It takes a village to raise a hound (with video!)

The Volunteers: A few of the people helping with the Iroquois puppies this spring. Thanks, y'all!

AND, LUCKILY, we’ve got a village. They probably weren’t overjoyed at being immortalized on video, but the folks who volunteer with the Iroquois hounds are a hardy, stiff-upper-lip-and-get-on-with-it group. They would always rather be out with horses and hounds than being seen on the screen. On the other hand, they were delighted to talk about the hounds they’ve been working with and how much they enjoy it. That they do enjoy being part of the hounds’ lives is entirely clear from the way they talk about their favorites, what kind of progress young so-and-so has made since last week, or a new discovery they’ve made about hounds that has opened up a new way of looking at the hunt.

Working with the hounds has done that for all of us: given us a new and interesting perspective on what’s really happening when we’re galloping behind Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason on the field. Now, when we’re trotting behind the hounds on the way to the first covert, we’re watching not just “the hounds,” but individual personalities we’ve come to know. We look forward to the day our favorite young hound, now entered, will own the line for the first time. We strain to hear a familiar voice in the thickets. We watch them and take pride in their progress. We love them.

Gene Baker and his wife Christine are often on the scene at kennel events, and Gene also helps by doing photography. Unlike me, he has lenses--plural--and knows when his lens cap is closed!

As one kennel visitor who frequently drives over with his wife from Louisville put it recently, “I always thought of hunting as galloping and jumping. That’s what it was about for us. But I see now that this part is the real fun!”

Driver: Happy happy happy!

Here’s another benefit: working with the hounds gets you through the gap between hunt seasons that other people call “summer.” If you show or event your horse, it’s not so bad, but I’ll be the first to tell you that, as a person who loathes the heat, to me summer was always the price I paid for fall. At least, it was until I started going out on summer hound walks. Getting to watch the hounds’ training behind the scenes makes summer as interesting as fall, and it makes fall more interesting, too, for the reasons mentioned above.

Kennel manager Michael Edwards with Bree Morton, a vet tech at Richmond Road Vet clinic. Bree stopped by to work with Driver. Bree bottle-fed Driver at the clinic for almost six weeks last spring when he was a newborn.

For the hounds, having this group of volunteers expands their circle of friends–and that’s not as trivial as it might sound. By making contact with lots of different people, the young hounds learn to be comfortable outside the relatively cloistered community of their kennel. They get exposed to other sights, sounds, and smells, other voices and pats, while still identifying Lilla as their leader. They learn to approach the world and people around them with confidence and curiosity.

"Did you mention biscuits? I'd love one!" Sassoon knows what's in the pockets of Lilla's kennel coat.

It’s a two-way street.

So today we’re thanking the hound-program volunteers. All of you who have pitched in and helped the Iroquois hounds, here’s to you! Some of you are in the video above, and some of you weren’t there on that particular day, but you’re appreciated, and you know who you are (Eloise, are you reading?): THANK YOU!

Gaelic cools off after a tough afternoon of biscuit-chasing.

Whether you’re a hound-program volunteer or not, please consider donating to the Hound Welfare Fund to help care for our retired foxhounds! To donate online or by snail mail, click here. Rather sport a nifty HWF cap, T shirt, or polo shirt? We can help you with that! All proceeds go directly to care for the retired hounds, and your donations to the HWF are tax-deductible.

Blessed are the foxhounds (with much video!)

IHC Blessing of the Hounds 11-07-09

The Iroquois Hunt's Blessing of the Hounds honored the pack's retirees as well as its current hunting members. The human "new entry" also were well represented among the riders!

THERE’S something truly beautiful about the Blessing of the Hounds ceremony that opens the formal foxhunting season. It’s a “high church” event for foxhunters, a way to honor the sport’s most important players: the hounds, the game, and the land.

At Iroquois, we add a special twist by including retired hounds in the blessing ceremony, a tip of the top hat to their years of service and all the sport they and their progeny have given the club.

A good many of the Iroquois Hunt’s neighbors and landowners were in attendance today as the riders, horses, hounds, and hunt staff gathered in toasty sunshine on the clubhouse lawn. Deacon Bryant Kibbler conducted the service, and in his brief homily, he, too, made a point to honor our old soldiers who were standing nearby with huntsman Lilla Mason, their sterns gently waving as if they were remembering their glory days in the hills and fields around them.

They were joined by a sprinkling of current members in the hunting pack. Our big woolly, Grundy’s son Sassoon, is “far from retired,” Lilla said, “but he loves a party.” The sisters Finite and Finesse, fondly known as “two bodies, one brain,” also attended before taking to the hunt field.

Finite and Finesse

Two bodies, one brain: Finite and Finesse

(In case you need a reminder about how they got their nickname, here is their story, originally posted in Hound’s Life: Summer Walk earlier this year:

They are a testament to this hunt staff’s patience. They showed little real interest in hunting early on in their careers and usually could be found loping along together as if in their own world. But one day, something clicked.

“Lilla spotted them on a run out hunting one day near Blue Fox Farm,” Miller recalls. “She said over the radio, ‘It’s Finesse!’ I said, ‘No, you’ve got that wrong,’ and she came back on the radio and said, ‘And Finite!’  I couldn’t believe it.”

But there they were, the two sisters leading the whole pack.

“They lost 10 or 15 pounds that season because they finally started hunting,” Miller said. “Before then it seemed like they could just live on air. We used to feed them about this much”–cupping his hand–”and they still stayed fat because they expended so little energy on the hunt field.”

Sassoon, Finesse, and Finite are all woolly hounds rather than smooth-coated. The other woollies out this morning to receive their blessing were Gloucester, Fickle, and Stalker.

For Stalker, it was an especially important milestone. Stalker is nine years old this season, and he has a heart ailment. “Every day is a blessing for Stalker,” said Lilla, and that’s true. We don’t know how long we will have old Stalker around, but he has earned the hunt’s special affection for his courage.

Stalker '01

For Stalker, every day is Blessing Day

The other retired hounds who enjoyed a nostalgic visit to the hunt club were Parapet, Pancake (better known in her early hunting days as “Pancake. Pancake. PANCAKE!”); Glamorous, so named because she appears to be wearing an ermine wrap around her neck and shoulders; Radiant; Glowworm (whose father, Captain, was the first hound retired under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund); and Harlequin, the HWF’s retiree of the year for 2009 who was featured in the blog earlier this year.

Harlequin photographed by Peggy Manness

Harlequin, as captured by Peggy Manness of Maness Photography

The older hounds stepped right back into their familiar role, pushing their way right up with the younger hounds to compete for biscuits and trotting over to visit spectators gathered around the lawn for the ceremony. One child could be heard to say, “Mommy! That dog’s got a beard!”

We love our woollies!

The clip below is from the beginning of the Blessing of the Hounds ceremony; the two biggest woollies are Sassoon and Stalker.

Then it was on up the road for a stirrup cup in a field adjacent to Miller Trust Farm, where the hounds are kenneled.

It was especially nice to see so many young riders out today! They took everything in stride. The smallest riders retired from the field after having their photos taken (and some ham biscuits and cake, provided by Lilla as part of the stirrup cup). But the other juniors joined right in for the hunt day, galloping and jumping and watching the hounds work in the grassy fields, woods, and creek bottoms on Miller Trust and the surrounding country.

We think everyone–hounds, horses, and riders–went home happy. The weather was too hot for good scenting, but the hounds worked well together, and, all in all, it was a pleasant start to the formal season, complete with some impromptu schooling over fences in “the bowl” near Boone Creek on Miller Trust. In the clip below, you get a good idea of how high some of the growth is now, courtesy of the unusually wet summer we’ve had. The clip starts with the field jumping a coop and also includes the sound of Lilla’s horn and the hounds speaking briefly.

Finally, it was time to hack home again. Lilla rode her horse, Lager, right into the kennel to make sure everyone was home safely.

Blessing Day - Back in kennels

Lilla and Lager make sure everyone's back safe at the kennel

Hound at Miller Trust

"I'd rather be hunting!"

We hope you had a happy hack home, too.

Long hack home

The end of the day. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

Happy Blessing Day, everyone!