The Middleburg Hunt’s Christmas parade (with video)

The snow made the Christmas in Middleburg celebration a white one on Saturday

WE woke up this morning in Middleburg, Virginia, to a white blanket of snow, perfect for the annual Christmas in Middleburg celebration that features the town’s Christmas parade. Or, rather, almost perfect. The snow hadn’t been forecast to start until noon, which would have been as the parade was ending, but instead it started early in the morning and had made roads slushy well before the parade–led by the Middleburg hounds every year–was due to start.

Traditionally, the hunt rides up a back road and into the parking lot behind Middleburg’s historic Red Fox Inn for a stirrup cup before moving off to lead the parade. We had chosen the lot to watch for the hunt, hoping for some good close-up video of the hunt’s tri-colored American hounds. There we waited. And waited. And waited, as the snowfall grew heavier. Eventually, it started sticking to our hats and coats until we resembled two houndblogging snowmen. Off in the distance, through the snowfall, we could dimly perceive horse shapes, but they seemed to be milling around rather than coming our way … and eventually, after about an hour, word came that the hunt, for safety’s sake, had decided to skip the ride up the slushy hill to the Red Fox stirrup cup and just start the parade from another point.

The houndbloggers sprang into action (okay, we more creaked stiffly into action, having been standing in the snow for quite some time, and sloshed off to find a new vantage point along the parade route) and were able to get a little video of the hounds as they passed by, looking a little chilly themselves. It was cheering to see how many spectators had come out to watch and how they enjoyed the view of the hounds, who are truly picturesque and quite different-looking from the largely English and crossbred pack at Iroquois.

The Middleburg Hunt has about 40 couple of American hounds, and the hunt itself has a very interesting history. The hunt was founded in 1906 after the Great Hound Match of 1905 drew significant attention (and hunting visitors from numerous other states) to the Middleburg area.

More on the Great Hound Match later this week! There is an ample supply of information on this curious event at the National Sporting Library, and we’ll touch on that here in a few days.

For now, we hope you enjoy the video and that it helps put you in the holiday spirit. The tail end of the video includes some caroling and a pretty four-in-hand carriage team.

Where's that flask? The houndbloggers needed one while waiting (fruitlessly) for the Middleburg Hunt behind the Red Fox Inn.

After the hounds had passed, we spent a pleasant hour warming up over lunch at the Salamander Market before heading out to do some shopping (free hot cider and rum at the Highcliffe Clothiers! Hooray!).

Happy Holidays everyone!

We understand that some snow fell in Lexington, too, so we hope you’re all safe and cozy by your fires tonight!

Bedtime Stories: A sampler from the NSL stacks

An occasional series in which we offer a pleasant “good night” to our readers, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

IT’S been a busy but very pleasant week of study here at the National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Virginia, where the bookshelves and archive boxes are filled with vivid foxhunting and beagling history.

So for the Bedtime Stories this week from Virginia’s hunt country, we thought we’d present a few of the tales and scenes we’ve found this week.

A huntsman and his memories

Young Jack Molyneux spent most of his life in hunt service in England, Scotland, and Ireland, from about the time he was 12. He got his start riding with his father, who also was a huntsman. In his memoirs, Thirty Years a Hunt Servant, published in 1935, he recalled being a young whipper-in with the Lanarkshire Harriers in Scotland. The pack’s Master at the time was a Colonel Robertson-Aikman:

“They were the smartest pack of hounds I’ve ever seen in all my experience and used to win most of the prizes at Peterborough. Colonel Aikman had an up-to-date model kennel and was a great hound man. … The hounds loved Colonel Aikman, and every Sunday afternoon we walked them down to his home, The Ross, standing about a mile from the kennels. Generally he would return with us. I’ve seen those hounds, after he had gone back some time, leave us, get on his line and go right back to The Ross and find him. This is the only pack I’ve ever seen do this.”

While with the Lanarkshire Harriers, Molyneux also got to try his hand at hunting the hounds one day when kennel-huntsman Sam de Ville was sick. It was a tough introduction to carrying the horn.

Jack Molyneux as a whipper-in at age 18

“A second horseman came with me, and off we set through some big doors on to the road. The doors were carefully shut behind us, and it was a good job they were, as things turned out. Just before we got to Hamilton, the second horseman behind was making such horrible noises (he meant them to be ‘hound talk’) that all the hounds bolted for home. When they got to the doors by the kennels and found them shut, they went on about another mile, with me going racing pace to catch them. I got them stopped and started off again, but this time I made the second horseman go in front and say nothing, so we arrived at the meet. Next day there were a lot of hounds with sore feet, but I dared not tell Sam what had happened.”

The abduction of Trojan

Scrutator, the pen name of the English MFH Knightley William Horlock, wrote a number of books about hounds and hunting in the late 1800s. This bizarre incident is described in his 1865 book Practical Lessons on Hunting and Sporting and reveals, among other things, the lengths some men would go to to get their hands on a good hound’s bloodlines, and the lengths to which they would go to avoid admitting to Welsh blood in the kennels, even when it improved their own hounds and hunting. We, of course, highly favor the woolly Welsh bloodlines, which have been so successful for Iroquois.

“There was an old specimen of the ancient Britons who had a very killing pack of Welsh extraction, which would worm a fox out of the mountain fastnesses, or eat him there and then. Amongst these was a dog named Trojan, the leader of the van. The fame of Trojan had reached the ears of a well-known master of English foxhounds, who resolved to have a look at him, and judge for himself whether the report was true of this dog’s extraordinary prowess. Accordingly, having obtained the necessary information as to the next fixture of the mountaineers, our master of fox-hounds sent a hunter overnight to the nearest village; and Trojan and his master being both ‘peep-o’-day boys,’ he had to get up in the middle of the night to be in readiness–eight o’clock being the hour of meeting even in the winter months. In short, no advantage was considered  unfair by our Welshman to take over his enemy, and the only chance with a Welsh mountain fox is to have at him before he has well digested his supper, or the prospect of getting his brush is exceedingly remote indeed …

One of our noble and leonine woollies, Stalker, now retired through the Hound Welfare Fund

“Well, it so happened that Trojan and his comrades blew up a brace of foxes by about the usual hour of meeting in civilized countries now-a-days; and the English master being perfectly satisfied with his performances as well as figure, not only coveted his neighbor’s goods, but resolved to avail himself of Trojan’s services. But the Saxon, thinking it infra dig. to enter any young hounds on his list as got by Mr W.’s Trojan, effected his purpose in another way. …

“Jack (his whipper-in) went to Taffy’s house and kidnapped old Troojane, as the Welsh call Trojan. It happened in this wise: Jack, the whipper-in, having ascertained the ins and outs of Mr. W’s kennel, dressed as a Welsh drover, taking advantage of the master being mystified as well as his man, one misty evening, whispered through the keyhole of the kennel door to Trojan that a young lady outside wished to see him on very particular business. The gallant old dog stepped out at once, without waiting for a second invitation; and as the language of love is easily understood, whether in Welsh or English, Trojan was inveigled by the Saxon beauty to leave his kith and kin among the moutaineers, and accompany her back to her English home.

“On Trojan being reported missing the next morning, inquiries were set on foot, and search made for the old gentleman in every direction for many days, and even weeks, without avail. And, as Trojan was considered prime minister by his master, advertisements were at last put in the local papers, with a full description of his personalities, offering a reward for his apprehension. By this time, Trojan having served the purpose for which he had been abducted, Jack was instructed by his master to inform Mr. W that a stray hound answering Trojan’s description had found his way to their kennels some weeks previously, and might be had if proved to be the missing animal. A trusty messenger was despatched immediately for the truant, and Trojan returned to his rightful owner, not, however, before he had become the father of a large family, which, to mystify their descent, was represented under a different parentage.”

Furrier, one of foxhunting's great hounds

The great Furrier

George Osbaldeston (1786-1866), better known as Squire Osbaldeston, was lucky enough to own a foxhunting star in Furrier. In his autobiography, he describes how he acquired this hound from the Belvoir when that pack drafted him, even though he was a descendant of the great Hugo Meynell’s powerful breeding program:

“As we hunted five and six days a week, we were obliged to enter 25 couples of young hounds annually, and not having sufficient quarters, even including my own in Yorkshire, for so many, we used to get drafts from Belvoir. The Duke drafted them himself; and I happened to be present on the occasion when Furrier was drafted.

“Looking over the lot in the presence of the kennel feeder, whose name was Jervis, before the Duke arrived, the man pointed out to me a very fine hound indeed. He was black and white. Jervis said, ‘That is the best bred hound in the kennels, but I don’t think his Grace will keep him.’ I asked, ‘Why not?’ and Jervis said, ‘Because his legs are not quite straight.’ I expressed the hope that the Duke would draft the hound, for I saw what a magnificent animal he was; quite perfect in every respect except his legs. Jervis told me that all his sort were generally straight, and he thought this one must have been kept tied up at quarters, which system is the destruction of a great many young hounds every year. I asked how Stormer, as I think he was then called, was bred, and was told that his blood was direct from Mr. Meynell’s best sort. While the Duke was drafting the young hounds I was very anxious, fearing he might keep this one; but luckily he did not, and I got him.

“Furrier turned out a wonder. He was as sensible as any Christian, had not a fault, and when he learned what his duty was, which he did in a very short time, never committed an error. I never saw a hound that could top the fences like him; a gate was nothing to him; he merely touched the top bar; no fence except a bullfinch could stop him; and at the end of the hardest day he came home with his stern up as if he had never been out at all. Almost all his stock followed his example; I never had so good a sort in my life.

“Among the pack I bought from Lord Vernon was a dog hound descended from Lord Yarborough’s sort whose get were as stout as those of Furrier, but had not his other qualities. I mixed them, and certainly the cross turned out marvelously. More than half my pack were Furriers, and Sir Richard Sutton’s were the same. Sir Richard swore by them. Any hounds in other packs which have distinguished themselves are generally to be traced to old Furrier.”

NSL Dispatches: Kid, meet candy store!

The National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Virginia, is a haven for lovers of sporting books, art, and ... weathervanes! The bright, golden grasshopper to the lower left of the oil painting of George Ohrstrom Sr. above is one example from the late Paul Mellon's collection, which is on display throughout the library.

TODAY was my first chance to step inside the National Sporting Library. Remember your first day at school? The bag full of notecards and paper, the yellow pencils, books everywhere? But imagine a school where you can read what you want to read, where you can while away six or seven hours a day poring over books and unique original documents about your favorite subjects. That’s what the National Sporting Library is like if you are passionate about horses, hounds, hunting, angling, sporting art, polo, and countless other delights. And it is open to the public, so pay them a visit from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

The bronze War Horse by Tessa Pullan memorializes the 1.5 million horses and mules who died of injuries or disease or were wounded in both the Confederate and Union Armies during the Civil War.

Guided around by the library’s Liz Tobey and Lisa Campbell–both hound followers and researchers–I quickly found that the NSL has a lot more to offer than its treasure-trove of rare sporting books and personal papers. It has a first-rate art collection, including pieces by Munnings, Franklin Voss, Michael Lyne, and Lionel Edwards, among countless others. It has sculpture, including a small Herbert Haseltine bronze depicting his idea of the perfect Thoroughbred. It houses the late Paul Mellon’s collection of weathervanes, which range from the beautiful to the whimsical. It houses a complete collection of The Chronicle of the Horse, whose office is right next door, numerous bound volumes of the old sporting magazines that proliferated in the US in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and shelves, almost as far as the eye can see, occupied by years’ worth of the red-bound annual Baily’s hunting directory. And there are audio and video materials, including videotapes and DVDs of foxhunting in England, Ireland, and the U.S.

Theodore Roosevelt's handwritten manuscript for "Riding to Hounds on Long Island," published in The Century magazine in July 1886.

Want video of the Scarteen in full cry across Ireland? They’ve got it. Need some insight into the development of bits and stirrups? It’s there. Photos of Walker or July hounds in the late 1800s? Check. Looking for biographical details of the four people who compiled the records that became the American Stud Book for the Thoroughbred? Right there on the bookshelf. Joseph B. Thomas’s hunt diaries? In the archive boxes downstairs.

You get the idea. (And, by the way, there’s a print of Iroquois just off the entrance foyer!)

In addition, the library hosts seminars, lectures, readings, art exhibitions, and film screenings.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my two-week stint here will only allow me a glimpse of the works worth studying in depth, so I think another trip will be required!

From the stacks

My task is to find interesting history about hounds and how huntsmen through the ages have bred and trained them, developing a mutual language between huntsman and hound that allows them to work together in the hunt field. As I come across interesting pieces over the next two weeks, I’ll excerpt them here on the hound blog.

Today, I spent a lot of time poring over two old texts. The first is George Tubervile’s The Noble Art of Venerie or Hunting, published in 1611. I’ve only just waded into his advice to huntsmen, but already I’m struck by what hasn’t changed in hound training over the centuries:

“A Good keeper of hounds should be gracious, curteous, and gentle, loving his dogs of a naturell dispostion, and hee ought to bee both well footed and well winded, as well to fill his horne as his bottell: the first thing which he ought to do when he riseth, is to go see his hounds, to make their lodging cleane, and to dresse them as the care shall require.

“… The keeper must fill two great bagges or pockets with small bones, and other good morsels, as … horse feet fryed, fatte roast meats, and such like, that he shall breake all into small gobbets into his bagges, and hang one bagge about his own necke, and give another unto one of his companions. …

“Afterwards every man shall take a fayre wand in his hand, and let one go before to call the hounds unto him, another shall come behind which shall jerk them forwards, and if there be two others, they shall go on ech side, and so all foure together shall go lead the hounds through the greene Corne fields and through the meadows, as well to feed them as for to teach them to know their voice, making them to passe through the heards of sheep and other such like beasts to accustom them, and to make them know them.”

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason wearing the biscuit bag, still a standard feature of working pack kennels everywhere.

The modern bagge of "dogges delicates"after a morning's hound walk

Turbervile describes an early exercise to teach the hounds to hark to a huntsman’s holloa: the huntsman walks some way away (Turbervile suggests “a crossbow shot’s length”) while his whippers-in hold the young hounds. Then the huntsman should turn, blow his horn, and call to his hounds. The whippers-in should let them go then, and when the hounds rush to their huntsman, he will give them their reward:

” … When they are come to hallow, the huntsman must take his bagge of victuales and cast unto them all the delicates, crying and comforting them as the Art requireth: then when hee shall see that they have almost done eating of their reward, hee shall give sign or token to his companions that they beginne to hallow, the which (having not stirred from the place where they uncoupled their dogs and having another budget or pocket of delicates and dogs dainties) shall begin to hallow on their side, and to blow their hornes to make the dogs come unto them.”

It’s interesting that, in this early style of hunting in England (presumably based on the French style, because hunting with hounds was imported from France by the Normans) the huntsman isn’t the only one carrying a horn and holloa-ing to the hounds. That eventually changed in England, but I’ll have to find out more about how they still do things stag-hunting in France. Still multiple horns? If so, how are they used now?

Hounds are everywhere at the library.

From another ancient source, a vivid description of the fox. The book is a heavy tome called The History of Four-Footed Beasts, by Edward Topsell, published in 1607. Now, far be it from me to be skeptical of descriptions painstakingly collected by the “chaplaine in the Church of Saint Buttolphe Aldergate,” but, well, I do have my doubts about some of his animals! The gorgon that graces an early page, for example, is shaped like a horse, has scales like a lizard, has the coiled tail of a snake, cloven hooves like a cow, and a mane like a lion. Just saying.

Of foxes, Topsell had this scary observation:

“If the urine of a Foxe fall upon the grasse or other Herbs it drieth and killeth them, and the earth remaineth barren ever afterward.”

But some of his descriptions are more reliable: “He stinketh from Nose and taile.” I’ll buy that.

Topsell's version of a fox in his History of Four-Footed Beasts

And Topsell gave plenty of time to dogges, especially houndes, in his book. Intriguingly, he described night-hunting hounds whose activities sound very like the kind of hunting still done from Texas to Ohio, where hunters let their hounds out at sunset and sit around the campfire while the animals hunt until dawn. The point in their case is to hear the hounds’ voices carrying through the woods or up and down the valleys. But in Topsell’s account, the hounds called night curs or Canis furax ran silent while hunting “conies,” small hares, by scent:

“… At the mandate and bidding of his master fleereth and leereth abroad in the night, hunting Conies by the aire. … During all which space of his hunting, he will not barke, lest he should be prejudicial to his own advantage. And thus watcheth and snatcheth up as many Conies as his master will suffer him, and beareth them to his masters standing.”

The History of Four-Footed Beasts was probably my favorite read of the day both for the fantastical nature of its information and for its terrific drawings.

Topsell's rather malevolent-looking hunting hound.

The hapless cony in The History of Four-Footed Beasts, or what our beagle Harry would call "a fat, slow, juicy rabbit."

From more recent texts, we have two great American presidents, both avid foxhunters. George Washington appears, from the sporting notes he made in his diaries before the Revolutionary War, to have hunted every chance he could get. And we know that some of his hounds were French, because on Aug. 24, 1785, he noted a gift he received from a Revolutionary ally: “Received Seven hounds sent me from France by the Marquis de la Fayette, by way of New York, viz. 3 dogs and 4 Bitches,” Washington wrote.

Washington had about 12,600 acres to hunt over during this period. He kept his own kennels, and there are hints of the frustrations many Masters and huntsmen have experienced through the ages. There are worries over rabies–at one time Washington feared his entire pack had become subject to “madness,” and he was obliged to shoot a seemingly rabid dog that happened into some of his hunting hounds one afternoon. The breeding program at Washington’s kennels also was at times haphazard, resulting in some head-exploding (and sad) moments for the Master:

June 22, 1768: Musick was also in heat and served promiscuously by all the Dogs, intending to drown her Puppys.

March 24, 1769: Returned home from my journey to Frederick, etca., and found that the Hound Bitch Maiden had taken Dog promiscuously; That the Bitch Lady was in Heat and had also been promiscuously lind, and therefore I did not shut her up; That Dutchess was shut up, and had been lind twice by Drunkard, but was out one Night in her heat, and supposd to be lind by other Dogs; That Truelove was also in the House, as was Mopsy likewise (who had been seen lind to Pilot before she was shut up).

March 26, 1770: Countess a hound Bitch after being confined sometime got loose and was lind before it was discovered by my Water dog once, and a small foist looking yellow cur twice.

On the other hand, a remarkable day’s hunting could set everything right again.

Jan. 23, 1770: Went a hunting after breakfast and found a Fox at Muddy hole and killed her (it being a Bitch) after a chace of better than two hours, and after treeing her twice the last of which times she fell dead out of the Tree after being therein several minutes apparently well.”

His hounds, presumably, thought this was manna from heaven.

Theodore Roosevelt's bound original manuscript for an article about foxhunting on Long Island

Theodore Roosevelt, writing in 1886, called Yankee foxhunting “certainly the most exciting and perhaps also the manliest kind of amusement to be found east of the Mississippi River.” He broke his arm while out on a blistering run with the Meadowbrook Hunt. By Roosevelt’s estimate, the field that day covered 10 miles, jumped “somewhat more than 60 fences” (the highest in the country being five feet and a half inch), and had only two checks.

The physical challenge of such rigorous riding in the hunt field had practical effects, Roosevelt argued. “If in 1860 riding to hounds had been at the North, as it was at the South, a national pastime, it would not have taken us until well on towards the middle of the war before we were able to develop a cavalry capable of withstanding the shock of the Southern horsemen,” he opined.

The proliferation of drag-hunting in the Eastern U.S. at that time perplexed the English, who saw no point in it. But Roosevelt, perhaps with a touch of defensiveness, explained it as an unsurprising, even necessary product of the new robber-barons and entrepreneurial class:

“Once or twice a week they can get off for an afternoon’s ride across country, and they then wish to be absolutely certain of having their run, and of having it at the appointed time; and the only way to ensure this is to have a drag hunt. It is not a lack of foxes that has made the sport on this side of the water take the form of drag-hunting so much as the fact that the majority of those who keep it up are hard-working business men who wish to make the most out of every moment of the little time they can spare from their regular occupations.”

The researcher's tools at the National Sporting Library.

Time on the hunt field, drag or otherwise, is always welcome. But I confess I found Roosevelt’s explanation disheartening, revealing a sort of industrialization of even the great natural art of hounds and hunt: hunting like clockwork, on a fixed and speedy schedule. But isn’t part of the joy of watching hounds work found in leaving the workday’s assembly-line pressures behind, of getting back to the fields and woods and streams, enjoying the hounds as they perform the way that we know, from Turbervile and Topsell, they have performed for centuries, on their own instinct and training and without an artificial schedule pressed on them?

More from the National Sporting Library stacks as research continues!

Some pieces of Paper (with video)

Paper (left) is growing up.

IT TAKES a village to raise a hound, in a manner of speaking. Huntsman and kennel staff are key in any hound’s development and training, and his interactions with the whippers-in are also educational. And don’t forget the importance of positive peer pressure: his fellow hounds are crucial teachers, too, providing lessons in everything from pack and kennel etiquette to the do’s and don’ts of the hunt field.

Earlier this year, he was “Playper,” always finding some object to carry around in his mouth or some curiosity to tempt the other puppies with. Now, as his first season in the hunt field unfolds, our Paper is showing more maturity. He still gets separated from the pack more than one  would ideally like, but he’s clearly mindful of the Golden Rule huntsman Lilla Mason schooled him on during summer walk: with pack=good, away from pack=bad. Now, when he finds himself out on his own, Paper follows the sound of the huntsman’s horn and voice and makes his way back to the pack.

We can see his maturity in other, more subtle ways, too. Though he’s still a teenager and throws in those joyous leaps now and again, he’s leaner and more professional these days. If we were to sit down for a parent-teacher meeting with Paper’s first-season profs, they’d probably say he needs to apply himself more to the work at hand, but he’s definitely shown some improvement as the season continues.

The hunt met at Foxtrot on Saturday and enjoyed an early run, but warming temperatures and a brisk breeze (which you can hear on the video) played havoc with scent. At least four, and by some counts as many as six coyotes burst out of the Cabin Covert. From our position as car-followers, we could tell for certain that one ran east and at least one ran south. The hounds screamed after the one heading south, but when they lost their coyote nearing the border of a neighboring farm hosting deer hunters, it became necessary to bring the hounds back toward the Cabin Covert again rather than cast them again in an attempt to follow the south-bound coyote; the chance of barreling full tilt into a deer hunter was just too great.

Car-following has its limits, and we experienced those on this run: we could hear the hounds but couldn’t see them from our vantage point. We did hear some beautiful hound music, and there are times I’m just as happy to hear the hounds on a run as I am to see them, but I am disappointed not to have captured that on videotape.

We were able to capture some good examples of hounds feathering when they returned to the Cabin Covert, knowing as they did that a coyote had left there. They clearly found a low spot where the east-bound coyote had crossed when leaving the covert and racing through a field of corn stubble. The hounds that passed that spot feathered and feathered, obviously smelling the last remnants of scent, but in the challenging conditions–an older line on a breezy day as the temperature climbed–it did not, alas, result in a second run.

Middleburg's Red Fox Inn, dating from 1728, is the town's most famous landmark

Half of the houndbloggers are now in Middleburg, Virginia, in the heart of the commonwealth’s hunt country. It is in the nature of houndbloggers that they do not, as a rule, like to be separated from each other, but this is one of the rare cases when we considered that two weeks apart was worth it. Why? Would you be surprised to know that hounds are involved? I’ll be here in Middleburg doing some research at the National Sporting Library, while Christopher (above, the one wearing tweed) stays at home and continues the futile effort to keep the Beagle House hounds off the bed and under control.

I hope to have some interesting things to report on from Middleburg, including the National Sporting Library, some thoughts from local huntsmen, and some photos of a couple of local packs, both foxhounds and beagles. And a real highlight, the December 5 Christmas in Middleburg celebration, when the Middleburg Hunt meets downtown and trots up Washington Street–we’ll try to get photos and, if possible, video of that!

This little fellow greets visitors at the National Sporting Library

Full Cry now linked on Baily’s

One final note of interest: the hound blog is now linked online at Baily’s, the worldwide hunting directory that is based in England! The new online Baily’s site is really excellent. It does require a subscription to access full stories and large photos, but you’ll be glad to know they’re running a special subscription rate of about $25 at the moment; for more information, check the link above (a link to Baily’s is also listed under our “Interesting Places” and “Hound Resources” link lists to the right-hand side of our home page). In the meantime, it doesn’t take a subscription to enjoy the great photos in the Baily’s online gallery or the photo slideshow on their homepage. Tell ’em the Hound Welfare Fund sent you!