Iroquois at the Virginia Hound Show (with video)

The Virginia Hound Show: foxhounds everywhere you looked!

IT was hot, but it was fun. Hundreds of hounds, from horizon to horizon. If you can’t be out hunting, freezing in the sleet and gale-force winds atop Pauline’s Ridge or some other place while the hounds go singing along Boone Creek, well, if you can’t be doing that, standing in the shade of massive old trees and watching just about every kind of foxhound with every kind of coat–English woollies, American tri-colors, and black-and-tan Penn Marydels–parading by isn’t too shabby as an alternative. Especially when one of your hounds takes home a trophy, which is kind of nice!

Best fun of the day: seeing relatives to our hounds, such as Hailstone’s sire Live Oak Hasty and Iroquois Gloucester’s son Mill Creek Rasta.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Virginia Hound Show 2010
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But now, as Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason put it, the fun really begins: summer hound walk. That starts in just a few days, and the houndbloggers are especially looking forward to it. Paper, the clown of last year’s puppy crop, is now a hunting veteran, and it’s time for Driver and the BA litter to start walking out with some of the big pack. We’ll be following their adventures!

It’s show time! Hound Show Primer (with video)

The Iroquois Hunt's young hounds--Paper, Gaelic and Hailstone, in this picture--are preparing for the season's hound shows

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!

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason trains the hounds for showing. They will be required to stand in a way that shows off their good conformation. Working hounds also are often shown off leash, galloping after thrown biscuits, so that judges can see their way of going.

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.

IHC member Cooper Lilly says hello to one of his favorite hounds, Payton, a winner at the Virginia Hound Show in 2007.

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!

Puppy Love

Driver is one of the new English puppies born this year at Iroquois

Driver is one of the new English puppies born this year at Iroquois

Springtime means puppies at the foxhound kennels.  We’ve got 10 puppies at Iroquois this year. The biggest by far is Driver, who is king of the kennel–or at least of the puppy pen! He’s out of Dragonfly, while the other nine pups are out of Baffle; both bitches are English, as are the puppies’ sires. Dragonfly hails from the North Cotswold, and her puppies are by the Duke of Beaufort’s Gaddesby ’07. Baffle is from the Cottesmore, and her puppies are by Cottesmore Stampede ’06.

It’s not clear quite yet which puppies will turn out to be “woollies,” with the distinctive wiry coats, but one thing is already obvious: they’re all awfully cute.

Puppies in the kennel July 2009

In hound breeding, a litter of puppies always get names beginning with the first two letters of their mother’s name. That’s how Dragonfly’s son got to be named Driver. Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller already has a list of BA names for Baffle’s puppies, but he and the kennel staff haven’t assigned all of the names yet as they wait to see which name suits which hound. A few already are settled. Bangle is a female with a light buff-colored heart shape on one shoulder. Bashful, another female, is the smallest hound in the litter and got her name partly because she likes to do her, er, business in private, as far away from the other puppies as she can get.  Two males, Banknote and Bagshot, have some black on them and the names just seemed to suit their striking looks. And a third male, Barwick, got his aristocratic-sounding moniker because he seems so unflappable and stiff-upper-lip-ish.

These puppies probably will be entered — joining the hunting pack — in the fall of 2010. Eventually, at the end of their careers with the pack, they all will be retired at the kennel under the care of the Hound Welfare Fund.

 

The unflappable Barwick in a typical pose

The unflappable Barwick in a typical pose

Puppies are both delightful and devilish, as Driver recently reminded a person at the kennel who, understandably expecting a lick, lowered his nose to Driver’s–and raised it again with Driver attached like a small alligator! As Cuthbert Bradley wrote in 1914, “In the character and disposition of foxhound puppies and boys — and we speak from experience, having walked a couple at a time of each species — there is a striking similarity which prompted the great writer Foster to say, ‘I never saw so much essence of devil put in so small a space.’

“Like all gigantically sinful people, the foxhound puppy wears an easy air of perpetual and exaggerated innocence that tends to put the unwary off their guard.”

But we should quickly point out that Bradley also noted: “It is a well-known fact that the most mischievous puppies and boys grow up to become the most useful in after life, for it is the active brain that prompts mischief, and when this has been developed and disciplined it stands for good work later on.”

This means you, Driver!