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!

Who would be a Master?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the front line of landowner relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The quiet diplomat and sponsor

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

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

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

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

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

Another requirement for a Master: hide like a rhino.

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

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

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

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

Snow hounds, a hunt country panorama, and some random jottings

Rosie Wilson sent this picture-postcard-perfect photo of her hound puppies

THE YEAR is winding down, it’s the holiday season, there’s a little Bailey’s in my glass, and it’s getting on toward bedtime–a potent mixture for inducing nostalgia in the sleepy houndblogger.

Out with the hounds this afternoon, it occurred to me how lucky we are to have use of the beautiful land in the Iroquois hunt country. Landowners and farmers really are the backbone of foxhunting–along with the hounds and the game–and we should appreciate them every chance we get. Standing atop a breezy hill this afternoon on Boone Valley Farm, the thought occurred to me that those of you who aren’t familiar with Iroquois might like a quick peek at some of our hunt country. This view rpresents one of the most beautiful panoramas in the hunt country and takes in a few places very fsamiliar to those who regularly follow hounds over it, such as Boone Valley Farm and Wee Young’s Covert. I’m still learning the names and locations of some of the coverts, which turns out to be a good deal more complicated than you might think. To give you some idea, here’s a rough map that Steve Snyder sketched out for us this afternoon while we were following the hunt in the four-wheeler:

Try keeping all THAT in your head! The hunt staff do, which strikes me as a minor miracle. Steve’s map helped keep me oriented properly as we buzzed along the roads around Boone Valley, Foxtrot, and other notable landmarks in the country. But it was no match for the sheer beauty of the land, even on a cloudy afternoon with a chilly wind blowing in. This brief video panorama hardly does it justice but gives you some idea:

We were in the middle of a lovely piece of land watching one of man’s ancient pastimes, but it is striking to note how much modern technology now contributes to our ability to protect the hounds and to carry on hunting even as development encroaches–in fact, the gradual incursion of roads and subdivisions is one of the reasons technology has become a feature of many hunt fields. Back in the 1800s, huntsmen and Masters bemoaned the coming of railway lines. And well they might: the railway lines didn’t just cause a nuisance in bisecting the hunt country and making it more difficult to cross, they also endangered hounds. Reading periodicals of the era when railways were relatively new, it is sad how often notices appeared reporting the death of hounds on railroad lines. Today, the car is the biggest risk to hounds in many hunt countries.

The hunt staff at Iroquois carry radios, the hounds wear tracking collars, and the kennel staff work the roads in their hound trucks, cell phones and radios on, all part of maximizing safety.

Foxhunting equipment today includes radios and cell phones for the humans, and tracking collars for the hounds

Even so, as we scanned the countryside and watched the horses and hounds from our vantage point on Boone Valley Farm’s highest hill, we were reminded that even with modern technology now on the hunt field, huntsman and hounds are part of an old, old ritual, and no technology can replace the hounds’ instincts and training or the close bond they have with the people who hunt them. And thank heavens for that! You can’t manufacture a hound’s sagacity or bravery.

Speaking of bravery … something we saw today has inspired us to inaugurate a Game as Grundy Award, named for the late great Iroquois hunting and stallion hound. Huntsman Lilla Mason, leg still in a cast, returned to the saddle for an hour today to accompany the hounds with joint-Master Jerry Miller, who has been carrying the horn while Lilla is recovering from a broken ankle. It was great to see her out again, and we wish her a speedy full recovery!

And now the houndbloggers will have to hie off to bed to dream of hounds. It’s just a few minutes now until Christmas Eve! We hope you all have a happy and peaceful Christmas!

A Christmas fox wishes you a happy holiday season!

Doing your end-of-year tax planning? Don’t forget to consider a donation to the Hound Welfare Fund! Donations are tax-deductible, and 100 percent of your donation goes directly to the care of the retired hounds.

Things we’re thankful for

Harry is thankful for the gas logs and the huge Orvis dog bed

IT is, after all, the day to give thanks. So we at Beagle House are totting up the things we’re especially glad for this year. It’s not a complete list, because probably even cyberspace isn’t big enough for that, but here are the ones that are hound-related, in honor of Thanksgiving Day on the hound blog.

Let’s face it: 2009 has been a pretty rough year. But even in the midst of various losses and traumas, we still have a lot to be thankful for. We are thankful that when our elderly beagle Felix, king of the house and our hearts, died on February 12, it was peaceful and painless, and he was surrounded by the people who knew and loved him best. We’re grateful, too, that we had him so long.

The great (though tiny) Felix

We’re thankful that Harry has not yet managed to blow up the house. “Not that I can’t,” Harry reminds. Harry himself is very happy about that new giant-sized Orvis dog bed we got. It was meant for all three of the dogs, but, you know, Harry is reviewing the other dogs’ applications for occupancy with “great thoroughness,” he says, and will get back to them on that, perhaps later in the decade.

All three dogs are thankful for the gas-log fireplace at this time of year.

Mr. Box is thankful for biscuits, and Bingo is especially thankful to be out of an animal shelter and into a home, his own home, with a pack and a family and, my goodness, all those toys.

Bingo with his rope toy

Snaffles, my very old gray hunter, is thankful that the summer wasn’t too hot and for the cooler weather having finally arrived. Sassoon, my young(ish) hunter, is thankful to be alive and only wishes he could hunt a little more these days. Both of the horses, collectively known as The Snaffoon, are thankful to Lilla for helping make me a better rider! And speaking of Lilla, we’re thankful to her and to Jerry for teaching us about hounds and their training, and for allowing us a glimpse at what carrying the horn is like.

Mr. Tobermory Box lines up to catch a biscuit

The houndbloggers are thankful for the Hound Welfare Fund, which keeps the Iroquois hounds happy and healthy in their days of dignified retirement. We are especially grateful to all the HWF’s donors, supporters, and volunteers, who make the whole thing work–and make it an example of what can be done, which we hope other hunts and their supporters will follow. And we’re thankful for all the hunt’s hounds, current working pack members and retirees alike, for showing everyone so much fun and for helping us learn what hunting is really all about.

We're thankful for new friends and HWF supporters, like Bruce Bryant of Linens Limited

We’re thankful, too, for all the landowners, without whom there would be no Iroquois hunt country, and to the Masters and their work crews who keep that country in good repair, who install the coops and riding gates for our convenience, and who bear a great deal of work, expense, and time-consuming hassle just so we can go out and have fun from October to April.

We are thankful for the hunt country itself, with the great beauty of its rolling hills, leafy spinneys, grassy pastureland, clear-running creeks, and generous coverts. And we are thankful for the conservationists that have kept it that way, abundantly full of wildlife and game.

Many, many thanks to our landowners who allow us to cross their beautiful countryside

We are thankful for our horses, who carry us without complaint (most of the time, anyway!) and seem to enjoy their hunt days as much as we do.

We’re thankful that the flood at the hunt club wasn’t worse!

We’re thankful to Michael and Alan in the kennel for their thoughtful care of the hounds.

We’re thankful to our many various veterinarians and our farrier, who keep our animals in working order. They have gone the extra mile for them more times than we can count, and we are grateful that they don’t mind explaining the technical stuff in simple language that we can understand, even when we are worried to death.

God knows we’re thankful to be employed so that at least we have some chance of paying off those vet and farrier bills!

And we’re thankful, enormously so, for all of the readers that have stopped by Full Cry: A Hound Blog since we first opened the door on June 29. You’ve looked in on the hounds and their blog more than 3,700 times since then (as of today)! We’ve got good friends, old and new, that the blog keeps us in touch with, and we’re very thankful for that.

Hounds and huntsman are thankful for each other, and we're thankful for both

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!