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.
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!
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!
Thank heavens for rain. God knows we need it sometimes, and so do our landowners. But does it have to fall, and fall so heavily, on days when hounds are supposed to meet? At least there is a silver lining: poor weather provides a fine opportunity to think back to sunnier days. The summer hound walk and roading season ended several weeks ago, but we thought we’d cast back a bit and enjoy a last look at some video and photographs we and photographer Dave Traxler collected over the summer.
Now, of course, our thoughts have turned back to fall and the new hunt season. Which means the return of the Hound of the Day series, as well as more photos from Dave, and video when the houndbloggers are out with the camera. Stay tuned for all of that when the weather allows us back out again, and, in the meantime, stay warm and dry!
THE Iroquois Hunt‘s hound and puppy show on Saturday proved a good practice session for the upcoming Virginia Hound Show, and it also gave the HA puppies, sons and daughters of Hawkeye and Baffle, valuable exposure to the world beyond the kennel and their woods.
By the way, Judge Bud Murphy chose Hawkeye as the “grand champion” of our informal event. He just nosed out Sassoon, in Bud’s opinion, in the older male category. The houndbloggers will, of course, abide by the judge’s decision, but at least one of us reminds our readers that Sassoon Is The Best Hound Ever. This blog is too short to extol his many virtues, but suffice to say we love him.
Two of our other favorites also were on the boards at the hound show, young Bagshot, who showed last year at Virginia and then enjoyed a good first season in 2010-’11, and the chestnut-colored retiree Glog, last seen out hunting on Blessing Day 2010 and now taking great pleasure in his retirement activities–including, as you’ll see in the video below, pats and scratches from his new best friends, the children at Saturday’s show.
The weather gods were smiling on us, because we got just about the only two hours of sunshine central Kentucky saw all weekend, and in that warm, sunny window we were treated to romping puppies, fine-tuned canine athletes, brief presentations on basic hound conformation and the whipper-in’s job, and Pimm’s served out of the Iroquois Hunt’s silver Kentucky Hunt Cup trophy punch bowl.
For a spectator’s view the show, click here, where Samantha Clark also has posted photographs and a story about the day’s events.
Thanks to everyone who participated, volunteered, and attended!
Now our thoughts turn toward the Virginia Hound Show and preparation for summer hound walks. And, of course, the annual Hound Welfare Fund dinner and auction, which takes place on June 4 at the hunt’s Grimes Mill headquarters. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donations to this 501(c)(3) charity go directly to the retired hounds’ care. The retirees–who clearly relish their role as ambassadors!–appreciate it.
If you’re interested in attending the dinner and auction, please send an e-mail to hannah[at]iglou.com. If you want more information about the Hound Welfare Fund or would like to make a donation, please feel free to check out the fund’s website here.
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.
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.
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!
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 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!
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!
REMEMBER Playper? The tri-colored Class Clown? The puppy who liked to unearth and carry random objects around in the hunt field? Well, treasure those memories, because Paper ain’t a boy anymore. He’s the man.
The last time we got out with the hounds was on Sunday, Jan. 30, a day that was notable because the sun came out. Which it hasn’t done for a long while. We were all delighted to be out in relatively warm temperatures and with the sun on our backs, and we didn’t expect the day also would mark a milestone for our young friend Paper. We’ve been following his development since he first started going out on hound walk back in the summer of 2009, and it’s probably worth a brief recap.
Paper came to Iroquois from the Live Oak hounds in Florida. He arrived in Kentucky still a puppy, and he exhibited a silly streak very early. He got his name, in fact, while he and Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller were making the 10-hour drive from Kentucky to Florida. Jerry had put Paper in a large traveling crate with an absorbent paper pad on the bottom of it, and Paper found that pad rather a lot of fun. He started shredding it not long after Jerry left the Live Oak kennel, and he didn’t stop until they rolled into Lexington. As the young pup kept himself busy with this, the bits of paper piled up in his crate until, finally, when Jerry looked in his rear-view mirror to check on him, the hound had disappeared completely in the mound of ripped paper he had created. Hence Paper.
Paper has become a favorite at Iroquois because of his various antics on hound walk and out hunting. But, it must be said, this year he has graduated into quite a serious member of the working pack. And, last Sunday, he led the pack on a coyote run, showing the ability we always knew he had in him.
Last Sunday afternoon was a remarkably warm, breezy day after a long frigid spell. The ground was frozen cold, but the air above it was warm, and what scent there might have been stirred and dispersed in a strong breeze. The sun, while nice to feel after its long time away, also didn’t help the scent to linger for hounds’ noses to find. The hounds’ body language signaled to huntsman Lilla Mason early on that scenting conditions were very poor. It was, Lilla said, as if they were telling her, “We’ve got our noses on, but they’re not picking up much that’s interesting.”
The scenting conditions might have been less than ideal, but the pack was as good as they could be. Bringing them back to the hunt field after a long absence due to the long stretch of “unhuntable” weather was like putting on a comfortable old shoe, as Lilla described it. The hounds were as responsive as ever and settled quickly to their task. “It was like we’d never left,” Lilla said.
The hounds started winding something in the field near Grundy’s barn. They started feathering–but then couldn’t quite make out the line, another hint that scenting was difficult on a day when the earth was cold and the air relatively warm. The hounds tried, feathered, and even sometimes spoke, but the line proved elusive. They kept casting themselves to the south, feathering enthusiastically. They were clearly trailing up to something but couldn’t quite get consistent enough scent to strike off. When joint-Master Jack van Nagell tally-hoed a coyote heading into Pauline’s Ridge, Lilla harked the hounds to that line less than a minute behind the quarry. The hounds feathered, desperately working what little of the line there was–but it was not enough to send them into full cry. That told her how difficult scenting was going to be, and, if she needed any more evidence, Lilla got proof positive that scent was not the hounds’ friend that day when a curious thing happened on top of a cliff.
“I could see a coyote in the grass, that black coyote,” Lilla said. “It was quite a way off, and it was just standing there in tall grass. I’d already harked hounds to the line once with my voice, and they didn’t pick up scent, so I couldn’t do that again, because it’s like I’m lying to them. I couldn’t risk that again.”
“It’s terribly frustrating, as a huntsman,” Lilla added. “You’re sitting there staring at a coyote. I could get the hounds into the high grass, and I could see the coyote in there. He was lower than the grass, and through the wisps of grass I could see him moving back and forth in front of the hounds. And they couldn’t smell it. And he knew they couldn’t smell him. They were feathering, but they couldn’t quite pick up the line.”
Flash back to summer hound walk: “When you watch the hounds on summer hound walk, you realize how much depends on their noses,” Lilla said. “That’s true of almost any dog. If I throw a red biscuit two feet in front of me, and they see me throw it, they don’t look for a red biscuit in grass–they smell for it where they think it landed. It’s hard for humans to understand how much hounds depend on their noses. Their noses are so much more sensitive than ours, whereas we depend on our eyes.”
You can also see this difference–hounds’ reliance on their noses rather than their eyes–when Michael Edwards and Alan Foy scatter biscuits in the grass before unloading the hounds at a meet. When the hounds rush out of the trailer to hunt for the biscuits, they don’t look for the for red and yellow dog biscuits. They come out of the trailer with their noses down to smell for them.
“So even though we can see a coyote, they’re using their noses to smell for it,” Lilla continued. “The problem is, you don’t know how many coyotes are there, either. If I rely on my eyes to tell the hounds what to do, I’m committing an error. With a pack like ours, hounds that don’t switch coyotes, you have to let them establish their own line.
“When you know it’s a bad scenting day, and you know there are multiple coyotes, you sort of have to wait to let the hounds pick up one of them. You can’t assume which one it will be until they tell you. They might be working hard, about to pick up a line, and if you lift them and cast them and put them on another line, well, that’s no good. You want to teach them to work it out for themselves.”
A four-hound group did just that, finally speaking on the line of a reddish coyote that had headed out the east end of Pauline’s Ridge. Paper, Sassoon, Battle and Bagshot took off on the line they’d found, but the hounds had cast themselves widely, a necessary tactic on a bad scenting day when you’re hunting coyote. As Paper and his three companions raced on close behind the coyote, they distanced their packmates. The other hounds behind them caught onto the same line, but when they reached the sunny open ground after Paper’s group, the main body of the pack had trouble holding on to scent as it dwindled rapidly in the warmer air. As Paper, Sassoon, Battle, and Bagshot hurtled toward the western boundary of the hunt country–and a busy road where horses could not follow–their packmates were left puzzling over a line that, to their noses, was nearly invisible. When they made a lose, Lilla opted not to cast them forward and risk having them run toward the road, too.
“I also knew there were coyotes back in Pauline’s Ridge,” Lilla said, “so it wasn’t too egregious for me, as the hounds came out of the ridge, to send them back in again and let Michael and Alan get those two couple back.”
It turns out that Paper and Bagshot, spotted by whipper-in Elizabeth Playforth, came back on their own, and Alan and Michael quickly picked up Sassoon and Battle.
The moment when Paper struck off and led his group on a coyote, and in far from perfect scenting conditions, didn’t last long. But it was an important indication that the Class Clown is becoming a serious student, and is even on his way to being a potential pack leader. Not for him the tempting aluminum can or old cow bone. Not anymore.
“He’s Mr. Foxhound now,” Lilla said. “No puppy left in him. He’s running with the big boys. He’s just changed, hasn’t he? He’s no longer goofy.”
As Paper and Bagshot filtered their way back to Lilla, their colleagues in the pack, meanwhile, had struck off again in the east part of Pauline’s Ridge. “That helped bring everyone back together,” Lilla said. But when hounds went quiet soon afterwards, the pack, working their noses hard the whole time, scattered out again, trying to find scent anywhere they could. As hounds worked silently, snuffling through the grass, woods, and cliff, Lilla headed back up to the ridge and blew her horn. She soon collected 10 or 11 couple and headed west with them, intending to draw the covert at Pauline’s house.
Just then, another tally-ho, this time from field secretary Betsy van Nagell, who spotted–guess who! The black coyote, of tall grass fame, emerging from his weedy haven.
“He looked over his shoulder just like he was saying, ‘Hi!'” Lilla said. “And he just trotted away down the hill. I immediately took the hounds over there and put them on the line. And they couldn’t do anything with it.”
I’m not sure who ticked off the Scent Gods that day, but someone did, and the black coyote knew it.
“He was moving so slowly,” Lilla said. “He knew we could see him in the grass, and he knew we were going to see him when came out of the grass and went down the field. He trotted right by the field. He always goes that way: he comes out of the top of the ridge and goes south like that. Sometimes he’s a lot of fun, but this time he knew there was no scent and wasn’t bothering to move very quickly, just trotting a long and not giving off a lot of scent from his pads. At least the field had a nice view.
“To an uneducated eye, they’d probably wonder, ‘What is wrong with those hounds?’ But those kinds of days really teach you how much they hunt by scent.They hunt by scent, not by sight. They can hunt a little bit by sight, but scent really is the key.”
Missing just one and a half couple, Lilla took the pack into Pauline’s Scrub, a good covert for game and also near where Lilla suspected the three absent hounds would be. Hounds spoke in the fenceline between Pauline’s Scrub and the Deer Covert, a good, strong cry on to the Deer Covert. Spirits lifted–but the burst was short-lived.
“They went to the Swamp Covert, to the Deer Covert, then went quiet for a minute before picking it up again,” Lilla said. “They ran across the field by Salt’s Barn, then turned sharply west out in the open into the Silo Pond Covert, right where we started. They made a lose there. The line was very, very strong going into the Silo Pond Covert, but once they got in there, they hardly even feathered. They tried really hard: they had their noses down, they were frantically looking around. If it hadn’t been so close to sunset, I would have tried to cast a little to the south, but I think they had done as much as they could with it.”
Having battled the Gods of Scent all afternoon, Lilla called it a day. From a hunting standpoint, the day was understandably frustrating for huntsman and hounds alike. But there were at least two important saving graces: the mere fact of being out again, galloping a horse alongside hounds over the countryside, and Paper’s brief, shining moment, leading the pack on a line.
THERE was a break in the weather last weekend, and that meant the houndbloggers finally were able to get out and see some hounds again! Is it just us, or were people kind of giddy about being back outside in some sunshine again? It felt strange and liberating to unfold ourselves out of the traditional mid-winter hunch and go out walking instead of, say, snow-shoveling.
The last day of January is an unusual time for a hound walk; those usually take place in the summer, as you can see from our posts and videos in June, July, and August. But on Saturday we got a chance to tag along with four of Baffle’s second litter of Iroquois puppies, known as “the HAs” because their names, to recognize their sire Hawkeye, will all start with the letters HA. The HA litter were born at the end of October, so they’re about four months old now.
They were joined on the walk by Magic, an eight- or nine-month-old who came to us from the Live Oak hounds; in the video below, she’s the larger hound with a light honey coloring. Also along for the walk were three of the HA puppies’ older half-siblings, Bandstand, Bashful, and Bangle, and retiree Saddle.
The hounds weren’t the only “new entry” out enjoying the wide world. Wells Pfister also was making her debut. Wells is the daughter or Iroquois members Knox and Matt Pfister and granddaughter of Iroquois Hunt joint-Master Jack van Nagell and his wife, field secretary Betsy van Nagell.
The van Nagells hosted the hound walk and provided a warming stirrup cup–or, I guess, walking cup–before we stuffed our pockets with dog biscuits and set off across the pastures, the puppies bouncing along with us.
To the amateur eye, two things were remarkable. First, the puppies’ confidence. They were a happy lot and just as exuberant as you’d expect puppies to be, but, in addition, they were not afraid to roam away from their human chaperones and follow the older hounds off to examine the pasture’s many curiosities.
Second, they were already highly responsive both to the older hounds’ lead and to people, cheerfully returning to the group after their more distant explorations. Naturally, it didn’t take long for them to realize that the people walking with them were Good Things who readily rewarded the puppies with biscuits and pats when they came to them.
As you can see in the video, the puppies enjoyed learning more about their world, and they didn’t appear spooked by anything they found: creeks, ditches, a livestock feeder.
The walk also provided a good chance to see hound-to-hound teaching in action, as the puppies followed the older hounds, clearly picking up on what they did–the first budding of what you can see later when young hounds join the hunt field and rely on their older packmates to show them the ropes.
I think it’s fair to say that a good day was had by all. Certainly, the puppies had a good time–and slept well afterwards, as this photo, taken by Lilla on her phone, shows:
And speaking of the hunt field, on Sunday the houndbloggers got out with hounds again, this time for actual sport, before wintry weather returned. Next up, we’ll have some updates from that day, including the story of our young friend Paper’s complete transformation from Playper the Class Clown to serious working hound!
ONE of the problems handlers face in training hounds for the show ring is The Biscuit Lean or its cousin, The Biscuit Crouch. Those aren’t the technical names, but they’re pretty accurate. Huntsmen showing hounds have pockets full of biscuits for the hounds to chase when off-leash in the show ring, and they’re handy for keeping a hound’s attention while you’re surrounded by other huntsmen and their hounds.
Thing is, the hounds learn to anticipate getting that biscuit, and while waiting for the huntsman to reward them they will start to leeeaan forward or even crouch back slightly on their hind legs, preparing to launch themselves at the biscuit when it’s tossed. Bad, bad dog. Why? A leaning hound is in an unnatural, unrelaxed stance that makes it harder for a judge to accurately assess his conformation. A crouching one will tend to place his hind legs too widely, making them look conformationally suspect.
These are ways hounds in the ring can “push” or pressure a handler, and Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller has devised a way to stop this mild dominance behavior: by playing a gentle game of Space Invaders. For the last several days, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason has been trying this on the young hounds, and its proven remarkably effective (and fast) at stopping this pushy behavior. Lilla demonstrated it for us on Thursday and explained the philosophy behind this common-sense training technique, which is easily applicable to some house-dog behaviors, too.
One of the things that appealed to us about this is the way it encourages the hound to think for himself and make his own decision, not because he’s afraid of being punished, but because he wants the outcome that results in a treat for him. It also allows the hound to trigger the desirable outcome (biscuit!) himself by his actions. When the hound leaves the show board, Lilla simply “shuts off.” The hounds we watched quickly learned that they themselves could reactivate her attention only by stepping back on the board, and they could restart the biscuit reward by standing square. By leaning or pressing forward on Lilla’s space, they only activated Space Invaders.
We used the “off switch” technique with one of our dogs, Mr. Box, when he developed the annoying habit of barking incessantly at us while we made the dogs’ meals. Here’s how it worked: as soon as he barked, we immediately stopped whatever we were doing–opening the canned food, scooping kibble into bowls, whatever. We’d put the dog-food-making items down, step away from the counter, and slump, looking down at the floor and avoiding any contact, visual or verbal, with the dogs until Mr. Box stopped barking.
As soon as he stopped, we’d return to the counter and pick up making dinner wherever we had left off. Rinse and repeat as needed (at the first sign of barking). Within a week, Mr. Box had learned to “control” how fast dinner arrived by not barking, and now he sits silently (but gazing very intently) while we make his meal.
Jerry Miller has spent much of his career as a huntsman and hound breeder trying to figure out these training puzzles, and many of his solutions, like the invading a domineering hound’s space, deal directly with a hound’s psychology. Teaching a dog merely to avoid punishment seems to us a blunter instrument.
Side note: for a funny take on training people this way, you might enjoy Amy Sutherland’s piece in the New York Times about how this worked on her husband.
Late last month at a kennel open house, Jerry and Lilla talked about showing and judging hounds. They didn’t just talk about training, they also talked about the showmanship and showring strategy that huntsmen have to use to make their hounds stand out well in their brief time in a crowded show ring.
The hound you’ll see in this video is young Battle, one of the BA litter out of our imported English bitch Cottesmore Baffle. After you watch this video, scroll down to the next one to check out how much progress he has made just since late April, when we made this first video. In this video, you’ll also see a vivid case of a hound pushing his handler–that was before the Space Invaders lesson!
Another aside: if you didn’t get Jerry’s reference to Peterborough, check out our post (with some video) about the world’s most prestigious foxhound show.
Here’s the “big, overgrown puppy” today. One surprise: he shows signs of shyness, as Lilla discusses in the video. It’s not clear yet whether this is temporary or a part of his personality, but it’s information Lilla files away in her mind, because it could affect how she handles him on summer hound walk and, later, in the hunt field. In the meantime, her work with him now will focus on increasing his confidence.
Finally, there’s Driver. The Big Shark. We’ve been following the pupposaurus since he was in utero, but now he’s turned into a real pin-up boy with some serious jaws in his biscuit-catching style. Enjoy:
The Virginia Hound Show is on May 30. The houndbloggers plan to be there, and in the meantime we’ll keep you updated on the doings at the kennel!
THE Kentucky countryside is lush and green, and hunt season has been over since the end of March. We’ve put our wool hunt coats in the closet until next fall. But some of the Iroquois hounds are still at work. This time, they’re preparing for upcoming hound shows.
How a hound performs on the hunt field–its fitness for the breed’s purpose–is the ultimate test of a hound’s breeding and physical conformation. But the show ring presents a chance for hunts to get outside opinions on their hounds’ breeding programs–at least regarding conformation. Even so, as at any dog show, judges at hound shows have their own likes and dislikes, in addition to their opinions on what conformation works and what doesn’t. In other words, judging a hound isn’t simply an exact science, it’s also an art significantly colored by personal preferences.
One common bias, for example, is against broken-coated, or “woolly,” hounds. I was once asked to help our huntsman, Lilla Mason, show one of our woollies at the Mid-America hound show, and while the two judges were looking the hound over, I overheard one of say to the other, “You know you’d love that hound if I threw a bucket of water over his back!” The hound won, by the way, so I guess Judge A convinced Judge B!
The art of judging hounds is mysterious to me. Conformation faults that hound breeders can spot at 300 yards while wearing a blindfold are often invisible to me. Unless a hound’s leg is actually put on backwards, or it has three ears, I am probably going to miss whatever it is the judges find–especially at a show like the upcoming Virginia Hound Show, where the competition is so fierce that the judges will be asked to choose, time and again, the best of a perfect group of hounds and will have to get pretty nitpicky in order to determine winner from runner-up.
We got a chance to get a judge’s eye view at a recent open house at the Iroquois kennel. Lilla and Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller have been working with the hounds that are candidates to show this summer (Iroquois joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell will be judging the American hounds this year at the Virginia Hound Show; because Iroquois only has English and crossbred hounds–meaning English crossed with Americans–he won’t be judging of his “home” pack!). At the open house, Jerry offered his view of some of the hounds’ conformation and Lilla described how she handles hounds in the show ring. Both talked about how important it is to build hounds’ confidence and obedience before shows. In a ring full of other hounds and other huntsmen tossing biscuits, Lilla’s hounds have to be able to concentrate on her and her alone–a big task for some puppies, for whom everything is new! Hound shows may be something of a beauty contest, but training for them also serves a good purpose on the hunt field, too, by reinforcing this concentration and attention to the huntsman.
We’ve followed Driver’s progress since he was a not-so-tiny pup, and in mid-April he got rave reviews from visiting huntsmen who toured the Iroquois kennel as part of the Master of Fox Hounds Association’s biennial hunt staff seminar.
So we were especially interested to hear Jerry’s remarks about Driver now that he is developing into an about-to-be-entered hound (he’ll join the Iroquois pack this coming fall). Below, you’ll find a video showing Jerry’s take on the strapping young doghound, who is still developing as he reached his first birthday this month.
Jerry compared Driver favorably to some of the younger puppies, who were born about a month after he was last year, noting that Driver naturally has got more muscle development this year. His chief attribute, not surprisingly, is power. He springs lightly over the ground with little apparent effort, and he has a ground-eating stride. Lilla’s task with him is to control his exuberance and maintain his concentration, and in this clip you see some of the strategies she has to use in the show ring, such as keeping the hound far enough away from her so that they don’t hold their heads up too high in the air, which makes their necks and shoulders difficult for a judge to assess accurately.
As a reminder, Driver is one of our English hounds. Iroquois imported his mother, Dragonfly, from the North Cotswold.
While working with young Battle, one of the BA litter out of our imported English hound Cottesmore Baffle, Lilla and Jerry pointed out some of the finer points of hound conformation: does his left paw turn in slightly or does it not? These are the kinds of details that an experienced judge will be focusing on, especially when presented with a ring full of uniformly high-quality hounds like those at the Virginia Hound Show. Lilla and Jerry also provided a lot of insight into the art of showing hounds effectively. There are strategies a huntsman can use to, as the song goes, accentuate the positive and “lowlight” the negative in a hound’s conformation, and a hound’s own personality can also make showing him easier or harder. A shy hound, for example, is difficult to show and is far less likely to earn a good mark than a more exuberant one who appears enthusiastic in the ring. More on showring strategy later this week, including a lesson we can take from hound-show training and apply to better behavior in our house dogs! Except probably for Harry the charming villain.
In addition to discussing hound conformation, Jerry also touched on some of the history of modern hound breeding, specifically how the size of English hounds has changed somewhat over the decades. He also talked a little about the differences between chasing fox and chasing coyote, effectively a change of the working foxhound’s job description. To hear a short clip on those topics, see the video below.
The Virginia Hound Show is coming up on May 30, and we’ll keep you posted on the hounds and their training between now and then!