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!

Virginia Hound Show 2012: A big day for Iroquois hounds!

The HAs picking up a trophy at the Virginia Hound Show on Sunday.

What a day for the Iroquois Hunt’s English hounds! The houndbloggers were not in attendance this year at the Virginia Foxhound Show, but we got updates throughout the day from the English ring, where our hounds showed–and we’re pleased to say they brought home some of the silver! The show draws some 800 hounds from across North America, a real feast for the hound lover’s eyes. If you’ve never been, we encourage you to attend next year! For the complete list of results from the 2012 show, click here.

We’ve been following the HA puppies since their birth (and they were born, auspiciously enough, just before Blessing Day in 2010, when the annual Blessing of the Hounds kicks off the formal hunt season). They are sons and daughters of two hounds we imported from the Cottesmore in England, the doghound Hawkeye and the bitch Baffle, who also is the dam of our much-vaunted BA litter. The HAs have matured into an exceptionally regal group, and the houndbloggers had high hopes for this pride of young lions, who will join the hunting pack this coming fall.

Hawkeye (left) and his sons in the class they won, English stallion hound and three of his get. Photo by Nancy Milburn Kleck Equine-Sporting Artist.

Perhaps the most notable victory of the day was Hawkeye’s in the class for stallion hound and three get. Shown alongside his sons Halo, Hawksbridge, and Hanbury in front of judge Henry Berkeley from the Berkeley Hunt, Hawkeye scooped the trophy from a highly competitive class that also featured Live Oak Maximus, the Virginia Foxhound Show’s grand champion foxhound back in 2010, just a few months before the HAs were whelped. Hawkeye’s win is a big thumbs-up for the Iroquois Hunt’s breeding program, which already has seen success from the BA litter, Baffle’s first for us, on the hunt field.

Baffle and the HA pups back in the day.

Some of the hounds and volunteers taking pre-show exercise Sunday at Morven Park, scene of the prestigious Virginia Foxhound Show.

We’ll have to wait until fall to see how the HA puppies perform on the hunt field, but here’s how they did in Virginia:

Halo won his single doghound-unentered class. Hanbury was third in this class.

Halo and Hanbury came back to win the couple of dogs-unentered class, and Hardboot and Hawksbridge finished second to them.

HaloHawksbridgeHardboot, and Hanbury, all unentered, won their two couple of doghounds-entered or unentered class.

Thanks to his victory in the unentered doghound class, Halo moved on to the unentered championship against the day’s top unentered bitch and placed second, making him the show’s reserve champion unentered hound.

A bath before the big day.

To see the HAs cover some ground, see the video below, taken in January at Boone Valley. A video from February is here.

Another winner at Virginia was Samson, our entered red-and-white doghound who is a big asset on the hunt field and the sire of our new BO litter out of Bonsai. He won his English stallion hound class, then came back to place third with Edie in the junior handlers’ class! We think Samson’s puppywalker in England, Nina Camm, will be especially thrilled with that news! To see Samson’s baby pictures that she sent us, click here.  To see our adventures bringing the very talkative Samson and Hawkeye with us by air from England (where they hunted with the Cottesmore) to Kentucky, click here. Yes, it was worth it!

The likeable red-and-white Samson, photographed in 2010.

In the afternoon’s bitch classes, another member of the HA litter, Hackle, finished second in the unentered bitch class, and Havoc finished third. This pair of Hackle and Havoc also finished second in the couple of bitches-unentered class. Dragonfly, a North Cotswold import and the mother of our famous doghoundasaurus Driver, placed second for the second consecutive year in the brood bitch class. To see a video of her (and the other Iroquois hounds) in action at last year’s Virginia Hound Show, click here. Dragonfly is at about the 2:20 mark.

Another houndblogger favorite, the powerful North Cotswold import Banker, also finished third in his class, the entered doghound class that Samson won.

Dragonfly, Driver’s mother, picked up a second in the English brood bitch class.

Banker at his first meet in Kentucky back in October 2010.

We understand that the Iroquois joint-Masters Jerry Miller and Jack van Nagell, huntsman Lilla Mason, kennel manager Michael Edwards, and the passel of hound volunteers led by Cice Bowers arrived back at the hotel exhausted but understandably pleased with the day’s results.

Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller does the honors. A toast to the Iroquois hounds and their supporters!

We know how much work went into making this day happen, and the hounds’ success was richly deserved. Congratulations, everyone, and safe home!

The season that was

THE Iroquois hunt season ended in late March, but we didn’t want to let it get away entirely without  looking back on some good days out with the hounds! Personally, the houndbloggers love the summer hound-walking season, but it’s always nice to keep in mind the point of the exercise: preparation and training for the hunt field next fall. So with that in mind, after a long pause, we return to our computers with a look over our shoulders at the hunt season that was in our featured video today (above).

Meanwhile, the focus is on getting hounds ready for the Virginia Foxhound Show this Sunday at Morven Park near Leesburg, Va. Among the hounds Iroquois will take to the big show are members of the leonine HA litter, Baffle’s second litter for us, who have matured into magnificent, graceful, statuesque creatures very much resembling their sire, Hawkeye.

The HAs are featured in the video above, taken back in February, and we have more recent footage of them on a post-season hound walk that we’ll try to post before the show on Sunday. In the meantime, let’s turn on the Wayback Machine, to October 2010, when the HAs were very wee indeed!

And a little video of the little HAs:

My, how they’ve grown! We wish the HAs and all the Iroquois hounds the very best of luck at the Virginia show!

A Tale of Three Litters … and One Stick

A Puppy For Everyone! The BO puppies back in December with friends Hannah Emig, Mary Hicks, Nancy Clinkinbeard, Maggie Wright, Eloise Penn, and Christine Baker. The BO puppies are by Samson out of Bonsai. Photo by Gene Baker.

The puppies of the Iroquois Hunt foxhound pack have been keeping busy these days, as you can see in the videos below. The younger set, the SA and BO litters, even went on their first “hunt” for unusually wooden quarry! Luckily, the chase–with good cry, we might add–was captured by huntsman Lilla Mason, who put together the first video. And, no, that sound was not dubbed in! Those are the puppies themselves taking charge of the soundtrack.

Meanwhile, the “big puppies” of the HA litter have matured into breathtakingly noble and elegant creatures. They might have stepped right out of a medieval tapestry.

It’s not many more months now before the HAs will join their elders in the pack, where the BA litter, the first puppies the hound blog started following back in 2009, are now leaders. More on that later. For now, please just relax and enjoy some warm puppies on a winter afternoon!

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!

Strolls with the HASABOs


SA puppies Brookfield Traxler 01-15-12

Sault, Sawmill, and Sayit (foreground) explore some snowy branches. That looks like Sample in the background. Photo by Dave Traxler.

WHEN winter weather freezes or drowns out hunting, we’re lucky that we still get to spend time with the hounds. It’s been a week since any of the houndbloggers have hunted in the saddle, but we’ve made it out three times recently with the Iroquois Hunt’s boisterous batch–make that batches–of puppies.

Two of these litters you’ve already met: the HAs (by Hawkeye out of the great BA litter’s mother Baffle) and the SAs (by our former pupposaurus, now houndasaurus, Driver out of Sage). There’s a third litter that also has illustrious parents, and which the houndbloggers have been remiss not to introduce you to before now. They are the BOs. Their parents are two of the great Iroquois characters, easily recognizable by their color and by their prowess on the hunt field: their mother is Bonsai and their father is Samson, known to the houndbloggers as The Voice,  who famously made a scene at Heathrow airport.

We’ll start with the HAs, who have matured into elegant, leggy individuals, something you could see coming even in their early days, and they certainly have been stamped by their sire, Hawkeye.

Hawkeye. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Their training is progressing well, and you can see during this walk that they’re figuring out exactly what those powerful noses can do! There are a few wistful looks toward the rich hunting grounds of Pauline’s Ridge. No doubt the alluring scent of coyote was wafting down from the ridge and into eager HA nostrils, and although they can’t know all that that scent means yet, it already seems to pique the HAs’ interest (and instinct)!

If the HAs are the high-school set, the SAs are still in elementary school. You probably already have noticed something wonderfully unusual about them: they’re not white! A number of the HAs have a bit of subtle buff, lemon, and oatmeal here and there, but the SAs have made a dramatic departure from the paler shades that dominate the Iroquois pack. This gives the houndbloggers some hope that, at some point in the future, they will be able, finally, to reliably identify hounds galloping full throttle half a field or more away.

SA puppy walk Brookfield 01-15-12

The SA puppies and friends at Brookfield. Photo by Dave Traxler.

And here’s another tremendous thing that has the houndbloggers all atwitter about the SAs: they’re wire-haired. We had hoped, not very secretly, that matching the dark Driver and the luxuriously woolly Sage would result in some dark or tri-colored woollies, and while none of the SAs are as flamboyantly woolly as their mother, they are distinctly broken-coated and completely adorable to look at. Their names are Saigon, Sample, Sault, Savvy, Sayit, and Sawmill, the females being Saigon, Sample, Savvy, and Sayit, and the males Sault and Sawmill.

The BOs also have enjoyed romping in the great outdoors. Most recently, they’ve been out and about with their bigger packmates, the SAs, who seem to relish their roles as worldly “big dogs.” The BOs are smooth-coated and colorful, as you’d expect from the pairing of the dark, bronze-eyed Bonsai and the red-and-white Samson.

Saigon, Sawmill, Sample, Savvy, Sault, and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Saigon, Sawmill, Sample, Savvy, Sault, and Sayit having a big time! Photo by Dave Traxler.

The houndbloggers were out for two recent walks with the SAs and BOs, first at Miller Trust and then at Dulin’s. You can see the results–including Savvy’s courageous pursuit of a waterbound dog biscuit!–in the video below. The BOs, the kindergarteners, are named Bobbsey, Bombay, Bombshell, Boone, Bootjack, Bouncer, Bounder, and Bourbon.

With three litters of puppies, it’s going to take some time for everyone, from hunt staff to houndbloggers, to learn which name goes with which hound. And, as huntsman Lilla Mason pointed out, it doesn’t really work to ID a hound by some small mark you only see when you’re up close. Come the day these puppies take to the hunt field, the staff most often will be identifying them by watching them run across a field or by looking straight down on their backs from the saddle. So everyone now is trying to familiarize themselves with the three litters’ back and side markings and tail markings, for example.

Saigon Sayit Brookfield 01-15-12 Traxler photo

Saigon and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

So far, the houndbloggers only reliably know a handful, if that. But as we follow the puppies through these initial walks, and on to spring training and summer hound walk, we’ll learn more about them as they learn more about working in a pack. Stay tuned!

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.