Countdown to the Blessing of the Hounds!

The Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing of the Hounds honors the pack’s retirees as well as its current hunting members. Shirley McQuillan photo.

ON Saturday, the annual Blessing of the Hounds will mark the transition from October’s informal part of the hunt season (generally known as cubhunting or autumn hunting) to the formal months that run from November until March. Blessing Day is the “high holy day” of the Iroquois season, and it’s made even more special by the fact that some of our retired hounds get to participate in the ceremony each year.

The Blessing of the Hounds harks back to St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, and it’s his medal that our riders receive on Blessing Day as part of the ceremony (you can see them on their red ribbons, above, lined up along Iroquois joint-Master Jack van Nagell’s hunt whip). To learn a little more about St. Hubert and the history of this beautiful and curiously affecting service, click here.

Bonfire received a personal blessing at the 2008 Blessing of the Hounds. Houndblogger photo.

The Blessing of the Hounds takes place each year on the first Saturday of November and attracts the hunt’s landowners, neighbors, and friends, who enjoy the service, the spectacle, and also a traditional stirrup cup hosted by huntsman Lilla Mason. The schedule this year starts at 11 a.m., when the riders, horses, and guests arrive at the hunt club’s front lawn. The hounds themselves–including 2012 Hound Welfare Fund Retiree of the Year Sassoon!–will arrive at 11:30 a.m. The Iroquois joint-Masters and huntsman will make a few brief opening remarks, followed by the blessing by the Venerable Bryant Kibler, Senior Archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington. Each rider will then take his or her turn to receive the St. Hubert’s medal.

At noon, the riders will proceed up the road on horseback to Miller Trust Farm, while guests and spectators follow by car. The huntsman’s stirrup cup–featuring ham biscuits, cake, port, sherry, and apple cider–will take place in one of the Miller Trust fields. All those attending the Blessing of the Hounds are welcome to join in for the stirrup cup, which got its name, incidentally, because the mounted riders are served their food and drink at stirrup level by the unmounted person holding the tray!

The hounds, hunt staff, and hunting members gather on the Iroquois Hunt Club’s front lawn for the ceremony before riding up the road for a traditional stirrup cup.  The riders receive a St. Hubert’s medal.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a last look back at the informal season with video from the last weekend in October, when superlative hounds combined with cool, damp weather and fast coyotes to give October a great sporting send-off!

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Stammer’s retirement party draws a crowd

The guest of honor, Stammer, with joint-Master Jerry Miller, Keeneland's Ted Bassett, IHC member John Milward, joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell, 2010 HWF honorary chair Dr. Michael Karpf, and kennel manager Michael Edwards. Photo by Dave Traxler.

STAMMER knew he had arrived at a Special Event as soon as he walked through the front door and smelled prime rib. What else would you have for a hound on the occasion of his official retirement party? And what a night it was! Hound Welfare Fund committee member Uschi Graham generously provided both her beautiful home and the catering for Stammer’s big night, which drew a big crowd.

Accompanied by Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards, Stammer did get some nibbles of prime rib, as well as a nice testimonial from Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. To read Stammer’s great story, click here.

Stammer: the Hound Welfare Fund's Retiree of the Year for 2011, as captured by photographer Peggy Maness.

Stammer retired from hunting several years ago but featured prominently (partly on account of his color!) in our 2011 Blessing of the Hounds ceremony this year (in that video, you can see him going up to get his own blessing with Lilla at about the 50-second mark). He’s also a star on the hound blog banner at the top of this page.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla S. Mason, guest Ted Bassett, and the night's hostess, Uschi Graham. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Stammer was the perfect guest, listening quietly to the tales of his exploits and modestly accepting the compliments and tidbits and kisses heaped upon him. To see some of Dave Traxler’s photos from the night’s events, please click the Smilebox below:

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Stammer with admirers Leslie Penn, Eloise Penn, and Hannah Emig. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Stammer has been enjoying his retirement alongside all his friends at the Iroquois kennel, thanks to the Hound Welfare Fund. The fund, a 501(c)(3) charity, covers the costs for all the Iroquois Hunt’s hounds once they retire, at which point the hunt’s budget no longer provides for them.

Three Hound Welfare Fund auction chairs: Dr. Michael Karpf (2010), Kasia Pater (2011), and Alex Boone (2012). Photo by Dave Traxler.

It’s thanks to the HWF’s many supporters and volunteers that we’re able to give every one of the Iroquois Hunt’s hounds a happy and dignified retirement. If you’d like to help us help them, please consider making a donation. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation will go directly to the retired hounds’ care. And that’s something for everyone–especially the hounds–to celebrate!

Blessings all around


The Iroquois Hunt's Blessing of the Hounds took place earlier this month, with some of the retired hounds participating. Photo by Dave Traxler.

AND so begins the formal season, with the blessing of hounds and riders gathered once again at the old Grimes Mill. Blessing Day harks back to St. Hubert, about whom we have written a great deal in the past. But it also, in a way, “harks forrard” to the hunting season proper, and God knows we need blessings aplenty for that, when somber weathermen and the Farmer’s Almanac both are making ominous noises about a winter of snow and ice. Phooey. The temperature is in the 40s today, and, though it is wet, the houndbloggers are determined that It Will Not Snow as much this year as it did last year.

Baffle got a blessing, too, along with Iroquois huntsman Lilla S. Mason, from the Venerable Bryant Kibler. Photo by Dave Traxler.

The Iroquois hounds and followers were blessed on Nov. 5 to have very fine weather for celebrating hunting’s high holy day, as you can see from the pictures and video accompanying. The hunt, founded in 1880 and reincorporated (after a 12-year hiatus) in 1926, has been honoring the Blessing Day tradition since 1931, when Almon H. P. Abbott, 2nd Bishop of Lexington presided. To read more about the history of the club and of the hunt’s Grimes Mill headquarters, click here. Norm Fine, our good friend over at the Foxhunting Life website, recently unearthed a tiny jewel of a film that provides a glimpse of the Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing Day from 1934. To see it, click here.  Interestingly, the 1934 blessing shown in this one-minute Universal newsreel isn’t at Grimes Mill, but, we believe, a stone church near Winchester. The following year, on Nov. 4, 1935, the Blessing of the Hounds took place at Grimes Mill (click here for a Universal newsreel of that Blessing Day), where it looked very like today’s ceremony: horses lined up along the drive, hounds brought down from the kennel behind the huntsman’s cottage, where our kennel manager Michael Edwards now resides. The priest today, as then, stands on the  same old millstone to deliver his remarks.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

From the Houndbloggers’ perspective, it’s especially interesting to look at the hounds, which then were of the rangy, longer-eared American type prevalent in the area at the time.

Today’s Blessing Day, as illustrated in the video below, shows that the hounds and the setting may have changed since 1934, but the basic ceremony (and its appeal to the general public) have not:

We’re also pleased to include a photo slideshow of pictures that our excellent friend (and excellent photographer!) Dave Traxler took on the day.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Several years ago, a friend sent me the text of the 1984 Blessing of the Hounds made by the Right Reverend Robert W. Estill, 9th Bishop of North Carolina, who, incidentally, also came back to the Mill for its centennial in 2008. Estill also was an Iroquois member before he moved to North Carlina, and so he was an especially interesting candidate to bless the hunt’s hounds for the 1984-’85 formal season.

“When I got my buttons and began to hunt with you while I was rector  of Christ Church,” Estill said in 1984, “my Senior Warden and godfather, Cllinton Harbison, penned a poem to ‘Our Riding Rector.’ It read:

‘A parson should have a ‘good seat’

Amd ‘light hands’ and an ardor complete

For riding to hounds

Where clean sport abounds.

May no spill that parson delete!

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“So you and I and this crowd of friends and well wishers come together for the Blessing of the Hounds,” Estill continued. “Yet are we not the ones who are blessed? Look around you. Even the person farthest removed from horses, foxes, or hounds could not fail to catch the blessings of the day, the place, and the occasion. We urbanites often lose touch with the good earth and with its creatures. We Americans have shoved our sports so deeply into commercialism and professionalism and competition that we have lost the sense of pleasure in sport for sport’s sake.

We lose touch with our past, too. With those who have gone before us. You and I are blessed today (in this time of the church’s year called All Saints) by those whom George Eliot first called ‘the choir invisible … those immortal dead who live again in minds made better by their presence.’ When those of you who will hunt step into the stirrups today, you will join, if not a ‘choir invisible,’ at least a bunch of interesting women and men who have done just that in years gone by.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“From the time of 1774 to about 1810, settlers from Virginia ‘came swarming over that high-swung gateway of the Cumberlands into Kentucky,’ bringing with them hounds, whose descendants are here before us now carrying their names as Walker foxhounds. They were first developed by John W. Walker and his cousin, Uncle ‘Wash’ (for George Washington) Maupin. Wash hunted as soon after his birth in 1807 as was practicable and continued to do so until close to his death in 1868.”

Today, the Iroquois hounds are English and crossbred, and the game is more often the coyote, who came into Kentucky from the opposite route that the Virginia settlers took, arriving instead from the West. We do still see the occasional fox, and the Houndbloggers take it as a lucky sign. We viewed a long red one on Blessing Day, racing across Master MIller’s driveway, and we hope he was an omen for good sport and safety for the season to come. But we are just Houndbloggers, and we will leave the actual, formal blessings to the professionals! And so we return to Estill, whose 1984 Blessing of the Hounds seems entirely apt today:

Lord, you bless us this day with all the abundance of your hand.

For horses which obey our commands,

and for mules with good manners,

for hounds in joyful voice,

for foxes given us to hunt,

and for covert in which you provide for their safety,

for friends and partners in the chase,

for food and drink and for those who prepared and served it,

for those whose vision and care made all this possible and for those who have gone before os and are now in your nearer presence,

for St. Hubert, our Patron, and his life in fact and fantasy, we give thanks to you, O Lord.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

The Houndbloggers would like to add a particular blessing for the retired hounds, several of whom attend the Blessing of the Hounds each year. We’re lucky to have them and however many months or years of their good company left, and they are blessed to receive the Hound Welfare Fund‘s support. We hope you’ll give them a blessing of your own, a way of thanking them for their years of service and sport, by donating to the Hound Welfare Fund. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation goes directly to the retired hounds’ care. 

Glowworm has left us

Glowworm enjoyed a happy day out with her fellow retirees and visiting children last month at the Iroquois puppy show.

GLOWWORM, one of the Hound Welfare Fund‘s oldest retirees, died last week at age 17 after costing the fund almost nothing, except what it took to feed her during her long retirement.

Glowworm is by Iroquois Captain, one of the “old Iroquois” hounds from the days when foxes were more prevalent in our hunt country than coyotes and the pack, hunted by the late Pat Murphy, had more fox-chasing Walker hound blood. Glowworm resembled her sire both in coloring and longevity (Captain died at 18), but Glowworm also was a bridge between two eras in the pack. When coyotes became the local farmers’ scourge, Iroquois needed to breed a different, more biddable type of hound to chase this larger, faster game. Joint-Master Jerry Miller looked to England’s foxhound packs, and one of the bitches he imported was Glowworm’s mother, Grafton Gloria ’92.

Glowworm's pedigree combined American and English bloodlines and bridged two eras at the Iroquois Hunt.

The story of how Gloria came to be mated with Captain is one of the houndbloggers’ favorites. We asked Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason, a whipper-in at the time the story took place, to tell it again.

“When Pat Murphy retired as Iroquois huntsman, he suggested which hounds we keep in the pack,” Lilla recalled. “At that time, the quarry hand changed to coyote, so we had to change, too. The old Iroquois hounds were more suited to trailing foxes than pressing coyotes. So we were infusing more English blood. But we wanted to keep some of the old Iroquois blood in the pack, simply because it was old Iroquois blood and good hound blood. One hound Pat wanted us to keep and use as a stallion hound was Captain, who also did well at hound shows. At the time, Pat and Bud followed the hounds together in a truck. Jerry (joint-Master and then huntsman Jerry Miller) told them that at the end of the season, he wanted them to tell him which of the English bitches they thought he should breed Captain to.

“What ensued was a serious argument that lasted the entire hunt season, and it was so bad that about halfway through the season they quit following the hunt together in the same truck and started following in separate trucks. By the end of the season, finally they did agree to breed Captain to a bitch called Gloria that we got from Tom Normington at the Grafton Hunt.”

A portrait of Glowworm by artist Lynn Judd, a former Iroquois Hunt member.

Glowworm went on to have her own fine hunting career, followed by an enjoyable retirement at the Iroquois Hunt kennels, where she was a beloved character. Most recently, she came to the Iroquois puppy and hound show in May, where she particularly enjoyed the attention of visiting children. You can see her in the day’s video (below), at the 3:22 mark.

“She was great in the kennel,” kennel manager Michael Edwards said. “You could put her with anybody and she’d get along with them. A lot of people in the hunt club remember Glowworm, and they’d always want to see her, and she was easy to pick out because her coloring was so different.”

Glowworm died in her sleep at the kennel on June 16 after a long, happy, healthy life.

“Practically the only thing she ever cost us was her food,” Lilla said.

Glowworm leaves behind many good memories, including Lilla’s favorite, from Glowworm’s early hunting days.

“I remember distinctly the day the light bulb went on for Glowworm,” Lilla said of Glowworm’s first season with the hunting pack. “That’s a phrase I use all the time for the day a puppy figures out where its nose is and what it’s really supposed to do with it. I remember it so well with Glowworm. We were at Brookfield Farm. That’s a great place for us to cubhunt, because it’s wide open fields with small coverts, so you can really see what every hound does. It’s easy to evaluate young hounds there because you can see who’s doing what.  I was whipping-in, and I was on the east side of a covert. A coyote came out of the east side and went straight across this five- or ten-acre grass field. I could see exactly where he went. He ran out into the field, and in the middle of it he took a hard, right-angle turn to the right. The hounds came out absolutely screaming on the line. Glowworm was in there with them, in the middle of the pack like a puppy would be, excited and screaming, too. This was probably December of her first season. The pack went screaming on the line, straight into the field, and slightly overran the line. When they did, they went silent. And the only one who never overran it and who turned exactly like the coyote did was little Glowworm.

Bud Murphy, shown here with Iroquois Hunt field secretary Betsy van Nagell at the 2011 Virginia Hound Show, was behind the mating of Gloworm's parents, Iroquois Captain and Grafton Gloria. Photo by Dave Traxler.

“I couldn’t believe it. She just followed her nose right along  that turn, and went screaming off in that direction, and the whole pack followed her. The rest of the pack kind of swirled around, but as soon as they went off in the direction she did, they all picked it up as well.It was the coolest thing, because she was a teeny, tiny thing compared to a big English hound. I’ll never forget that day. For a puppy to have the confidence and the nose and the drive to follow it in a frenzy like that, to cut right against what everybody else had done.”

Glowworm did have a last hunt not long after her official retirement, Michael reminded us.

“We took her and a bunch of the retired hounds on a little hunt around Jerry’s one day,” he said. “They struck off down in Archer’s Draw, and I was sitting up on the driveway waiting to see what they’d do. Here came Glowworm, Graphite, and Grizzle. They always hunted together, and they always had a tremendous desire to chase quarry. They’d been hunting around for a long time out of Archer’s Draw. And, sure enough, here came a coyote up the drive, kind of dragging his tail and panting and panting, and here came Glowworm, Graphite, and Grizzle behind him, panting and panting behind him. They were retired and weren’t moving all that fast, but he wasn’t that much faster than they were. We wondered if they’d found some old retired coyote! That’s one of my best memories of Glowworm.

“She was very, very boisterous and would talk to you,” Michael added. “When you’d get ready to feed, you could tell which one she was just by her bark. She had a higher-toned bark. And I loved her because she reminded me of Captain, who was one of my all-time favorites.”

They’re missing Glowworm’s bark these days at the kennel. Godspeed, Glowworm!

Tonight’s the night!

The Hound Welfare Fund‘s annual dinner and auction takes place this evening. For more details on some of the items on offer–including sporting artworks and the unveiling and sale of a new work by Andre Pater–click here and here. We thought you might also be interested in seeing some of the the night’s live auction items, too, and hear some of the voices behind the artists who support the fund, the first registered 501(c)(3) charity to care for retired foxhounds after their working days end due to age or injury.

Belinda Sillars sculpture to benefit HWF

Belinda Sillars's limited edition bronze of Casanova Kip is among the art on offer June 4 at the Hound Welfare Fund benefit auction. Photo by Dave Traxler.

FRIEND of the Iroquois Hunt hounds and renowned bronze sculptor Belinda Sillars has kindly agreed to donate one of her limited-edition bronzes to this year’s Hound Welfare Fund benefit dinner and auction on June 4 at the Grimes Mill in Lexington, Ky. The 12″ by 9″ work (above) is No. 13 of 25. Thank you, Belinda, or your generosity to the retired hounds!

This is the latest in a string of great art that will be available for bidding at the auction, which also will feature the unveiling and sale of a new charcoal and white pastel drawing by famed sporting artist Andre Pater.  Pater, a member of the Iroquois Hunt, has spoken eloquently about the hunt’s hounds and the Hound Welfare Fund that provides for these generous canine athletes when their working years are over. The auction also will include works by such sporting artists as Sandra Oppegard, Hazel Morgan, Sally Moren, Ena Lund, Judy Boyt, and others.

Art isn’t the only thing up for bid at the auction! To see information on more items, click here and here for a sampling of this year’s art and other items. To learn more about how to bid on items even if you’re not able to attend the event, e-mail coakford@aaa-alliedgroup.com.

And remember: the Hound Welfare Fund is a 501(c)(3) charity. All donations go directly to the care of our retired hounds!