Bedtime Stories: A sampler from the NSL stacks

An occasional series in which we offer a pleasant “good night” to our readers, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

IT’S been a busy but very pleasant week of study here at the National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Virginia, where the bookshelves and archive boxes are filled with vivid foxhunting and beagling history.

So for the Bedtime Stories this week from Virginia’s hunt country, we thought we’d present a few of the tales and scenes we’ve found this week.

A huntsman and his memories

Young Jack Molyneux spent most of his life in hunt service in England, Scotland, and Ireland, from about the time he was 12. He got his start riding with his father, who also was a huntsman. In his memoirs, Thirty Years a Hunt Servant, published in 1935, he recalled being a young whipper-in with the Lanarkshire Harriers in Scotland. The pack’s Master at the time was a Colonel Robertson-Aikman:

“They were the smartest pack of hounds I’ve ever seen in all my experience and used to win most of the prizes at Peterborough. Colonel Aikman had an up-to-date model kennel and was a great hound man. … The hounds loved Colonel Aikman, and every Sunday afternoon we walked them down to his home, The Ross, standing about a mile from the kennels. Generally he would return with us. I’ve seen those hounds, after he had gone back some time, leave us, get on his line and go right back to The Ross and find him. This is the only pack I’ve ever seen do this.”

While with the Lanarkshire Harriers, Molyneux also got to try his hand at hunting the hounds one day when kennel-huntsman Sam de Ville was sick. It was a tough introduction to carrying the horn.

Jack Molyneux as a whipper-in at age 18

“A second horseman came with me, and off we set through some big doors on to the road. The doors were carefully shut behind us, and it was a good job they were, as things turned out. Just before we got to Hamilton, the second horseman behind was making such horrible noises (he meant them to be ‘hound talk’) that all the hounds bolted for home. When they got to the doors by the kennels and found them shut, they went on about another mile, with me going racing pace to catch them. I got them stopped and started off again, but this time I made the second horseman go in front and say nothing, so we arrived at the meet. Next day there were a lot of hounds with sore feet, but I dared not tell Sam what had happened.”

The abduction of Trojan

Scrutator, the pen name of the English MFH Knightley William Horlock, wrote a number of books about hounds and hunting in the late 1800s. This bizarre incident is described in his 1865 book Practical Lessons on Hunting and Sporting and reveals, among other things, the lengths some men would go to to get their hands on a good hound’s bloodlines, and the lengths to which they would go to avoid admitting to Welsh blood in the kennels, even when it improved their own hounds and hunting. We, of course, highly favor the woolly Welsh bloodlines, which have been so successful for Iroquois.

“There was an old specimen of the ancient Britons who had a very killing pack of Welsh extraction, which would worm a fox out of the mountain fastnesses, or eat him there and then. Amongst these was a dog named Trojan, the leader of the van. The fame of Trojan had reached the ears of a well-known master of English foxhounds, who resolved to have a look at him, and judge for himself whether the report was true of this dog’s extraordinary prowess. Accordingly, having obtained the necessary information as to the next fixture of the mountaineers, our master of fox-hounds sent a hunter overnight to the nearest village; and Trojan and his master being both ‘peep-o’-day boys,’ he had to get up in the middle of the night to be in readiness–eight o’clock being the hour of meeting even in the winter months. In short, no advantage was considered  unfair by our Welshman to take over his enemy, and the only chance with a Welsh mountain fox is to have at him before he has well digested his supper, or the prospect of getting his brush is exceedingly remote indeed …

One of our noble and leonine woollies, Stalker, now retired through the Hound Welfare Fund

“Well, it so happened that Trojan and his comrades blew up a brace of foxes by about the usual hour of meeting in civilized countries now-a-days; and the English master being perfectly satisfied with his performances as well as figure, not only coveted his neighbor’s goods, but resolved to avail himself of Trojan’s services. But the Saxon, thinking it infra dig. to enter any young hounds on his list as got by Mr W.’s Trojan, effected his purpose in another way. …

“Jack (his whipper-in) went to Taffy’s house and kidnapped old Troojane, as the Welsh call Trojan. It happened in this wise: Jack, the whipper-in, having ascertained the ins and outs of Mr. W’s kennel, dressed as a Welsh drover, taking advantage of the master being mystified as well as his man, one misty evening, whispered through the keyhole of the kennel door to Trojan that a young lady outside wished to see him on very particular business. The gallant old dog stepped out at once, without waiting for a second invitation; and as the language of love is easily understood, whether in Welsh or English, Trojan was inveigled by the Saxon beauty to leave his kith and kin among the moutaineers, and accompany her back to her English home.

“On Trojan being reported missing the next morning, inquiries were set on foot, and search made for the old gentleman in every direction for many days, and even weeks, without avail. And, as Trojan was considered prime minister by his master, advertisements were at last put in the local papers, with a full description of his personalities, offering a reward for his apprehension. By this time, Trojan having served the purpose for which he had been abducted, Jack was instructed by his master to inform Mr. W that a stray hound answering Trojan’s description had found his way to their kennels some weeks previously, and might be had if proved to be the missing animal. A trusty messenger was despatched immediately for the truant, and Trojan returned to his rightful owner, not, however, before he had become the father of a large family, which, to mystify their descent, was represented under a different parentage.”

Furrier, one of foxhunting's great hounds

The great Furrier

George Osbaldeston (1786-1866), better known as Squire Osbaldeston, was lucky enough to own a foxhunting star in Furrier. In his autobiography, he describes how he acquired this hound from the Belvoir when that pack drafted him, even though he was a descendant of the great Hugo Meynell’s powerful breeding program:

“As we hunted five and six days a week, we were obliged to enter 25 couples of young hounds annually, and not having sufficient quarters, even including my own in Yorkshire, for so many, we used to get drafts from Belvoir. The Duke drafted them himself; and I happened to be present on the occasion when Furrier was drafted.

“Looking over the lot in the presence of the kennel feeder, whose name was Jervis, before the Duke arrived, the man pointed out to me a very fine hound indeed. He was black and white. Jervis said, ‘That is the best bred hound in the kennels, but I don’t think his Grace will keep him.’ I asked, ‘Why not?’ and Jervis said, ‘Because his legs are not quite straight.’ I expressed the hope that the Duke would draft the hound, for I saw what a magnificent animal he was; quite perfect in every respect except his legs. Jervis told me that all his sort were generally straight, and he thought this one must have been kept tied up at quarters, which system is the destruction of a great many young hounds every year. I asked how Stormer, as I think he was then called, was bred, and was told that his blood was direct from Mr. Meynell’s best sort. While the Duke was drafting the young hounds I was very anxious, fearing he might keep this one; but luckily he did not, and I got him.

“Furrier turned out a wonder. He was as sensible as any Christian, had not a fault, and when he learned what his duty was, which he did in a very short time, never committed an error. I never saw a hound that could top the fences like him; a gate was nothing to him; he merely touched the top bar; no fence except a bullfinch could stop him; and at the end of the hardest day he came home with his stern up as if he had never been out at all. Almost all his stock followed his example; I never had so good a sort in my life.

“Among the pack I bought from Lord Vernon was a dog hound descended from Lord Yarborough’s sort whose get were as stout as those of Furrier, but had not his other qualities. I mixed them, and certainly the cross turned out marvelously. More than half my pack were Furriers, and Sir Richard Sutton’s were the same. Sir Richard swore by them. Any hounds in other packs which have distinguished themselves are generally to be traced to old Furrier.”

Of horses and hounds

Stalker the horse and Stalker the hound

Stalker the horse and Stalker the hound

IROQUOIS has a lot of horses that are named for hounds. Joint-MFH Jerry Miller always has named all his horses for hounds, not all of them Iroquois hounds. Miller’s great hunt horses Furrier and Tennessee Lead, for example, were both named for famous hounds from history. (Furrier was described as “crooked as a crab’s claw” but the black and white Belvoir-born hound “ran hard at head and was as stout as oak” in his career with the Quorn and Brocklesby, according to author William Scarth Dixon; Furrier went on to become not only a famed hunting hound but also a renowned sire).  

But many of Miller’s current horses–such as Gangster, Farmer, Bonfire, and Grundy–are named for Iroquois hounds of the recent past. A few are named for hounds that are still with us, such as Stalker (pictured above with his equine namesake). Now retired under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund, Stalker is the fourth hound profiled in the “Meet the Hounds” link provided with his name above.

The Iroquois field secretary has a hunter named Harlequin after her favorite hound, the Hound Welfare Fund’s retiree of the year for 2009-2010.

Members of the field also have honored hounds by naming horses after them. I understand one of our accomplished young riders has a horse named Glog, just as Iroquois has a hound named Glog. Willy, if you’re out there, send us a photo of your horse!

If you’ve got a horse who shares a name with a hound, please e-mail beagle52@aol.com. Tell us why you chose the name you did and a little about your horse. If you’ve got a picture of your horse, send that as a JPEG file, too, and we’ll post it.

I’ll get the ball rolling. My horse, Sassoon, and the hound Iroquois Sassoon ’04 both were named for the English writer and World War I soldier Siegfried Sassoon. He’s best known for his poetry about the war, but he also is the author of the sporting classic Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man. I got my Sassoon in 2003 from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. The same summer, Jerry gave the name Sassoon to the only male puppy in that year’s litter by the great Iroquois stallion hound Grundy and out of Bicester Sandal.

The hound Sassoon was entered at Iroquois in 2004, the same year my Sassoon hunted his first full season.

Sassoon hound

Sassoon hound

 Iroquois Sassoon ’04 has gone on to fame and fortune! He won the foxhound championship at the Mid-America Hound Show a couple of years ago and has turned into an exemplary hunting hound. He’s easily recognizable in the hunt field, because he’s large and woolly.

My Sassoon has had a more up-and-down path. In 2005, just before the start of what would have been his second full hunt season, Sassoon got a tiny puncture wound underneath his fetlock while he was turned out. The puncture went into the tendon, infecting the tendon sheath, which then required four surgical tendon flushes and a stay at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

We weren’t at all sure he’d survive, but he did. Then we were pretty certain he’d never be rideable again, but he surprised all of us by coming all the way back. It was a long recovery, but in 2008 my vets declared him hunting sound again. He had missed two full seasons when I took him out again last October for the first time since his injury.

 

Sassoon horse

Sassoon horse (the black one!)

He’d been off so long, I put a green ribbon in his tail to let everyone know he might be unpredictable. That morning I overheard another rider remark, “She’s saying that horse is still green?”  That seemed unkind, but then she didn’t know the full story!

Sassoon doesn’t get out hunting as much as either of us would like (this really is true, according to a “horse psychic” I met at a horse sale the other day!), but he’s a great pleasure in my life, as I’m sure your horse is, too.

By the way, Siegfried Sassoon died in 1967, but his son George carried on his father’s support for hunting. When the foxhunting ban was debated in England, George and his stepson put pro-hunting signs on the family’s pasture fencing. The day the ban went into effect in 2005, George attended a local hunt’s first post-ban meet for drag hunting. He was too frail to ride anymore, but he wore a Countryside Alliance sticker (and an old Soviet army hat!).

George Sassoon and his furry Soviet hat attended a local drag-hunt meet in February 2005 after live fox-hunting was banned in England. He thought it was both flattering an amusing that there was a hound named Sassoon across the Atlantic in Kentucky!

George Sassoon and his furry Soviet hat attended a local drag-hunt meet in February 2005 after live fox-hunting was banned in England. He thought it was both flattering and amusing that there were canine and equine Sassoons hunting across the Atlantic in Kentucky!

George, a farmer, engineer, and linguist, died in 2006 after a remarkably interesting , though sometimes turbulent, life. After his funeral, the attendees gathered in in his regular pub. One of his pals at the bar, on hearing I was from Kentucky, said, “That’s where they’ve  got that hound and horse called Sassoon!” I got a kick out of that, and I guess George did, too.