For Veterans Day: A Wartime Ride

Siegfried Sassoon, by George Charles Beresford (1915)

For this Veterans Day, the houndbloggers return to an old favorite, the English poet Siegfried Sassoon. Among foxhunters, he’s as well known for his delightful and nostalgic prose work Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man as he is among schoolchildren and British historians as one of England’s brilliant War Poets, whose style helped change the trajectory of modern poetry. Sassoon was a passionate foxhunter, especially during his youth and in the years immediately after World War I, though he often felt that the hunting side of his personality tended to distract from the greater work of his life, poetry.

Siegfried Sassoon’s grave at the churchyard in Mells. Photo by Graham Allard.

When the Great War broke out in 1914, Sassoon joined up and took his hunter and point-to-point winner Cockbird with him to war. Sassoon wrote a great deal about Cockbird, and his picture can be found in many Sassoon biographies; our favorite is quite a famous picture of Cockbird standing in the Sassoon family’s yard, with Sassoon standing at his head and gazing with obvious pride at his hunting and racing partner. Alongside them is a small side table that, you can tell, has been carried out into the yard especially for the occasion of the photo, for on it is a magnificent silver racing trophy, the Colonel’s Cup–now lost (like Cockbird, alas), whereabouts unknown.

Hounds hunting on Veterans Day 2012.

In honor of Veterans Day, we hope you’ll page back through the blog and see our earlier posts, The Hounds of War: A Veterans Day for Hunting Soldiers and A Hunt for the Veterans. But today we give our page to Sassoon, not for the biting but deeply touching poems he penned in the trenches (some of which you can read here), but for an unusually peaceful wartime passage in Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man:

“I was happy as I trudged along the lanes in the column, with my platoon chattering behind me and everything gilt with the sun’s good humour. Happier still when I borrowed the little black mare no one could ride and cantered about the open country by myself, which I did two or three afternoons a week. The black mare was well bred but had lost the use of one eye. She had a queer temper and had earned an evil reputation by kicking various officers off or bolting back to the transport lines with them after going half a mile quite quietly. She was now used as a pack-pony for carrying ammunition, but by gentle treatment I gained her confidence and she soon became a sort of active-service echo of my old favourites. Dick rode out with me as often as he could persuade the Transport Officer to let him have a horse.

Our Iroquois Sassoon, now retired, named after the poet.

“When riding alone I explored the country rather absent-mindedly, meditating on the horrors which I had yet to experience: I was unable to reconcile that skeleton certainty with the serenities of this winter landscape–clean-smelling, with larks in the sky, the rich brown gloom of distant woods, and the cloud shadows racing over the lit and dappled levels of that widespread land. And then I would pass a grey-roofed chateau, with its many windows and no face there to watch me pass. Only a bronze lion guarding the well in the middle of an overgrown lawn, and the whole place forlorn and deserted. Once, as I was crossing the main road from Abbeville to Beauvais, I watched the interminable column of a French army corps which was moving southward. For the first I saw the famous French field-guns–the ’75s.’

“But even then it wasn’t easy to think of dying. … Still less so when Dick was with me, and we were having an imitation hunt. I used to pretend to be hunting a pack of hounds, with him as my whipper-in. Assuming a Denis Milden manner (Denis was at Rouen with the cavalry and likely to remain there, in spite of the CO’s assumptions about open warfare), I would go solemnly through a wood, cheering imaginary hounds. After an imaginary fox had been found, away we’d scuttle, looking in vain for a fence to jump, making imaginary casts after an imaginary check, and losing our fox when the horses had done galloping. An imaginary kill didn’t appeal, somehow. Once, when I was emerging rapidly from a wood with loud shouts, I came round a corner and nearly knocked the Brigadier off his horse. He was out for a ride with his staff-captain; but no doubt he approved of my sporting make-believe, and I didn’t dare stop for apologies, since the Brigadier was a very great man, indeed. Dick enjoyed these outings enormously and was very much impressed by my hunting noises. The black mare seemed to enjoy it also.”

The guns in the wood. The Royal Artillery Hunt still hunts (within the law) on Salisbury Plain, not far from Sassoon’s former home at Heytesbury.

Years after the Great War, when Sassoon was living in Heytesbury, Wiltshire, and still hunting now and again with the packs around Salisbury Plain, there was a touching moment caught by Alec Waugh. Waugh, brother of the author Evelyn Waugh (of Brideshead Revisited fame, among many other wonderful books), recounted it in his book My Brother Evelyn and Other Portraits:

“I last saw Sassoon in October 1940 under ironically appropriate circumstances.

“A few weeks earlier I had been posted as staff-captain to the Petroleum Warfare Department, a branch of the Ministry of Mines, that under the dynamic inspiration of Geoffrey Lloyd made a considerable contribution to the war effort. … At that time we were chiefly concerned with the defensive uses to which oil might be put, flame-throwers, tank traps, flame on water. In mid-October we went down into the country to give a demonstration.

“It was what is called a typical, which is to say it was an exceptional, late autumn day; a day that started with mist and a chill in the air, a mist through which the sunlight began to break about eleven. By noon it was  summer hot. It was the prefect day to drive down into the country with a team of cameramen to film the demonstration and it was a perfect picnic site that had been chosen for the demonstration, at the head of a valley, with the grass very green with dew and the trees red and brown and yellow and the spire of a church showing between the branches of an orchard.

“We got down early, set out our cameras, and waited. The blitz had been heavy on the previous night. It was a relief to lie out in the grass, with the sun warm upon our faces, in a countryside untouched by war. The valley was quiet and deserted: nothing dramatic in the country’s history had happened here. It was strange to reflect that within an hour its slopes would be lined with red-hatted officers; a whistle would blow, the handles of the cameras would turn, and explosion would follow on explosion, the soft greensward would be scorched and ripped and scattered into a desert of smouldering fires and scarred iron.

Our horse Sassoon, also named for the poet and foxhunting man.

“The demonstration started at two o’clock. Within a quarter of an hour the beauty of the valley was destroyed and it was just as the high grade staff officers were moving to their cars, as the final informal conferences were breaking up, that a horseman, a civilian, came trotting by. This was, no doubt, a favorite ride of his. He had had no idea that this demonstration was to be held. It could scarcely be a pleasant surprise for him. I looked up, to note with a start of surprise that it was Sassoon.

“My first instinct was to run across and greet him; but a second, wiser instinct checked me. There was an inscrutable expression on that drawn, handsome face as it looked down on the charred and littered grass.

“What thoughts, I wondered, were moving behind that mask: how many different thoughts must be creating a mixed mood–memories of the last war and his revolt against it, his contempt for ‘scarlet majors at the base,’ his poems that had seemed then and later the battle call to a crusade; the sacrifice of his generation that had failed to prevent this second war, whose intensified horror was exemplified by these new engines of destruction, with himself a quarter of a century later, in his fifties and too old for service?

“It was kinder to leave him to that mood, those memories.”

Happy Blessing Day!

Just part of the Blessing Day field!

The hounds at this year’s blessing ceremony included Hound Welfare Fund Retiree of the Year Sassoon, the giant woolly in the middle of the picture, who retired at the end of the 2011-2012 hunt season.

Grimes Mill, the Iroquois Hunt Club headquarters, all dressed up for the big day.

Whipper-in Cice Bowers accepts a piece of cake from hunt member Leslie Penn as part of the stirrup cup Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason hosted after the blessing ceremony. Looks like Cice’s horse, Turnip, would like some, too!

Happy Blessing Day, everyone!

Hard-working hounds

TOMORROW is Blessing Day, so today presents a good moment to look back on an excellent cubbing weekend. The last weekend in October was damp, misty, and chilly with highs in the 40s–a perfect weekend, really, for a spooky Halloween. Despite a stiff breeze, the hounds had no trouble finding coyote lines, and, in fact, the pack hardly ever stopped working during two days of hunting. The video above is from both days combined and gives you some indication of hounds’ general work ethic. You’ll spot quite a few familiar faces, too: red and white Samson, whose trip from England to Kentucky made him very conservational; bounding, powerful Banker; Sage, the mother of our current SA puppies, and their father Driver, too; as well as Paper, better known in his youth as “Playper”!

Tomorrow the formal season begins. Looks to me as if the hounds have absorbed their lessons well during the informal training season!

Outfoxed: The Story of Hunting in Britain

This morning our Facebook friends at Fox Hunt directed our attention to a BBC Radio 4 broadcast about the history of British hunting and how it has changed since the ban. It’s written and narrated by Dr. Emma Griffin, whom the houndbloggers met in October 2010 at the National Sporting Library’s very interesting symposium on the origins and evolution of hunting and sporting dog breeds. Griffin, a social historian, also is the author of Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain since 1066.

The new radio piece is available here. PLEASE NOTE: It is only available for seven days, according to the BBC website, so listen soon!

Griffin’s very interesting and evocative BBC Radio 4 piece features one of our favorite historic hunts: the Banwen Miners Hunt in Wales, which at one time kept its hounds in the lamp-room of the local colliery in Banwen, before the mine closed. The houndbloggers were so engrossed that we forgot to mark the exact beginning of the part about the Banwen Miners, but I believe it starts at about the 16- or 17-minute mark. In the course of the 28-minute piece, Griffin visits the Beaufort Hunt and the Blencathra Foxhounds who hunt the fells of Cumbria, as well as the Banwen Miners. Also in the radio piece: beautiful horn and hound sounds, a lovely rendition of “John Peel,” and an interview with a “hunt monitors” leader. Well worth a listen!

Virginia Hound Show 2012: A big day for Iroquois hounds!

The HAs picking up a trophy at the Virginia Hound Show on Sunday.

What a day for the Iroquois Hunt’s English hounds! The houndbloggers were not in attendance this year at the Virginia Foxhound Show, but we got updates throughout the day from the English ring, where our hounds showed–and we’re pleased to say they brought home some of the silver! The show draws some 800 hounds from across North America, a real feast for the hound lover’s eyes. If you’ve never been, we encourage you to attend next year! For the complete list of results from the 2012 show, click here.

We’ve been following the HA puppies since their birth (and they were born, auspiciously enough, just before Blessing Day in 2010, when the annual Blessing of the Hounds kicks off the formal hunt season). They are sons and daughters of two hounds we imported from the Cottesmore in England, the doghound Hawkeye and the bitch Baffle, who also is the dam of our much-vaunted BA litter. The HAs have matured into an exceptionally regal group, and the houndbloggers had high hopes for this pride of young lions, who will join the hunting pack this coming fall.

Hawkeye (left) and his sons in the class they won, English stallion hound and three of his get. Photo by Nancy Milburn Kleck Equine-Sporting Artist.

Perhaps the most notable victory of the day was Hawkeye’s in the class for stallion hound and three get. Shown alongside his sons Halo, Hawksbridge, and Hanbury in front of judge Henry Berkeley from the Berkeley Hunt, Hawkeye scooped the trophy from a highly competitive class that also featured Live Oak Maximus, the Virginia Foxhound Show’s grand champion foxhound back in 2010, just a few months before the HAs were whelped. Hawkeye’s win is a big thumbs-up for the Iroquois Hunt’s breeding program, which already has seen success from the BA litter, Baffle’s first for us, on the hunt field.

Baffle and the HA pups back in the day.

Some of the hounds and volunteers taking pre-show exercise Sunday at Morven Park, scene of the prestigious Virginia Foxhound Show.

We’ll have to wait until fall to see how the HA puppies perform on the hunt field, but here’s how they did in Virginia:

Halo won his single doghound-unentered class. Hanbury was third in this class.

Halo and Hanbury came back to win the couple of dogs-unentered class, and Hardboot and Hawksbridge finished second to them.

HaloHawksbridgeHardboot, and Hanbury, all unentered, won their two couple of doghounds-entered or unentered class.

Thanks to his victory in the unentered doghound class, Halo moved on to the unentered championship against the day’s top unentered bitch and placed second, making him the show’s reserve champion unentered hound.

A bath before the big day.

To see the HAs cover some ground, see the video below, taken in January at Boone Valley. A video from February is here.

Another winner at Virginia was Samson, our entered red-and-white doghound who is a big asset on the hunt field and the sire of our new BO litter out of Bonsai. He won his English stallion hound class, then came back to place third with Edie in the junior handlers’ class! We think Samson’s puppywalker in England, Nina Camm, will be especially thrilled with that news! To see Samson’s baby pictures that she sent us, click here.  To see our adventures bringing the very talkative Samson and Hawkeye with us by air from England (where they hunted with the Cottesmore) to Kentucky, click here. Yes, it was worth it!

The likeable red-and-white Samson, photographed in 2010.

In the afternoon’s bitch classes, another member of the HA litter, Hackle, finished second in the unentered bitch class, and Havoc finished third. This pair of Hackle and Havoc also finished second in the couple of bitches-unentered class. Dragonfly, a North Cotswold import and the mother of our famous doghoundasaurus Driver, placed second for the second consecutive year in the brood bitch class. To see a video of her (and the other Iroquois hounds) in action at last year’s Virginia Hound Show, click here. Dragonfly is at about the 2:20 mark.

Another houndblogger favorite, the powerful North Cotswold import Banker, also finished third in his class, the entered doghound class that Samson won.

Dragonfly, Driver’s mother, picked up a second in the English brood bitch class.

Banker at his first meet in Kentucky back in October 2010.

We understand that the Iroquois joint-Masters Jerry Miller and Jack van Nagell, huntsman Lilla Mason, kennel manager Michael Edwards, and the passel of hound volunteers led by Cice Bowers arrived back at the hotel exhausted but understandably pleased with the day’s results.

Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller does the honors. A toast to the Iroquois hounds and their supporters!

We know how much work went into making this day happen, and the hounds’ success was richly deserved. Congratulations, everyone, and safe home!

The season that was

THE Iroquois hunt season ended in late March, but we didn’t want to let it get away entirely without  looking back on some good days out with the hounds! Personally, the houndbloggers love the summer hound-walking season, but it’s always nice to keep in mind the point of the exercise: preparation and training for the hunt field next fall. So with that in mind, after a long pause, we return to our computers with a look over our shoulders at the hunt season that was in our featured video today (above).

Meanwhile, the focus is on getting hounds ready for the Virginia Foxhound Show this Sunday at Morven Park near Leesburg, Va. Among the hounds Iroquois will take to the big show are members of the leonine HA litter, Baffle’s second litter for us, who have matured into magnificent, graceful, statuesque creatures very much resembling their sire, Hawkeye.

The HAs are featured in the video above, taken back in February, and we have more recent footage of them on a post-season hound walk that we’ll try to post before the show on Sunday. In the meantime, let’s turn on the Wayback Machine, to October 2010, when the HAs were very wee indeed!

And a little video of the little HAs:

My, how they’ve grown! We wish the HAs and all the Iroquois hounds the very best of luck at the Virginia show!

Guest blogger: Buck Wiseman on rapport between huntsman and hounds


Clear Creek Beagles huntsman and joint-Master Buck Wiseman. Photo by Brian Blostica.

Recently, while writing a short description of foot packs at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, I made the mistake of wandering off task and shedding some thoughts about pack cohesion and pack response, both to a huntsman and to one another.  Mrs. Houndblogger picked up the line and reminded me that I had told her, well over a year ago, that I’d write something on the subject.  She’s now run me to ground, I suppose.

What follows may be a lot of nonsense, and, for the most part, it certainly isn’t science, but having hunted packs of hounds, foxhounds, beagles and bassets, mostly beagles, with a couple of short reprieves, since the mid-1960s, I do have views, and, right or wrong, I’ve never been overly restrained in expressing them, so here goes.

Rapport, hound sense, the “golden thread” is no one thing.  It is a complicated amalgam of hound breeding, hound management, practice and, I believe, a certain genetic component on the human side as well.  Of the terms, I prefer “rapport” which is defined as “relationship, especially one of mutual trust or emotional affinity”, which is about as close as one can come to my view of this subject, especially as to mutuality, and it is particularly appropriate that it derives from Old French “raporter” meaning “to bring back.”

"Biscuits, lots of biscuits!" one early mentor advised Buck when he formed his first pack. Houndblogger photo.

We have all seen huntsmen for whom hounds just “do.”  They seem to have the touch, the right body language, to hit the right note of voice or just have a feel for hounds and seem to have always had it.  They can hunt a large pack of hounds without resort to a whipper-in, walk out the entire kennel likewise and pick up the horn with a strange pack almost without missing a beat. In many cases, I believe that they may not know exactly how they do what they do, may be puzzled that others cannot duplicate their results and may take years to really analyze what it is that they do. At this point, we’ll put that subject largely aside because the purpose here is to look at intentional and conscious acts with the goal of approaching, if not equaling, the results that those huntsmen achieve.

The right personality in the pack helps.  A good huntsman can get response from a gaggle of thick-headed independent types, but we all know that some hounds are more responsive to a huntsman and to one another than others.  I believe that the two are clearly linked.  As an example, if hounds need to be moved from one spot to another across a field or within sight or sound of the huntsman, the entire pack need not see or hear the huntsman.  If the pack is responsive both to the huntsman and to one another, it’s only necessary to catch the attention of the hounds nearest you as you call and point to where you want them, the other hounds will respond to the first who have responded to you and stream over.

Buck and the beagles at Shaker Village in March. Houndblogger photo.

I often walk out hounds by myself. Puppies need to learn to walk with the pack, but you can’t discipline them until they understand what it is that they are to do and to not do.  When I got my first pack of beagles, many of the hounds came from the Nantucket Treweryn Beagles of Bun and Becky Sharp.  Becky knew that I would be largely handling my new little pack alone and gave me one of the best tips of all time: “Biscuits, lots of biscuits.”

I make a concentrated effort to address each young hound, every hound for that matter, frequently by name and to toss a biscuit to catch.  Each must not only learn his name, but also learn that response to your voice and to your hand brings good things. Only when a hound has learned those things should you touch them with the whip and chastise them.  Each has to understand that the discipline is the result of ignoring someone who otherwise dispenses blessings.  It’s also at this point that the pack sense is important.  If, say, two couple of puppies start up the road bank on their own little mission, if you can, with an encouraging voice, swing one couple to you, with the right sort, the other will turn right with them. Have the biscuits ready when they reach you.

Lilla Mason (and the biscuit bag) with some of the Iroquois hounds. Houndblogger photo.

If you have the luxury of assistance in walking out and of whippers-in in number when you hunt, teach yourself not to rely on them.  A whipper-in should be viewed by a huntsman as the last, not the first or even the intermediate resort.  If hounds are always or even frequently put to you by your whippers-in, then, in some measure, their return to you is a response to the threat of the whipper-in, not to their rapport with you.  It is better to have the sometimes slightly slower response deriving from rapport with the huntsman than the faster coerced response.  In fact, when walking out with whippers-in, discourage them from being more than a reminder of the possibility of reproach unless that whipper-in is pretty well endowed with hound sense or knows the hounds very well.  Whippers-in tend to want to be helpful and, if overly so, are not helpful at all.  This is especially true if you have puppies out.  Develop rapport and trust it.  Whippers-in should do likewise.

When hunting, I do not want my whippers-in even near me.  Ideally, they should be eyes and ears, your distant early warning and spotting system.  The title “whipper-in” should relate to their function only in difficult circumstances.  The goal is that rapport will fill the gap.

Studies in animal behavior and language have shown that certain types of sounds have similar effects across a wide range of mammals.  Without going into a great deal of detail, suffice it to say that higher-toned, excitable sounds encourage, soft tones soothe, growls caution or chastise.  It works for hounds and humans.  Your voice must change constantly to match your message.  Cheer them on, cheer them in, growl and crisply bark warnings.  Again eye contact and body language is also critical. Many times, when getting the attention of a particular hound to return into the pack while walking out, I will not only call the hound’s name, but once he looks at me, point directly and growl “Yes, you” or “You know your name.”  Recent scientific work has, in fact, shown that the dog is one of the few non-primate species which will follow the point of a human hand. They do.  If you can get eye-to-eye contact, you’ve got him, at least as long as you are the dominant personality in the pack, not the hound.  If you are not, go for a softer sort.

Modulate your voice at all times in tune with the circumstances.  When walking out, a conversational voice is probably just right. Talk to your hounds.  If you are drawing cover, suit your voice to the way the hounds are drawing.  If they are quite close, not much above conversation is necessary.  If hounds are drawing widely, as mine typically do, the volume must increase.  The goal is that all of your hounds can always hear you when drawing because you must be at the center of that process, if you are going to direct it.

Huntsman Lilla Mason with the Iroquois hounds on summer walk.

When calling hounds in from a distance, don’t yell for them.  Instead, go for a deep in the chest, rolling tone of encouragement.  They will respond.  It’s not unlike the signaling howl of a coyote or hounds singing in kennel.  Hounds being put on to a line, once they have reached the huntsman, should be put on quietly with low encouraging sounds and with the arm, hand and body motion directing them in the direction that they should go.  Rapport is bi-directional. Watch every hound for the body language and focus that tells you when they are “with” you.

Also watch hounds for the signals, sometimes very subtle signals, that hounds can give you–and trust them if they do.  Hounds may appear to be simply drifting from a check.  The temptation is to pull them back, but if watched closely, slight body signals may indicate that, while they are not speaking or even visibly feathering, they are focused on some slight scent, perhaps even air scent on a bad scenting day, to which they are drawn and which may result in a recovery. Even if those hounds fall in with the movement of the pack and return, if the line is not recovered, go back to where they went, if it is the only message that the hounds have sent you, and a more diligent cast in that direction may work.  It has before.

In the houndbloggers' experience, some hounds are beyond controlling, even if you have a rapport with them! Houndblogger photo.

Try never to give a command which you do not believe will be obeyed.  Your voice will convey your hesitancy.  When calling hounds, say out of covert, you must believe that they are coming to you even though you may curse their dawdling under your breath.  If hounds start to break as we are walking back to the trailer, if you can rate them just as they start when you see the first change of focus from you to the trailer, they’ll stop.  If you can’t because you were distracted and didn’t catch the first hints, let them go and make a mental note that next week they’ll come in packed up behind you until they get that foolishness out of their minds.  If they go away on deer and do not stop at the first rate, turn your attention at once to how you and the whippers-in are going to get to their heads.  Roaring at them futilely merely teaches them that your voice is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

With that thought, I’m going to leave rapport because, in a real sense, I already have and drifted, like hounds losing the check, on to the role of dominance in working with hounds which is a subject better left to another day.

Many thanks to Buck for contributing this great piece! If you’d like to read more from Buck, please click here to read his earlier piece on hunting over game-rich restored native grasslands.