A Peek in the Nursery

Three of the Driver-Sage puppies earlier this month. Photo by Dave Traxler.

IT’S been a while since the houndbloggers have checked in on the various puppies we know, so we thought we’d catch you up on how they’re doing: they’re doing great! With puppies, of course, the news is less important than what they look like, right? So we’ll cut to the chase, because we know what everyone really wants is the cute factor. And there is plenty of that to go around these days.

The newest Iroquois puppies are the SA litter born in August to young Driver–once a pupposauraus himself and now a pack member–and the great hunting lady Sage. Last time you saw them, they were mere beans compared to what they are now. Here they are then:

Some of the SA puppies back in August. Gene Baker photo.

Now they’re just full of beans, as you can see:

A pair of the SA puppies at play on September 15. Dave Traxler photo.

The six SA puppies are doing well, kennel manager Michael Edwards tells us, and we’re still impressed by all the color they have on them.

Hello, baby! Dave Traxler photo.

For more on foxhound puppies, we turn to one of the houndbloggers’ favorite authors, D. W. E. Brock, and his book, The A B C of Fox-Hunting, although we disagree with his assertion that foxhound puppies, when newborn “are ugly, blind little things, with huge heads and wise, wrinkled faces.”

Easy there, Brock! He continues in a kinder vein. “But, after that, they become vastly more interesting little fellows,” he writes. “They grow quickly, but their heads always seem about two sizes too big for their bodies, and, unlike most other puppies, they seldom lose their solemn looks. …

“A foxhound puppy is one of the most amusing and lovable companions it is possible to imagine, and the games which a couple will play together are almost human in their ingenuity. But at the same time it is one of the most mischievous and destructive companions, and unless you, your family and your servants, both indoor and out, are genuinely fond of animals, and are long-suffering, you should not walk a puppy.”

Ah, yes. The houndbloggers and their house hounds nod knowingly at that advice, remembering the arrival of some of the HA puppies earlier this year. Harry, in particular, found the episode Rather Trying, he recalls (see lower left of photo):

"They're still here," Harry said 24 hours later.

The houndbloggers (who have no servants, indoors or outdoors) well remember their first day with us (of a very brief stay). I had had to attend a horse sale, and so Mr. Houndblogger bravely agreed to stay home and babysit the three HA puppies we’d taken in. I’ll never forget the scene when I returned: Mr. Houndblogger was slumped wearily in a chair in the kitchen, where he’d barricaded himself and the HA puppies to prevent further damage to the furniture and carpets. He was wearing wellies, a concession to the inevitable when you have a marauding trio of unhousetrained puppies on the loose. He was stippled from knees to collar with muddy pawprints, and one sweater cuff was slightly unraveled. It had been, I gathered, a Long Day.

The puppies, of course, bounded over to me merrily, eager for more games.

So what of the HA puppies today, nearing their first birthday? Take a look at them now.

Three of the HAs at the kennel on September 15. Dave Traxler photo.

They’ve started their walks out with huntsman Lilla Mason, and, my, how they’ve grown!

Hanbury (left) and Hardboot on a Sept. 10 walk. Dave Traxler photo.

Whyte-Melville might have been looking at them when he wrote

On the straightest of legs and the roundest of feet,

With ribs like a frigate his timbers to meet,

With a fashion and fling and a form so complete,

that to see him dance over the flags is a treat.”

We haven’t yet seen these young hounds over the flags, but, more importantly, they float over the grass, Lilla reports.

Hawksbridge--light on his feet, like all the HAs! Photo by Dave Traxler.

Hamlet and Cice Bowers in July. Dave Traxler photo.

Halo and Leslie Penn on a Sept. 10 walk. Dave Traxler photo.

As grown-up as they look, though, the HAs are still puppies at heart!

Havoc (left) and Hardboot with a prize earlier this month. Dave Traxler photo.

Harboot on a roll. Dave Traxler photo.

A few days ago, re-reading Beckford’s Thoughts on Hunting, we came across a curious footnote.

“I have seen fox-hounds that were bred out of a Newfoundland bitch and a fox-hound dog,” Beckford wrote. “They are monstrously ugly, are said to give their tongues sparingly, and to tire soon. The experiment has not succeeded: the cross most likely to be of service to a fox-hound is the beagle. I am well convinced that a handsome, bony, tender-nosed, stout beagle would, occasionally, be no improper cross for a high-bred pack of fox-hounds.”

Hmmm! No, no, we wouldn’t suggest it seriously, but, for the purposes of the blog at any rate the houndbloggers are very well disposed to include some beagles. And, as it happens, the beagles have been having their own puppies lately. The Clear Creek Beagles, with whom we hunt as often as we can on foot, have some puppies that whipper-in Jean MacLean was kind enough to photograph:

A bouquet of threeagles, as photographed by CCB whipper-in Jean MacLean.

And two moregles, also photographed by Jean MacLean.

There are some older puppies, too, who show a French influence in their names. the C litter features Chauffeur:

Chauffeur. Photo by Jean MacLean.

… and our favorite names, Chien (dog) and Chaton (kitten)!

The aptly named Chien. Jean MacLean photo.

The Clear Creek Beagles started their informal hunt season this morning, and the Iroquois foxhounds will take to the hunt field in early October. And before long the puppies from both packs will be doing this …

The Clear Creek pack in action. Jean MacLean photo.

… and this …

The Iroquois hounds move off from the Foxtrot meet. Dave Traxler photo.

As always, the houndbloggers will do their best to keep up with the hounds and provide reports on their progress!

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Princes, Kings, Champagne, and a Scratch

HA puppy Hamlet, as photographed by IHC member Gene Baker.

IT’S hard to believe how much the HA puppies have grown! Iroquois Hunt member Gene Baker caught young Hamlet looking regal and mature–and wise beyond his years. Amazing to think he and his siblings are only seven months old.

To see the HA pups on the move, click here and here for videos from their hound walks. Thanks, Gene, for sending the photograph!

Kennel reception a hit

The HA puppies recently provided entertainment to visitors at the Iroquois kennel’s Champagne reception, hosted by the hunting hounds and the retirees.

The hounds hosted a crowd last month at the kennel's Champagne reception.

Now, when the Iroquois hounds put on a party they really, er, put on the dog. Their friends Uschi Graham and Kasia Pater, who also is the honorary chair of this year’s Hound Welfare Fund dinner and auction (June 4: mark your calendars!), lent a stylish hand and decorated the kennels with Persian carpets, potted palms, bronzes, and a work by Andre Pater.

Despite the afternoon’s very windy conditions, a good time was had by all–and the wind even died down eventually, making it easier to keep hold of your Champagne flute and hors d’oeuvres!

Iroquois member Robin Doller chats with one of the day's hosts.

Also within easy reach at all times: bottles of bubbly. Yes, the good stuff. The hounds know what they’re doing when they choose Champagne!

Many, many thanks to everyone who helped make the day so much fun, including Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for answering questions and showing off the hounds and their living quarters and Gene Baker and Blaine Holloway for providing a pair of handsome examples of proper hunt attire–and, of course, thanks to all the guests!

King’s Troop and the Foxhunting Tradition

One of the houndbloggers’ pet topics is the long and close relationship between foxhunting and the military, and we were especially excited to see a story touching on that shared history in the May 2011 issue of The Field.

The story on p. 80, which you can read online here, is about the King’s Troop. The King’s Troop grew out of the Riding Troop, a ceremonial troop that was part of the Royal Horse Artillery. In 1947, King George VI–he of “The King’s Speech,” if you’re a movie fan–changed the troop’s name to the King’s Troop. Upon King George VI’s death, his daughter Queen Elizabeth II left the name unchanged in his honor. The King’s Troop is a highly prestigious unit and, although the Troop’s function is ceremonial, its members are serving military and trained fighting soldiers. According to the Ministry of Defence, six members of the Troop are deployed in Afghanistan at any given time.

So what’s the hunting connection? The Royal Artillery has its own hunt (that link includes video; you can also see more video of their hounds here), and King’s Troop members frequently are to be found riding there. The King’s Troop also has its own hunt button. A few tidbits from The Field:

  • “In the hall above the door is a fox’s mask, the conclusion of a 50-minute hunt with the Derwent (24 February 1953) from Rowe Bridge to Howl Dale. The precise accounting of a boar’s head nearby is unrecorded.”
  • Neil Cross, the troop’s current commanding officer, commented on the King’s Troop’s close involvement in hunting: “It is important that we know how to get something extra out of a horse and how to ride the terrain. This is critical when towing a 1 1/2-ton gun carriage.” His words reflect the longstanding view among cavalry officers that foxhunting provided excellent training, because it taught not only a good seat at speed across country, but, more importantly, the importance of terrain and natural conditions in battle.
  • Patrick Martin, now huntsman for the Bicester with Whaddon Chase, is a former soldier who joined the King’s Troop in 1977 at age 17. “What my three years with the Troop taught me was discipline, respect for authority, and to turn yourself out to the top standard,” he told The Field.

The King's Troop. Photo courtesy of Kuva1574/Creative Commons.

The King’s Troop is a thing of beauty to watch in its state duties, which include providing the gun carriage and a team of black horses for state and military funerals, as well as firing royal salutes on state occasions and royal anniversaries. the King’s Troop also takes over duties of the Life Guards at Horse Guards for one month each year.

Hound Blog Hunch Bet update: no Toby!

Sadly, the houndbloggers received word this morning that Toby’s Corner will not run in the Kentucky Derby after showing some lameness in a hind leg. To read more about Toby and his withdrawal from the Derby, click here and here.

Master of Hounds is still in the race, though!

Toby (right) and cousin Eider are feeling pretty glum about Toby's Corner's withdrawal from the 2011 Kentucky Derby.

And obviously we weren’t the only ones rooting for Toby’s Corner. Photographer Maggie Kimmitt kindly sent us a shot of this banner in Fair Hill, Maryland, where Toby’s Corner is based with trainer Graham Motion.

It’s disappointing news, but here’s hoping Toby’s Corner gets over his lameness quickly and returns to competition soon! Until then, it looks like our Toby is considering ways to console himself on Derby day. Drink responsibly, Tobes!

Photo by Gina Spadafori.

Some sights for sore eyes

THERE’S a bright golden orb in the sky, and it feels oddly like spring outside. Anyone know what curious phenomenon this might be? It can’t possibly be sunshine, can it? I thought good weather had abandoned us!

Even with today’s sunshine, last night’s long, soaking rain and the melted snow mean the ground is what I’m sure geologists would refer to as ultra-sloppy. We despair of seeing hounds on the hunt field again for a while, but of course our fingers are always crossed. In the meantime, we have some nice hound pictures to look at. To start with, some video from the Royal Artillery Hunt’s recent Boxing Day meet in England:

This next video–well, we don’t really know what to make of it. But it was something we really felt we had to pass along. What do you get when you combine foxes and trampolines? Something wonderful. Enjoy:

Finally, are you suffering from cute withdrawal? We have a cure, courtesy of Iroquois Hunt member Gene Baker. Gene sent in a few of the pictures he took of Baffle’s newest litter at the recent puppy open house:

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.

MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 2: Masters of their craft

Some of the Iroquois members at Sunday's MFHA hunt staff seminar. Left to right: Nancy Clinkinbeard, Mary Moraja, huntsman Lilla Mason, and Gene Baker.

IF Saturday at the MFHA biennial hunt staff seminar was field trip day (for a tour of the Iroquois Hunt Club’s kennel and a visit with our retired hounds), Sunday was more of a lecture series. But not some musty, fusty maundering on by dull speakers, no way. There were panel discussions featuring some of the hardboot Masters and huntsmen from hunts around the country and from the “young guns” of a new generation of hunting stars. There was a meaty and highly entertaining presentation by a scientist who studies the urban coyote. And there was a panel on the eternal question: how do I get and keep my horse hunting fit?

The houndbloggers attended three of the four discussions, missing the equine fitness one, and so we can offer a summary of the presentations that related to hounds and coyotes.

It's all about the hounds!

The Young Guns

We should say right off the bat that Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason was among the presenters as a member of the “young guns” panel. She was the only amateur huntsman, and the only woman, alongside fellow huntsmen Peter Wilson of the Grand Canyon Hounds (Arizona), Ciaran Murphy of Golden’s Bridge Hounds (New York), Reg Spreadborough of the Orange County Hunt (Virginia), Adam Townsend of the De La Brooke Hunt (Maryland), and Ken George of the Moingona Hunt (Iowa).

Lilla Mason (Iroquois) focused on the process by which field members become hound lovers, just as she did. Like many of us, Lilla was drawn to hunting primarily due to her passion for riding, but the more she learned, and the closer she got to the hounds, the more she came to love hound work–a process that eventually led to her carrying the horn as the first female huntsman at Iroquois.

Lilla emphasized the success Iroquois has had through inviting hunt members to help with summer walk, leash training for the puppies, and other similar activities that give members a window onto the hounds’ everyday lives and the hunt’s breeding and training programs. She noted that giving the field printed out hound lists at each meet has also given riders an opportunity to learn the hounds’ names and follow them through each hunt day. And other initiatives, such as Lilla’s “Hound of the Day” reports, also help give the field (as well as Iroquois social members) a connection to the hounds and a different perspective on the hunt day.

IHC member Cooper Lilly and Payton: kennel visits are mutually beneficial!

“It brings the members closer to the hounds,” Lilla said. “It’s important to open up those doors for them. … The more you bring the members into the hound program, it helps enhance their enjoyment of the day, their enjoyment of the sport.”

“On the first day of cubhunting, the measure of success I hold myself to is, did I come with a pack or did I come with a bunch of individuals? The training program is about bringing each individual to become part of the pack. It’s like a symphony: each violin has had to practice and practice until they’re really good and can be part of the symphony that is the finished product.”

Lilla, the hounds, and hunt members at the 2009 Blessing of the Hounds

Lilla recalled vividly the first time Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller handed her the horn and gave her the opportunity to hunt the hounds herself.

“I wasn’t going to back down from a dare,” she quipped. “So I left the meet, tooted on my horn, and all of a sudden my whole world changed.”

The most startling change: suddenly, no one else seemed to know what they were doing, from Lilla’s new perspective as huntsman. All the whippers-in Lilla knew and had worked with on the hunt field as a whipper-in herself suddenly seemed to have become inept fools.

“They weren’t in the right place, I wanted them here and they were over there,” Lilla said, laughing along with the audience as she recalled her bemusement. “And nobody was back there, where I wanted somebody. And they were all walking, why weren’t they trotting? Why weren’t they doing anything?

“All of a sudden, this ball started rolling that I couldn’t stop,” she continued. “I was having to decide this, and that, and this,  and there was this fieldmaster with all these people breathing down my neck, and it was just overwhelming.”

Summer hound walks provide a good opportunity for Iroquois members and guests to learn about the hounds and their training.

“If you hold your thumb out in front of you and stare at your thumbnail, everything else is a blur,” she said. “When you’re hunting the hounds, all of a sudden you’re using your eyes to collect information from the whole world. You’re looking for every opportunity to get information: what the body language of the hounds is telling you, what the temperature is, where the wind’s coming from, what you see in the coverts. Collecting information to try to take advantage of any opportunity that might help you help the hounds produce good sport. And when something interrupts that canvas, it’s really irritating.

“I made a promise to myself after that day that I would never belittle or think worse of an ill-tempered huntsman, because you have no idea until you do it what that feels like!”

Iroquois Driver with one of his friends at the kennel. When members visit the puppies, they learn about the young hounds, and the hounds gain confidence around with new people.

All of the huntsmen on the panel except Lilla were professionals, and a majority advocated a quiet attitude in dealing with hounds, something the houndbloggers were gratified to hear.

“I think handling hounds on a loose rein is an art form,” Peter Wilson of the Grand Canyon Hounds said. “A pack that is sensitive to what the person who is hunting them wants is a wonderful thing. Hounds that go along without any chasing, whip-cracking, and turning by staff is great to watch even on a poor hunting day. In my opinion, the hounds’ legitimate ideas have to be followed and honored by quiet huntsmen. Getting wound up at the wrong moment because of anger or excitement can mess up a day’s hunting very quickly. It’s easy for a huntsman to get frustrated without realizing how much it affects his hounds. So much of what the hounds cue on is the tone of voice and posture and body language, so it is easy for them to mistake your general frustration for being angry at them. Their keenness and confidence will go way down if a huntsman is too preoccupied with his own mood rather than doing what is best to help his hounds.”

Many of the "young guns" on the panel recommended a quiet style with hounds.

One common concern the huntsmen voiced: loss of country, a complaint that almost every hunt has as rural land is eaten up by development.

Ciaran Murphy, who hunts Penn Marydel hounds at Golden’s Bridge outside of New York City, noted that his hunt has a “small, tight country.” That means, he said, “Radios are absolutely essential.”

Like Iroquois, Murphy uses radios as well as road whips to help protect hounds in an area where roads and development are encroaching. One of the more interesting things Murphy said, at least to us, was that he is still chasing both fox and coyote at a ratio he estimates at about 50-50. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard of a fox percentage that high, as most countries seem to have all but made the switch from foxes to coyotes as coyote territory has expanded (more on that in our next post, when we report on the outstanding presentation Dr. Stanley Gehrt made on the urban coyote!). Murphy said his tactic, when he’s chasing coyote in a small country, is to try to turn the coyote to persuade it to stay in the country.

Several huntsmen on both the "young guns" and the "old guns" panels advocated handling hounds loosely and letting them range rather than keeping them in a tight group, especially when hunting coyote

“We’ve had days where we’ve run a fox for 45 minutes and put it to ground, and then on the way to the next covert a coyote pops up and hounds are gone,” Murphy said. “It’s almost like following a different pack of hounds, in a way. Everything changes. Some hounds start to shine. I have some hounds that are good fox hounds and some that are good coyote hounds, and, on average, they run both equally well, but it’s really a humbling thing, when you have a fox and then you have a coyote, to see the difference in how they run and how it affects the hounds.”

Murphy also made one of the day’s nicer observations–and one that got a knowing laugh from the huntsmen in the audience–when he observed that his job “is one of the few things you can do where every morning there are 60 to 80 faces that are happy to see you!”

Diminishing hunt country remains a concern for nearly every huntsman and Master.

Reg Spreadborough of the Orange County Hounds–home of the unique red ring-neck hounds we’ve written about before–hunts two packs, divided by age. “The younger pack goes to the grasslands with open fields,” he said. “They stay together a lot better, they honor each other when the first strike hounds open up. When they cast themselves and they’re trying to find their quarry, they get together a lot quicker, honor each other, and go.”

Spreadborough said, in his experience, a mixed-age pack is more liable to get strung out on a run as older hounds pull ahead of younger ones; stringing out, he said, is “my pet hate, if I have one.” But he acknowledged that he still hunts foxes, and that allows for different tactics.

“With foxes, we don’t tend to get the hour-and-a-half, two-hour hunts that the other packs would hunting coyotes,” he said.

Spreadborough made an interesting point when he said that, just as there’s ideally a “golden thread” of communication between huntsman and hounds, there also should be a similar thread linking huntsman and hunt staff.

“If you find a whipper-in that you can key off, you almost don’t even have to say anything,” he said.

It's ideal if the huntsman and whippers-in also have a "golden thread."

Also on that point, Lilla recalled a story in which an English huntsman she knows once stood ringside with her at the Peterborough foxhound show and relayed what one of the judges was saying as the class progressed some yards away. “He was able to do that because he had served as whipper-in to the judge for many years and had learned to read his lips!” she said.

Adam Townsend of the De La Brooke Foxhounds spent a good bit of time discussing the importance of whippers-in to a huntsman’s work.

“I translate a measure of our success out hunting to our staff,” Townsend said, adding that the De La Brooke’s whips are all volunteers. “Each of the individuals that whipped in had a different background, and each made the commitment that the job requires. The De La Brooke pack hunts three days a week from September until March. In looking for the right individual to help with the pack and effectively whip in out hunting, several factors had to be taken into consideration. I try to look at their first attempt at correcting a hound. Many people take an aggressive approach, believing if you yell at it, it will obey. To me, this would not be the proper first response in dealing with a hound on exercise or even, in some cases, out hunting. Less is more.”

Many huntsmen prefer a quiet, relaxed whipper-in, believing they help keep the hounds relaxed in their work as a pack.

Townsend explained that. on hound walk, he walks the hounds “loosely, not in a restrictive form.”

“I’ve found that new whips tend to be ‘whip happy’ and want the pack to be tighter,” he said. Townsend added that he does not encourage his staff to crack their whips unless it is truly necessary, as in a safety situation out hunting, when, for example, hounds might need to be kept off a road.

“I don’t like tense whips, because that makes for tense hounds,” he observed.

Ken George of Moingona proved an able storyteller and kept the audience’s attention with his vivid description of hunt days on the Iowa plains and, more recently, to newly opened country in Kansas.

Do whatever it takes to get out with the hounds!

George explained that he Moingona pack is a bitch pack of mostly Crossbred hounds, and their quarry is almost entirely the coyote. He has drafts from a variety of hunts, including Midland and Fox River Valley, “so there are straight July dogs from Midland that can flat fly. We’ve got some nice English dogs that can flat fly. We’ve got big dogs, little dogs, pretty dogs, ugly dogs–but they are a pack. They hunt as a pack. They sound like a pack. They look like a pack. From a hundred feet, you can tell the difference between them. But from a hundred and fifty yards, we have the best pack class in America. They’re demons, that’s what I call them.”

Unlike Spreadborough, who hunts fox exclusively, George said he didn’t mind if hounds get strung out on a run and viewed it as a natural effect of chasing the coyote.

George’s main theme, though, was one every serious huntsman and hunt follower knows well: the true fox-chaser (or coyote-chaser) will do whatever it takes to watch those hounds work together to puzzle out a line. George pointed out that he shoes horses and works cattle for landowners, all free of charge, in order to ensure his country stays open and he can keep hunting. When the opportunity to open hunt country in Kansas some six hours south, George said he jumped at it.

“I drive six hours because I’m ate up with foxhunting,” he explained. “You have to do what it takes.”

Next time: The “Old Guns” panel!

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.

Puppy’s Life: Leashes 101 (with two videos!)

Houndbloggers, kennel staff, and hunt members helped with the puppies' first day of leash training. Sorting out leashes, volunteer walkers, and wiggling, puzzled puppies is harder than it looks!

HOUNDS aren’t born walking on leashes, after all. On the two-legged team were huntsman Lilla Mason, joint-Master Jerry Miller, kennel staff Michael Edwards and Alan Foy, and a phalanx of volunteers: Nancy Clinkinbeard, Christine and Gene Baker, Robin Cerridwen, and the houndbloggers.

The four-legged team were Dragonfly’s son Driver and “the BAs,” Baffle’s puppies who all have names beginning with BA, following the custom that puppies are named using the first letters of their mother’s name.

Before the leash-training exercise started, there was some introductory biscuit-throwing. There’s a style to it. If you’re preparing hounds for a show, you need to know how to make a nice long, low throw that gets the hound to gallop lightly over to the biscuit–while showing off their way of going to the judges. This is all new to the puppies, who have to learn this new game. It’s more than a game, Lilla explained, because this kind of training also exposes the young hounds to new people and teaches them to keep their focus on the huntsman without getting distracted by the other things around them at a show: spectators, spectators’ ham sandwiches, squalling children, other hounds in the ring, and other huntsmen’s biscuits. Not to mention the stands just outside the ring that sell custom stock ties and hunting-related doodads, which I personally find hugely distracting at hound shows!

Paper, who was entered in the hunting pack this year, was very happy to demonstrate how good he is at chasing biscuits. And bouncing around–isn’t he beautifully light on his feet?

Our “Playper” has learned a lot this season and has grown into a truly handsome young man, hasn’t he? To remind yourself of his adventures in his first season with the pack, read about (and see some video) his days on summer houndwalk hereherehere, and here. Check out his performance on the hunt field, also including some video, this year here and here.

But the real task of the day was to introduce the puppies to leashes. If you’ve ever taken a child for a first haircut or applied the first pair of “hard” shoes to a skeptical baby, you’ll understand that putting collars and leashes on young hounds that have never known them before isn’t always straightforward. Hounds might not object, but they might. They might not worry, but they might. A few did. One bolted right back into the kennel, leash trailing behind. “Can you outrun it?” Michael said as the puppy, one of the BAs, made her dash, seemingly pretty convinced she could. She soon returned to the group with the understanding that this snaky-looking leather thing was not, in fact, a snake, and was not going to hurt her.

Bagshot wrapped himself around a houndblogger and suggested that a biscuit might make him feel better about this whole leash thing ...

... and got a biscuit. Well, what would YOU have done?

The few puppies who worried about their new leashes were teaching us, too. The lesson was about patience and kindness, perhaps the most critical elements in handling young hounds. Confidence-inspiring pats helped (especially when reinforced by biscuits!).

Biscuit-chasing and leash training are important early steps in a puppy’s life for the upcoming spring and summer hound shows. And, like those shows, these early sessions galloping after biscuits and learning to walk politely on a leash also teach some critical skills that will be important on the hunt field. How to focus on a single person in the midst of distractions. How to be confident in the face of new situations. How to adjust. How to work one-on-one with a person.

For the record, Driver was a star at walking on his leash!

To see more of the puppy-walk, including Lilla’s explanation of the training philosophy and her comments on what she and the hounds learned from the session, check out the five-minute “documentary” below.

And just as a reminder (not that I even need an excuse to post cute puppy pictures!), here’s what those BAs and Driver looked like last spring:

Baffle's litter in April 2009.

Driver as a tiny (well, okay, not THAT tiny) pup.

Have a great weekend, everyone! The houndbloggers will be beagling and basseting–yes, basseting!–this weekend and hope to post some video from that over the weekend!