MFHA hunt staff seminar, day 1: Iroquois kennel visit

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason shows the BA litter to Live Oak MFH Marty Wood (left) and Iroquois joint-MFH Jerry Miller. Photos by Gene Baker--thanks, Gene!

THE Master of Fox Hounds Association’s hunt staff seminar only comes around once every two years, so imagine our delight when the governing body of North American foxhunting selected Lexington as the venue for 2010. The seminar weekend drew foxhunters from around the nation to the Iroquois kennel, and the gathering of so many hound people in our town provided a priceless opportunities to listen and learn.

On Saturday, April 10, the Iroquois Hunt hosted a kennel tour for attendees, and about 70 Masters, huntsmen, hunt staff, and members of many hunts showed up despite chilly temperatures. Two highlights really stand out for the houndbloggers: the warm reaction so many hunt members had to seeing the Hound Welfare Fund‘s retirees happily snoozing in their warm room, and watching Live Oak Master Marty Wood reunite with Paper, Hailstone, Gaudy, and Gaelic, young hounds that he bred that began their hunting careers this year with the Iroquois pack. Wood looked just like a proud papa when he saw how these puppies have developed, and he even joked that letting them go might just have been a mistake! And here’s another interesting note: asked to choose their favorites from our current crop of puppies, the BA litter and Driver, all scheduled to begin their training with the pack this summer for the first time, Wood and several other huntsmen present picked out Driver the pupposaurus for special praise, citing, among other things, his powerful, muscular hind end.

Driver (center): Not quite a year old, and already a muscle man.

It’s true: Driver has lost a lot of his baby fat and is showing distinct signs of turning into a hunk. But he’s lost none of his charm–or his energy. It was especially rewarding, by the way, to see how confident all the puppies were –not that Driver’s confidence has ever been much of a question!–around  a crowd of 70 strangers. Their lack of shyness under these unusual circumstances drew favorable comments from many and is a testimony not just to the puppies’ personalities, but also to their early handling and training.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason tosses biscuits for some of the new entry as MFHA hunts staff seminar attendees look on.

In addition to seeing the new entry and viewing many of the other hounds in the Iroquois active hunting pack, seminar attendees also toured the inside of the kennel. Many were especially interested in the tracking collars demonstrated by Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards.

Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards demonstrates the tracking collar and antenna that we use to help protect hounds when they are out in the country.

Iroquois joint-Masters Jerry Miller (left) and Dr. Jack van Nagell at Saturday's kennel tour.

Iroquois board member and former president Dr. Herman Playforth also explained how the hunt club itself is structured to allow both hunting and social, non-hunting memberships. Seminar attendees asked good, detailed questions that covered every imaginable topic: kennel management, hound feeding, the use of radios and tracking collars on the hunt field, and much more.

Thanks are due to everyone from Iroquois who volunteered to help with the morning. These included Cice Bowers, Christine and Gene Baker, Nancy Clinkinbeard, and Eloise Penn, and I sure hope we haven’t forgotten to mention anyone else! Thanks also to Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for their work with the hounds, and to guest Robin Cerridwen for her help, too.

One of the first-season hounds, Gaelic, gets some lovin'.

We’ll leave you with some images from the day that particularly caught our eyes, and tomorrow we’ll summarize the meat of the weekend: the seminar programs from Sunday, including  a presentation by coyote researcher Dr. Stanley Gehrt and a panel discussion that included Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason.

The visitors expressed interest in many of the kennel's features, including the retired hounds' warm room and the hounds' 15-acre grass-and-woodland turnout paddock

The kennel tour also drew new entry of the human kind!

Paper and his breeder, Live Oak MFH Marty Wood, do the cha-cha.

The hounds and their visitors enjoyed perfect weather once the spring chill wore off by mid-morning.

Who would be a Master?

Sure, you get the title and the buttons ... but you'll be expected to contribute time, treasure, diplomacy, and land in return.

Not long ago I heard a member of a hunt remark that those who join hunt clubs and ride to hounds regularly “make a lot of effort and spend a hell of a lot of money on the hunt.”

“We buy horses, we buy trailers, we take time away from our families, we have to arrange babysitters,” she said.

Fair enough. Hunt members pay dues and also spend a lot of time and a good bit of cash to enjoy their favorite hobby, much as opera buffs spend for tickets to hear their favorite arias and die-hard football fans invest in season tickets. Hunt clubs are, after all, clubs, and the support of hunt members is a crucial and appreciated part of the sport. But as you pay the feed bill for your own horse or pick up the phone hoping your babysitter is available this Saturday, spare a thought for the Master! The same is true for him or her (Masters, too, feed horses and need babysitters), but on top of that they have piles of hidden costs and work that hunt members rarely see.

Given the challenges of the modern Mastership, from acreage to animal rights activism, it wasn’t all that surprising when a 2009 article in England’s sporting magazine The Field revealed why good Masters are becoming a scarce–and urgently needed–commodity among hunts.

“The role has become arguably less glamorous, more nerve-wracking, and more open to criticism,” The Field reported, adding that in addition to the traditional responsibilities of providing land, clearing it, and maintaining relations with landowners, today’s Master also must be a public relations leader and legal expert, as well, on subjects ranging from employment law to animal welfare standards.

Joe Cowen, a Master of the Fernie since 1972, told the magazine that “there is a level of responsibility that comes with being a Master, which is sometimes forgotten.”

On the front line of landowner relations

Unlike the hunt member quoted at the top of this page, Masters’ expenditures of time and money don’t only go directly to their own enjoyment of the sport; they must also lay out time and treasure for things that benefit the hunt first, and themselves only indirectly. A disgruntled landowner blames the hunt for an injury to his best bull because it crashed through a fence when the hunt rode by a field away? Chances are, the Master (or Masters) will pull out their personal checkbooks to make good the veterinary expenses, all in the name of keeping landowners compensated and happy–and the hunt country open.

“In one respect, all Masters of every generation are united: they have always been expected to pay for everything and please everybody,” wrote Frederick Watson in his lighthearted classic Hunting Pie. “A Master must therefore be a millionaire, an Adonis, a loss to the diplomatic service, and possessed of all the virtues and aspirations of the early Christian martyrs with none of their ultimate recompense.”

The writer and famed hunting authority Otho Paget evidently agreed, noting that “to find these qualities combined is well-nigh impossible, so we must give up hope of ever finding the perfect Master, and content ourselves with ordinary men. It is a thankless task, and it has always been a wonder to me that anyone can be found willing to accept the responsibilities.”

Very high on the list of these responsibilities is maintaining good contact with landowners and keeping hunt country open.

Keeping country open, and, if possible, expanding it, has been a constant worry for Masters for almost as long as people have ridden behind hounds, and it’s become a far more pressing concern in the last 50 years, as development and highways have closed in steadily on the countryside. For centuries, it’s been understood that anyone offered the title of Master should be prepared to bring land and/or money to the table, a responsibility that is probably even more important now as hunt country grows increasingly scarce.

A hunt's country belongs, in fact, to its landowners, and a large part of a Master's work involves keeping that land open to the hunt--and undamaged by it.

When tracts of hunt country come on the market, Masters frequently will be among the buyers. If they don’t purchase it themselves, chances are they’ll be working hard to recruit hunt-friendly buyers, and preferably hunt members, to secure the land, and thus the hunt’s future invitation to continue riding over it. A Master’s status as a landowner also can improve his credibility with his neighbors in the hunt country. They are less likely to take seriously someone who arrives from town, having no previous contact with the owners or land other than by riding over it, and seeking concessions from them for the hunt’s sport.

“If a man is not a landowner in the country he hunts, he ought to buy a small quantity, and thus have a personal interest in the soil,” Paget wrote in The Master. “Farmers always prefer a man at the head of the hunt who through his own experience can understand and sympathize with them in their troubles. The Master who does not know wheat or seeds from weeds is not in a very good position to warn his field from damaging those crops, and there are many other useful hints he will pick up by a closer acquaintance with the land. I do not say that a man is not eligible to be an M.F.H. if he owns none of the soil in his hunt, but it would be a point in his favor.”

Landowner relations are the primary concern of any Master, and most of a Master’s most important duties trace back, one way or another, to maintaining the hunt country and good relationships with the people who own that country.

One of the finest descriptions of the necessary (and generally invisible) work Masters quietly do to keep their hunt’s hooves on (and game readily available in) good country comes from the English author Siegfried Sassoon’s famous hunting memoir, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man. The book was published in 1929 and describes Sassoon’s youthful hunting exploits much earlier, before World War I broke out in 1914. It’s noteworthy that a Master’s duties, like much else in the tradition of foxhunting, have changed very little from that time. Speaking of Denis Milden, the fictionalized name for the actual Atherstone Hunt Master and huntsman Norman Loder, Sassoon wrote after one hard hunting day:

It was after half-past six when he came in. … He threw off his wet hunting coat and slipped into a ragged tweed jacket which the silent servant Henry held out for him. As soon as he had swallowed a cup of tea he lit his pipe and sat down at his writing-table to open a pile of letters. He handed me one, with a grimy envelope addressed to ‘Mr. Milden, The Dog Kennels, Ringwell.’ The writer complained that a fox had been the night before and killed three more of his pullets, and unless he could bring the dogs there  soon there wouldn’t be one left and they’d really have to start shooting the foxes, and respectfully begging to state that he was owed fifteen shillings by the Hunt for compensation. Many of Denis’s letters were complaints from poultry keepers or from small farmers whose seeds or sown ground had been ridden over when the land was wet. I asked what he did with these, and he replied that he sent them on to old McCosh, the Hunt secretary. ‘But when they look like being troublesome I go over and talk to them myself.’

I found afterwards that he had a great gift for pacifying such people, to whom the Hunt might have been an unmitigated nuisance if it hadn’t been an accepted institution. The non-hunting farmers liked to see the Hunt, but they disliked the marks it left on their land. The whole concern depended on the popularity and efficiency of the Master, and the behavior of the people who hunted. …

Watching him open those letters was an important step in my sporting education. Until then I had not begun to realize how much there was to be done apart from the actual chivvying of the foxes. Thenceforward I became increasingly aware that a successful day’s hunting was the result of elaborate and tactful preparations, and I ceased to look upon an angry farmer with a pitchfork as something to be laughed at.

The quiet diplomat and sponsor

The angry farmer shaking his pitchfork at the passing hunt is the very thing a Master works to avoid, and generally–often because farmers do not want their business gossiped around the hunt country, where their neighbors are sure to hear it–he or she must accomplish that task quietly, tactfully, and without compromising the hunt’s position (e.g., without losing the privilege of crossing the farmers’ land). Such dealings can be fraught with risk: if a hunt member forgets to shut a gate and a landowner’s cattle get loose upon the adjacent road, it’s the Master who faces the task of getting the entire hunt back in the landowner’s good graces as a result of a someone else’s mistake. Discretion is an absolute requirement: if personal discussions between a Master and a landowner get out into general circulation, embarrassing the landowner, the diplomatic channel between hunt and landowner can close for good.

"There are very few young men who can afford to undertake the responsibility which devolves upon a Master and entails a large personal expenditure, in addition to the guarantee provided by the average hunt committee," Henry Higginson, MFH, wrote back in 1948. Since then, the Master's job has remained expensive and become even more complicated, thanks to problems like suburban development.

The list of expenses begins with land and landowner-related costs (such as the aforementioned compensation, as well as friendly gestures, like sending over tickets to a favorite sporting event, hosting a landowner-appreciation event, donating to a farmer’s favorite charity, or sponsoring a rural children’s baseball team), but they do not end there.

Most hunt budgets do not cover the actual expenses required to run a hunt program, and Masters are expected to step up to the plate and cover privately any expenses outside the hunt budget, whether for veterinary care to hounds, land-clearing equipment like weedeaters and chain saws, or the costs of allowing the hunt to travel to hound shows.

For prestigious packs that hunt several days a week, those extra-budgetary costs can mount quickly, even into the tens of thousands of dollars. Which is why the Mastership has never been regarded as a job for the fainthearted or the faint-bank-accounted. Writing around 1950, M.F.H. Henry Higginson said: “In the old days, the cost of hunting used to be estimated at 1,000 pounds sterling per day for each day per week hunted. Today, particularly in the case of the so-called fashionable countries, the outlay is far in excess of that figure, owing to the increased cost of forage and labour. It is false economy trying to feed hounds on anything but the best … It is no use expecting horses to do their work on anything but the first quality oats and hay. Last but not least, if one does not employ both sufficient — and efficient– labour, one will not get good results.”

Another requirement for a Master: hide like a rhino.

“Everyone who comes out feels entitled to criticize and find fault with the Master,” Higginson observed. “It is … a common enough occurrence, and the only way that I know to counteract such annoyances is to cultivate a very thick skin.”

You don’t have to be a Master to help your hunt

If, like the houndbloggers, your finances don’t quite rise to the requirements of a Mastership, thank heavens there are plenty of other ways you can help ensure your hunt’s wellbeing! Join your hunt supporters’ club. Host a fundraiser that benefits the hunt. Donate to the annual Christmas Fund for your hunt’s staff. Volunteer to walk puppies or help socialize the young hounds at the kennel. Host a hunt breakfast or post-hunt tailgate. Sponsor the purchase of a new weedeater or chain saw to help with clearing country–and volunteer to help when your Masters clear the hunt country and conduct fence repairs in the summer. Join one of your hunt’s committees and pledge to pay any expenses you incur doing work for that committee.

And, above all, be gracious and friendly to landowners!

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!

The Retired Hounds’ Personal Physician

"People know these animals have given so much to us, we've got an obligation to give something back to them," Dr. Snyder says

"People know these animals have given so much to us, we've got an obligation to give something back to them," Dr. Snyder says

Visit the Hound Welfare Fund website at www.houndwelfarefund.org.

Dr. Kirk Snyder, DVM, of the Richmond Road Veterinary Clinic in Lexington, Ky., has been providing health care to the Iroquois Hunt Club’s hounds–active and retired–for many years. Caring for high-performance athletes at the peak of their hunting careers is one thing, but providing veterinary care to retired hounds is quite another. So we put the question to him: once their hunting days are over, what veterinary care do retired hounds need?

All of the Iroquois Hunt Club’s retired hounds are cared for under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund, a non-profit foundation that is the first of its kind in the world.  The retired hounds receive veterinary treatment under the HWF’s guiding philosophy: to give every hound the health care it needs, within reason, given the hound’s age, physical condition, and prospects for good quality of life with the treatment. When it becomes necessary, infirm hounds are put to sleep humanely, giving them a painless and peaceful end to an active, happy life and retirement.

Full Cry: What sort of maintenance care do the retired hounds receive? Do you handle that?

Dr. Snyder: Actually, for the routine health care we have the kennel staff set up where they do annual required vaccinations, worming, flea and tick control, heartworm preventatives, and things like that, using vaccines and drugs that we recommend.  The kennel staff are perfectly qualified, and it is legal for them to perform these procedures, which reduces costs while ensuring excellent care.

We monitor things. Basically, our role at the clinic is diagnostic medicine and surgery. That’s where we come in. Much of the expense of the hounds’ care is in diagnostics. Just as we would with your house pet or a person, we sometimes need laboratory evaluations, X-rays, or ultrasounds. Those are necessary in helping determine what a hound’s problem is and then how to proceed.

Why spay or neuter a retired hound?

Unless they are going to be bred, hounds should be neutered or spayed for health reasons. In a female, at a certain age, she’ll reach a point where they really shouldn’t be having puppies or there is an increased risk of uterine complications. Uterine wall degeneration, for example, can be very serious.

Neutering males reduces problems like prostatitis, some prostate tumors, and aggression. Neutered males tend to stay closer to home, not wanting to roam as much. They settle down. So spaying and neutering are good for health and maintenance reasons.

People sometimes wonder if health care for retired hounds goes overboard, but are there times when you decide not to treat a hound?

Once we diagnose a problem in a hound, we work with the HWF to determine what the approximate cost of treating the problem will be and what the odds of a successful outcome are. A lot of the conditions we run across in these hounds are just things that would occur in anybody’s pet, and they are very, very treatable.

The Iroquois hounds are very fortunate. This is along the lines of what we’re seeing in the horse industry, with retirement facilities for thoroughbreds, standardbreds, and others, where people know these animals have given so much to us, we’ve got an obligation to give something back to them.

A colleague of mine who is a specialist at a veterinary college in another state, for example, has particularly commented on the shining example Iroquois is setting with its retired hounds. He’s just absolutely amazed by it. Of course, in society today, this seems to be becoming the norm. These hounds serve the hunt club eagerly as far as they can. We feel this care is our obligation to them for what they’ve done, as long as their quality of life is good.

To learn more about the Hound Welfare Fund and its innovative retirement program for the Iroquois hunt club’s hounds, visit www.houndwelfarefund.org.