investigate the cattle, maybe make a mistake, but see the cattle and get bored with them.

“What you don’t want to do is create a situation where the cattle were fun and it was fun to chase them. You want them to get close to the cattle and smell them, get around their legs and maybe get pushed around by one, things like that. You don’t want them to find a lone calf that runs and they chase it. Then you’ve got more homework to do, because that was fun.

“It’s a fine line,” Lilla adds. “But the summer is when you want them to make their mistakes. So at some point you’ve got to just let them experience things. They say God is your best whipper-in. So on a hot day, that’s a good time to take them through cattle, on a day when the cattle don’t want to run, and with cattle that are used to seeing hounds so they don’t react to the hounds because they’re bored with them, too.”

A lone calf that runs away from the hounds can present a particular temptation.

Lilla started the summer’s hound walk at The Pig Lot, where there’s a herd of cows and calves in several large fields. “A lot of times the cows will encircle the babies when they’re lying down, so they’ll all be together,” Lilla said. “That’s ideal, because the cows are being protective, and the babies won’t get up and run, and the cows will swing their heads at the hounds to discourage them.”

There’s plenty of room for hounds and cattle avoid each other, but there also are good opportunities for the twain to meet, as we saw earlier this summer when a young steer sidled up to the pack by himself and tried to engage the puppies. You can see it at about the 3:48 mark :

By mid-July, the year-old puppies Driver and the BA litter had seen and smelled plenty of cattle at The Pig Lot under circumstances that usually weren’t very titillating: hot summer mornings, few lone calves, and plenty of watchful mama moo-cows with plenty of hound experience.

But when Lilla started walking the hounds twice a week at Boone Valley in late July, things got a little more challenging. On a recent Saturday, the hounds met up with a herd of curious young heifers who were both forward and prone to run–a mix the puppies hadn’t experienced before and a real test of their discipline.

“We do a lot of work with cattle before we ever go to Boone Valley, because those heifers are young and very curious, and when they see something they’re curious about, they’ll surround it,” Lilla explained. “They won’t stand still. And they’re young enough that they’re very mobile. They’re like a school of fish.

“It was a perfect test. They were at a distance, and we moved into their field. They came at us, and there were a lot of them.”

Then someone barked. The heifers spooked and ran. Did the hounds give in to the temptation to chase after them? See for yourself how they handled it:

“That was a really good test of our summer program so far,” Lilla said. “What the hounds didn’t do was switch off mentally and think, ‘I’ve gotta chase that, I’ve gotta chase that.’ What they did instead was make a decision, hear me tell them no, and come back. That’s the invisible thread.

“Any pack of hounds, any young puppy, has a tendency to run after what’s moving. You’ll see that during hunt season. Just because a deer flushes out of a covert and a hound gallops a few steps after it, that’s not rioting. If the hound then gets the chance to see it and smell it and then says, ‘Oh, right, I’m not supposed to do that,’ and comes back, that’s what you want. Rioting is when they take those few galloping steps and then switch off to the huntsman and say, ‘I’ve gotta chase that.’ Then you’ve got a problem.

“What was nice about that day,” she continued, “is that the whippers-in were very calm and I was calm. We didn’t create tension for the pack, where they get like a coiled-up spring ready to pop, where they’re thinking, ‘Everybody’s tense! We’re tense, too! What are we tense about? Oh, cattle are moving, we’ve got to run!’

“The whips did the right thing, because they got where, if there was a problem, they could correct it, but they didn’t come running in and push the hounds back to me. They allowed the hounds to obey me.'”

There’s still time for more training this summer: the informal hunting season, which will mark the puppies’ debut, doesn’t start until around October. But already the young hounds have passed some important tests. Next up: horn training. So far, Lilla hasn’t used the horn much at all on hound walks. How can she teach Driver and the BAs what it means? Find out next time, on the hound blog!

Puppies of Two Species

Driver meets four-year-old Trevor on Saturday's hound walk

WHAT a beautiful day Saturday was! It started with a crashing thunderstorm that prevented me from riding over to catch our trailer ride to the day’s hound walk, so the houndbloggers went out with the hounds on foot for what turned out to be a Very Special Morning.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason brought the hounds, including one-year-old Driver and many of the BA litter, to Boone Valley Farm instead of to the usual meeting point on the farm across from The Corners. The change of location was exciting to the hounds. The older hounds, Paper among them now, associate Boone Valley with nearby Pauline’s Ridge, one of the richest coyote coverts in the hunt country and understandably a place that holds great interest for experienced hunting hounds.

To the puppies, the field trip was especially exciting. New sights, sounds, and, most importantly, scents! New country to explore!

Even before kennel manager Michael Edwards unloaded the hounds from their trailer, there was some excitement when a herd of cattle came barreling past not far from the hound truck. But the hounds, safe inside, didn’t turn a hair, and when Michael turned them out, they ignored the cattle’s trail and put their noses right in the grass to find the biscuits Michael and Lilla had scattered there for them.

Nearby, another “puppy” was making his debut at Boone Valley, too. That was young Trevor, the four-year-old son of an Iroquois member, who was out on his new pony Polly for his very first hound walk. Driver and Paper were hugely curious about this pair, the smallest person they’d ever seen, riding either the largest hound or the smallest horse they’d ever seen. Like kids everywhere, Paper, Driver, and Trevor were drawn to each other.

Paper, who joined the hunting pack last season, says hello

Paper's pretty sure he's figured out where she keeps those biscuits ...

The day had the potential to be a little too exciting: inexperienced young hounds in exciting new territory where running cattle had piqued their curiosity, old hounds returning to a place they know well for coyote runs, and a strong breeze to carry the scent of coyote to them from Pauline’s Ridge. It was a good test for both groups of hounds, and they did very well. When temptation drew them too far away from her, their noses in the air to catch the odors wafting by, they returned when she called. Occasionally, one or two of the puppies–most notably Backfire, a BA puppy who has showed himself to be forward many times on earlier hound walks–would range away from the main group of hounds and stand gazing off into the distance, nose twitching.

Those are critical moments in a puppy’s development, Lilla pointed out, because they mark a decision. The puppy can either decide to follow his nose and head for the hills, leaving the pack and Lilla, or he can decide to back away from that temptation and stay with his peers and his huntsman.

Backfire, one of the year-old BA litter

“We want them to process information and then make the right decision,” Lilla explained.

Backfire was an especially good example of all of the puppies’ progress. At Boone Valley, we could see Backfire developing the idea that he’s part of a pack. He’s learning that, when the group stops, he can wander a little and taste the air, but when he’s out on his own too far away from the pack and Lilla, it’s a little uncomfortable. Looking off to the far hills, he’s still in touch with Lilla, and when she calls, he hears her and turns.

A huntsman’s ability to stay in a hound’s mind like that, to maintain that golden thread of connection between himself and a hound even when something else is calling to the hound’s deep instinct, is vital to success. It’s not always possible to hold a hound’s attention, but a huntsman that consistently can regain a hound’s attention simply by saying its name–a twitch upon that golden thread–has perhaps the greatest gift a huntsman can have. But it isn’t easy to achieve, and it isn’t foolproof.

“Backfire,” Lilla said, “is a thinker. And we want these hounds to think.”

As with young horses, hounds that can process information and respond to it thoughtfully, rather than simply react with instinct, are better to handle.

Trevor, mom Debbie, and Polly the pony watch the hounds. Well, okay, Polly was watching the grass.

As for Trevor, he had a good day, too! He learned about hounds and also about Polly. The main thing we think he learned about Polly is that she is a PONY, meaning, yes, she will try to roll even while (maybe even especially while) you are riding her, in which case it’s best to get off. He learned that Driver is very big. Most importantly, he found out that this business of following the hounds on horseback is about as much fun as there is in the world.

We think so, too.

Snow hounds, a hunt country panorama, and some random jottings

Rosie Wilson sent this picture-postcard-perfect photo of her hound puppies

THE YEAR is winding down, it’s the holiday season, there’s a little Bailey’s in my glass, and it’s getting on toward bedtime–a potent mixture for inducing nostalgia in the sleepy houndblogger.

Out with the hounds this afternoon, it occurred to me how lucky we are to have use of the beautiful land in the Iroquois hunt country. Landowners and farmers really are the backbone of foxhunting–along with the hounds and the game–and we should appreciate them every chance we get. Standing atop a breezy hill this afternoon on Boone Valley Farm, the thought occurred to me that those of you who aren’t familiar with Iroquois might like a quick peek at some of our hunt country. This view rpresents one of the most beautiful panoramas in the hunt country and takes in a few places very fsamiliar to those who regularly follow hounds over it, such as Boone Valley Farm and Wee Young’s Covert. I’m still learning the names and locations of some of the coverts, which turns out to be a good deal more complicated than you might think. To give you some idea, here’s a rough map that Steve Snyder sketched out for us this afternoon while we were following the hunt in the four-wheeler:

Try keeping all THAT in your head! The hunt staff do, which strikes me as a minor miracle. Steve’s map helped keep me oriented properly as we buzzed along the roads around Boone Valley, Foxtrot, and other notable landmarks in the country. But it was no match for the sheer beauty of the land, even on a cloudy afternoon with a chilly wind blowing in. This brief video panorama hardly does it justice but gives you some idea:

We were in the middle of a lovely piece of land watching one of man’s ancient pastimes, but it is striking to note how much modern technology now contributes to our ability to protect the hounds and to carry on hunting even as development encroaches–in fact, the gradual incursion of roads and subdivisions is one of the reasons technology has become a feature of many hunt fields. Back in the 1800s, huntsmen and Masters bemoaned the coming of railway lines. And well they might: the railway lines didn’t just cause a nuisance in bisecting the hunt country and making it more difficult to cross, they also endangered hounds. Reading periodicals of the era when railways were relatively new, it is sad how often notices appeared reporting the death of hounds on railroad lines. Today, the car is the biggest risk to hounds in many hunt countries.

The hunt staff at Iroquois carry radios, the hounds wear tracking collars, and the kennel staff work the roads in their hound trucks, cell phones and radios on, all part of maximizing safety.

Foxhunting equipment today includes radios and cell phones for the humans, and tracking collars for the hounds

Even so, as we scanned the countryside and watched the horses and hounds from our vantage point on Boone Valley Farm’s highest hill, we were reminded that even with modern technology now on the hunt field, huntsman and hounds are part of an old, old ritual, and no technology can replace the hounds’ instincts and training or the close bond they have with the people who hunt them. And thank heavens for that! You can’t manufacture a hound’s sagacity or bravery.

Speaking of bravery … something we saw today has inspired us to inaugurate a Game as Grundy Award, named for the late great Iroquois hunting and stallion hound. Huntsman Lilla Mason, leg still in a cast, returned to the saddle for an hour today to accompany the hounds with joint-Master Jerry Miller, who has been carrying the horn while Lilla is recovering from a broken ankle. It was great to see her out again, and we wish her a speedy full recovery!

And now the houndbloggers will have to hie off to bed to dream of hounds. It’s just a few minutes now until Christmas Eve! We hope you all have a happy and peaceful Christmas!

A Christmas fox wishes you a happy holiday season!

Doing your end-of-year tax planning? Don’t forget to consider a donation to the Hound Welfare Fund! Donations are tax-deductible, and 100 percent of your donation goes directly to the care of the retired hounds.

They sang along the creek (with video)

The Iroquois hounds, seen here with whipper-in Elizabeth Playforth, met Saturday at Boone Valley

IT wasn’t the best scenting day last Saturday, but the hounds got their run. And if you love to hear hounds’ voices in beautiful countryside, it was a glorious day to be out.

Huntsman Lilla Mason is currently on crutches after a riding injury, so the horn has passed to her mentor, joint-Master Jerry Miller. Saturday’s hounds were the bitch pack of twelve-and-a-half couple, and, after time away from hunting due to deer-hunting season, they were ready to get back to work.

“We’ve got to get them out of the kennel,” Master Miller explained to the field at the meet.

The challenge for Miller–as for anyone stepping in for an injured huntsman–was to “get the hounds’ eyes” and attention on him. In short, the recognize that he was in fact the day’s huntsman, even though he is not the person they generally see carrying the horn.

A quick switch in huntsmen can confuse a pack, and some hounds can be openly skeptical of the “new” huntsman’s authority. The story Clear Creek Beagles whipper-in Jean MacLean told us over the summer about her first experience walking the beagle pack is a perfect example of that!

Jerry had already hunted the dog pack in Lilla’s absence once before deer season, and their first inclination, on getting out of the hound trailer, was to search for Lilla. Simply handing over the horn doesn’t mean the hounds follow automatically. After months, even years, of close training and work with one huntsman, that switch is rarely easy.

“There’s no question that the hounds develop a close personal bond with their huntsman,” Jerry said.

That bond is so close that Lilla is careful not to let the hounds hear her voice while she’s car-following, because it would likely be a major distraction to them.

On Saturday, Jerry explained to the field and whippers-in that he would take the bitch pack to a fairly distant covert, Boyd’s Bottom, for their first draw. It takes about 20 minutes to get from the meet at Boone Valley to Boyd’s Bottom, and Jerry wanted to take that time to let them hounds get familiar with him as huntsman.

“That was the first time I’d hunted the bitches,” Jerry said later. “They’d had the loss of Lilla and then deer-hunting season, so they hadn’t been out for about a week and a half. Now they’re going out with someone strange to them. Even though I know them, they don’t know me. They’re only used to me walking with them. So I took them three or four fields south, and along the way, I kept calling each of their names and making them look at me.

“That sounds like it’s simple, but Lilla can tell you: you can call some of their names, and sometimes, like if they’re mad, they’re not going to look up at you. Some will look up immediately, especially the ones that we got from England, because Lilla hasn’t hunted them many times yet, and they’re used to a man’s voice.

“When we crossed the creek in David Estill’s going towards Boyd’s Bottom, they finally paid attention to me. I could stop and tell one to ‘bike,’ to come back in to me, and they did that. I couldn’t believe it. Why they all of a sudden decided to listen to me, I don’t know, but they did.”

The process of getting the hounds to “connect up” with a new huntsman can be slow, Jerry says, especially when the former huntsman has–as in Lilla’s case–been working closely with the hounds during all their early training and summer work.

“They do respond to me, because I say their names often,” Jerry said. “I did that all day long, saying individual hounds’ names so they could identify with me. But they got all their basics in the summer from Lilla. She knows all about them, and they know her.”

Lilla’s mount Saturday was our car Brabinger, a blue Hyundai Tucson that, while not yet schooled to jump, is a pretty good hilltopper. Plus, he has cup-holders.

(Off topic: Brabinger is named after the unflappable butler from one of our favorite comedy series, “To The Manor Born.” Our other car, the elderly but still very game Jeeves, is named after the wise valet in P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books. Highly recommended, as is the BBC television series starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves.)

Car-following has some advantages (see “cup-holders,” above). Your car is unlikely to spook. You can stay pretty comfortable and get a decent overview of the hunt. But it certainly does not compare to the wind-in-your-hair excitement of galloping cross country behind the hounds and the close-up view of good hound work. From our hillside, we couldn’t see the hounds when they struck off on a coyote line and ran along the tree-lined creek below us, but we could hear their spine-tingling cry as it echoed upward towards us.

We now know we missed quite a scene: coyote and hounds swam the creek and the run continued on the south bank. The coyote ran through a field of cattle, jumped a coop, circled back to Boyd’s Bottom, and generally gave the bitch pack plenty of exercise.

On Sunday, we tried the car-following again (this time in a truck), always being careful to stick to solid ground and roadways in order not to cause damage. Sunday’s hounds were the dog pack, consisting of eight couple. Again, the scenting was less than ideal in the warming afternoon, and there were only brief moments when hounds spoke and had a little run. Nonetheless, we had excellent views of the hounds and of the field, as shown below. You’ll spot Paper in an exuberant mood, woolly Sassoon, red-and-white Samson, and the enormous Hawkeye, the latter two among our most recent English imports. At the end of the video, as we’re returning to the meet, Gaelic stops by to say hello to Lilla.

The time off from deer season can make a significant difference to a pack, Jerry explained. Going into the two-week break while the deer-hunters are out, the pack was fit from cubbing. The sudden slowdown in activity can frustrate hounds, and when they do get back to work again, the conditions have changed.

“By the time you get them back out, scenting has completely changed,” Jerry explained. “The deer have gone into rut, the grass is starting to lose a lot of its smells, the leaves are starting to fall, and everything in those coverts is different. That can be a big setback, when you go from full covert to now where the leaves are falling off the trees, it changes everything. I would think it makes scenting better, but it’s the idea that they’ve got to sort it all out.”

These days, the hounds have more new information than usual to sort through: the new scents of late autumn, the changes in coverts, and, for now, a new huntsman. So far, so good.

Hound of the Day, Nov. 4: Strawberry

Strawberry 11-05-09

English import Strawberry made her debut at Iroquois on Nov. 4.

CALL it culture shock. Strawberry only arrived from England on Oct. 21, and the Nov. 4 meet from Boone Valley was her first day out with her new pack, the Iroquois hounds.

Strawberry and the three other Cottesmore hounds who came with her from England last month are now adjusting to a new kennel and staff, a new pack, new countryside to navigate, and new game to chase (coyote). Most importantly, they must learn to build a relationship with a new huntsman.

It’s hard to overstate how close hounds feel to their huntsman. Working pack hounds are trained to focus entirely on the person who carries the horn, and, as we’ve seen during hound walk and training this summer, the huntsman’s attention and approval is something hounds strive (and even compete) for. So to move from one pack to another isn’t just a change of environment; it’s like changing your whole family. Fortunately, hounds are highly adaptable animals. After a period of adjustment, they do figure their new lives out.

For Strawberry, that process got serious on Wednesday. Ever since she was born, she has known one huntsman: Cottesmore’s Neil Coleman. And when she stepped out of the hound trailer at Boone Valley on Wednesday, it was only natural, as she scanned the unfamiliar countryside and sniffed the new smells, that Strawberry would be looking for one person: Neil.

Neil Coleman with hounds

Strawberry's former huntsman, the Cottesmore's Neil Coleman

“Until now, he’s all she’s known,” said Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. “When she left the trailer, she looked around with a quizzical look on her face. She ran back to the trailer to Alan (Foy, kennel staff member). The rest of the hounds were going on.”

But Samson, another Cottesmore import who was on his second trip out with the Iroquois pack this time, stayed back with her, too, as if trying to tell Strawberry, ‘Hey, it’s okay, it’s still hunting, we have a new huntsman!’

Strawberry still looked skeptical, so Lilla turned and tossed her a biscuit. That helped, but Strawberry still wasn’t fully convinced. Where, after all, was Neil?

Samson 11-05-09

Samson, imported from Cottesmore at the same time as Strawberry, provided encouragement

Iroquois has imported hounds before, and so everyone knows well how to make their transition as smooth as possible. As she rode with the hounds to the first covert, Lilla was keeping Strawberry and the other new English hounds out that day–Samson, Hawkeye, and Structure–very much in mind.

“I picked some pretty open places to go, because I had a feeling that they would be nervous, and I didn’t want to go into a real dense covert to start with,” she explained. “I didn’t want them to get in there and not know where they were, not know the sound of my voice, not know the sound of my horn. So we went north where there’s low grass.”

Pack of hounds, sounds of horn, trotting to a covert–yes, it looks like hunting, Strawberry must have been thinking, but where is my huntsman? Where is his horse?

“She got back with the field, walked all through the horses, looking up at everyone,” Lilla said. “And then she just sat down and started howling. She just didn’t know what to do.”

Lilla and Alice

Hounds and huntsman develop a close bond. A change in huntsman can confuse a hound, but they also can adjust quickly to having a new leader.

“You can tell by looking at her that Strawberry is a wise old girl,” Lilla added. “She just has that face. When you go visit her in the kennel, she’ll come to you wagging her tail to say hello, and then she’ll go gently sit down and watch everything. She’s kind of above it all. She’s very regal.

“But that day she had the most confused look on her face!”

Strawberry hung back from the pack at first, still, it seems, trying to figure out where her leader was.

“I tried to use my voice, but that didn’t work as well as the horn,” Lilla said. “I would blow the horn, and she’d come a little way. She’d get up with the horses in the field, then start looking around, then sit down and howl again. It was like she was thinking, ‘I know I’m supposed to go to the horn, but it’s not the right horn, and I don’t see Neil, and something’s not right about this.’ But after the first hour or so, she started to get it. She wasn’t going to be with Neil, there was a horn, and the horn meant the same thing as it did before. But it was gut-wrenching at the start. I could see she was so upset not to be with Neil, and she didn’t understand my voice.”

Hawkeye 11-05-09

Hawkeye got into the swing of things quickly on his first day out with Iroquois on Wednesday

The other new Cottesmore hound debuting Wednesday, Hawkeye, had a similar moment of confusion but rapidly got on with the job. Structure and Samson debuted last week and also did well, but, again, they had to figure things out at first.

Structure 11-05-09

Structure also hunted Wednesday, her second time out with the Iroquois pack

“Structure wasn’t as expressive about it as Strawberry was,” Lilla said. “But she was confused and a little bit concerned. She was going to come, but she wasn’t sure she was supposed to, that kind of thing.”

Structure did get “thrown out” on her first day–not thrown out the way a baseball manager gets thrown out for yelling at the ump, but thrown out as in accidentally getting separated from the pack. “Then she spent the rest of the day looking for me,” Lilla said. “It’s just that she doesn’t know yet where she is. The other hounds know the score, they know where the holes under fences are.”

You might be interested to know that Samson, he of the mighty airport bark, has been quiet and professional so far! He, too, had an early moment of doubt. But as we saw Wednesday, he felt confident enough about the American style of hunting to encourage Strawberry to join up.

One thing everyone’s noticed about these English hounds: boy, can they ever jump.

“A wire fence is no boundary to them,” said Lilla. “They just sail right over it.”

Those are between three and four feet tall, ladies and gentlemen.

Strawberry performed one of these stag-leaps on Wednesday. Having found herself well away from the pack, separated from them by a fence, and having decided that the horn was indeed a cousin of the one she knew in England, she took a bold decision.

“She knew she wasn’t supposed to be off by herself,” Lilla said, “and she knew she had to catch up with that horn somehow. So she just leaped right over the fence.

“When we got back to the trailers at the end of the day, I hopped off my horse before the hounds were all in the trailer, because I wanted to give Strawberry a big pat. She looked at me like, ‘Okay, I get it now.'”

Which reminded Lilla of Neil again. On the trips she used to make herself to pick up hounds from the Cottesmore in England, the most difficult and wonderful part was the last moment at Cottesmore, when Neil would say his goodbyes to the hounds before helping Lilla load them up for the drive to the airport and flight to America.

Neil is a big, burly man, not necessarily the kind of guy you expect to crouch down and speak lovingly to a hound, stroke it under the chin and tell it goodbye, personally, one-on-one. But this is exactly what he did.

“That’s why they love him,” Lilla said. “Watching that, it makes you feel the great reponsibility to make these hounds happy, to do well by these gifts.”

Strawberry dances with kennelman Michael Edwards. She really can jump!

Strawberry and kennelman Michael Edwards share a dance: she really can jump!

Hound of the Day, Oct. 18: Grindstone

Michael Edwards with Grindstone

Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards with Hound of the Day Grindstone. Edwards put a lot of work into building Grindstone's confidence.

IT’S hard to believe how far Grindstone has come in her long career with Iroquois. That came to mind at the meet on October 18 at Boone Valley.

The weather was warm, and there was a large field of riders out that morning, and the hounds arrived looking forward to their day. Grindstone was as eager as ever, lining up first as she always does so that she can be the first out of the hound truck and down the ramp into the grass. You can see her unloading in her customary manner in the video below; she’s the small white hound, the first to leap out, from the lower level of the hound truck.

“She’s one of those hounds that, on hound walk, has her tail kind of drooping down and makes the least amount of effort possible,” said Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. “But this was a hunt day, and she was doing that thing your house dogs will do when they want you to take them out for a walk. You know how they run to the door,  look at you, run back to you, then dash to the door again? Grindstone was running ahead, then come back and looking up at me, then running ahead again. It was like she was saying, ‘Come on, Lilla! Trot, trot!’ It just reminded me of how different she used to be when we first got her.”

Grindstone is a little crossbred hound, and, if we are very honest, she’s not going to win America’s Top Model anytime soon. She arrived at Iroquois under unusual circumstances. Iroquois had loaned her mother, Iroquois Grizzle, to another hunt for a year, on the understanding that the hunt would keep her for a season, breed her to get a litter of puppies from her, and then send her home again to Iroquois.

“Grizzle was a really good hound,” Lilla said. “They got a litter of puppies out of her, but they didn’t send her back for a couple of seasons. When they finally did send her back, in the crate with her was this little ugly duckling of a puppy. That was Grindstone. She was terribly, terribly shy, and, to be honest, there was nothing about her we wanted. She was so shy you couldn’t touch her, she was ugly, she was really little, it wasn’t the kind of breeding that suits our pack, she wasn’t built to cover the kind of ground we cover. She didn’t look much like a coyote-chasing hound at all, but what could you do? You had to keep her. So we kept her.”

And she turned out to be Cinderella?

“No, it just got worse and worse.”

The biggest problem was the shyness. When Grindstone first arrived, kennelman Michael Edwards said, “I’ll really work with her.” Michael, it should be noted here, is a hound magnet, the kindest guy you’ll ever meet, and an expert at turning wallflower puppies into confident, outgoing stars.

“But Grindstone was so shy, he couldn’t even touch her,” recalled Lilla. “She would just go back in a corner. You could put her in with a group, and she’d go in and out of the kennel in a group, but to catch her you pretty much had to corner her, and she’d cower on the ground. This went on for her first year with us. So how could you hunt her? She was so wild.

“Finally, after a year, Michael was able to touch her, but only he could touch her. She was pretty much useless to us as a working hound.”

Finally, when Grindstone was in her second year at the Iroquois kennel, joint-Master Jerry Miller decided they had to do something. And that something was take her out on hound walk. In a group of hounds. No leash. Just like all Grindstone’s well-adjusted peers in the pack. The hunt staff didn’t like this idea at all.

“He said, ‘We can’t just keep her in the kennel. She’s got to go hunting. She’s got to do something.’ Michael was afraid of that, and we all thought she would just go feral. We thought, ‘The minute she gets out of the hound truck and doesn’t know where she is, she’ll just go off. And we can’t touch her, so when she does go off, she’ll just become a stray dog.’ But Jerry said, ‘We have to do this. We can’t keep treating her differently.'”

It was with great trepidation that the staff pulled into Boone Valley for hound walk that summer day back in 2003.

Boone Valley

Boone Valley: scene of Grindstone's triumph

“We parked by the barn, and Michael was a nervous wreck, because he’d finally won her confidence, and he was kind of upset about having to do this,” Lilla said. “We opened the trailer doors, and everybody came out except Grindstone. She stayed in for a minute, and then she kind of came slinking out.”

There she was, out in the wide, wide world. She stood looking around while the hunt staff went on about their business, trying hard not to let their nerves about Grindstone show.

“The only thing we could do was treat everybody normally,” Lilla remembered. “So we started off on hound walk just like it was any old day, like there was nothing different at all. And it was the strangest thing. Grindstone came along. She started off shyly, with her head kind of low and her tail kind of low, and she walked on a little way, looking from side to side at the hounds around her. She was in the middle of the hounds, and they were all doing the same thing, just walking happily along, and it was like all of a sudden she got a sense of belonging. It was as if she started thinking, ‘I may be an ugly duckling, and I don’t look like them or act like them, but I’m a group.’ We just kept walking along, and Grindstone’s head got a little higher and her stride got a little bouncier, and her tail came up. She had realized that she was part of a pack.”


Working pack hounds have both an individual identity and a pack identity. "It's a wonderful thing to see them have that epiphany that they are part of a group," says Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason.

It was a moment that changed Grindstone’s life. The hunt staff breathed a sigh of relief.

“That’s what’s so neat about a pack of hounds,” Lilla said. “It is a pack. They are individuals, but they love their pack. It’s wonderful to see, like with Grindstone, that sense of belonging. Now she has hunted for years, and she’s been great. Those kinds of epiphanies that hounds have–whether it’s accepting being part of the pack or figuring out what their nose is–that’s what really makes hunting hounds special.”

Today you would never guess at Grindstone’s past shyness. The fact that she isn’t now is a tribute to a lot of things, mainly careful, patient handling in the kennel and the bold decision to let her try hunting. In the end, Grindstone vindicated Iroquois’s unusual training policy of “no hound left behind”–to work to find the key to every hound so that it can try hunting, even if that means letting it make a late debut on the hunt field.

“She’s so valuable to us now,” explained Lilla. “We use her when we have difficult fixtures where we can only take very steady hounds. She can go with the young hounds, she can do it all.”

This is Grindstone’s sixth season of hunting. When she retires from the hunt field, she will join a new pack with a lot of familiar faces: the Iroquois hounds’ retired hounds, which also are kenneled at the Iroquois kennels on Miller Trust Farm. Once retired, Grindstone will be cared for under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund. Please donate!