Goodbye, Snaffles

Photo by Lilla Mason

WE got the call Tuesday morning: our grand old gelding Snaffles had been found dead in his pasture. I suppose we shouldn’t have been shocked: he was 26 or thereabouts, and he had melanoma, and he didn’t care much for summer heat. But we were surprised. He had coped with the summer far better than expected, and his “gerontologist,” veterinarian Mike Beyer, had checked in on him as recently as Sunday and found him standing in the cool breeze of his fan, in good spirits and as healthy as a horse his age could be. Dr. Beyer, too, was stunned by the news that Snaffles had died overnight between Monday turn-out time and Tuesday morning breakfast.

Snaffles was as tough as a mountain goat and as wise as an owl. He was bred just over the hill from where I boarded him, the son of a broodmare by Braxton Bragg–famous for siring good jumpers around here in the 1980s. Snaffles was a Thoroughbred but was never, as far as I could tell, intended to race, though he would have made an excellent steeplechaser. He had legs as thick and strong as timber, and he seemed nearly impervious to pain. This stood him in good stead and surely contributed to his stout heart and courage: years before I ever knew him, he had slipped on some ice in a paddock, slicing open his right foreleg and severing, his then owner told me, a tendon. The advice at Rood & Riddle equine hospital was to put him down. But she insisted on his having surgery in an attempt to save him, and she took him home to recuperate. He recovered, although the incident left him with an enormous lump near his right knee that was a conversation piece wherever he went. He went on to event again under the name Granted Wish–a show name she had given him when her parents bought him for her after she fell in love with him at a riding stable.

Snaffles’s passion was the long gallop-and-jump, gallop-and-jump, which made him a good eventer before I bought him in August of 1996. He was good at it, with a strong, rythmic stride and a jump so smooth you hardly knew you’d taken a fence. He loved foxhunting, too, though I hunted him far less than I would have liked. His favorite thing was watching hounds, and he adored all dogs. When he first came to me, he had been turned out for several years while his previous owner was busy with her children. She sold him to me in order to give him a job again, but he was not, by that point, overeager to be caught andbrought in for work. For the first few weeks I had him, I could only catch him in his field by bringing my beagles with me. He couldn’t resist them and would approach immediately, lower his nose to them and gently sniff along their heads and backs, even letting them stand up and put their front paws on his legs to sniff him back.

In the hunt field, Snaffles was a freight train of a puller and never did see the point of standing at a check. In all things, including checks, Snaffles was in no doubt that he knew best and that your role as rider or handler or veterinarian, or whatever, was to try very hard not to interfere. He had his own agenda, and you, basically, were probably going to get in the way. He was aloof, aristocratic, and even sometimes imperious, but, it must be said, I never knew him to be wrong about anything.

Among the things he was right about was how to take care of himself and what was best for him. He could not tolerate being separated from the herd, but when out in the pasture with them he generally kept to the fringes, most content to be able to watch them without actually taking part, unless there was some running to be done. He quickly sussed out bossy horses and steered clear. On hot summer days, he could always be found tucked low on a hill or under one of several favorite trees, usually far from the rest of the herd, and those spots were, in fact, noticeably cooler and breezier than anywhere else. He enjoyed “his” pond and would stand for hours cooling his feet and belly and occasionally rooting his nose in the water, too.

The pond was like his neighborhood diner, the place he would while away the days in the company of the locals. When I would go visit him there I often found him surrounded by the frogs who sat around the muddy shoreline, looking at Snaffles as he looked at them. He was almost his own ecosystem: in the spring, when ladybugs were about, I generally found them resting on his back or hanging perilously off his long, shaggy forelock.

Snaffles, late in life, reminded me of a gnarled old oak, and he was certainly as strong. The older he got, the more he seemed to be returning to Nature. He had loved, more than anything, to go on trail rides down by the Kentucky River, and once the river was in sight he would stop and insist on standing for a long while just looking out at it. He often would veer off a trail when it passed a pond or creek and wade right in. It broke my heart when, in the summer of 2003, he became enough of a wobbler that I had to stop riding him and could no longer even hand walk him down the steep, rocky paths to his favorite river view.

But in this, as in everything, he coped very stoically, turning himself contentedly to his pond and to enjoying the winters, when he would brighten up immensely in even bitterly cold weather.

For the last several summers of his life, he and I had developed a routine that seemed to please his sense of order. I would arrive once or twice a day to give him a cool shower with the hose. Spotting me, he would often even leave the pond, where the sun was on his back even if his underside was cool, and walk up the hill to the barn. I’d open the gate, and he’d take himself straight to the hose. Eventually, any time he wanted a shower, whether I was there or not, he would stand on the outdoor wash pad, confident that one of the human valets would come and assist. They almost always did, even if it required shutting down a mower or getting off the ring harrow.

This summer, our clover has been especially lush, and Snaffles did love good grass. For much of the last couple of months, he was up in his stall (with company, as he required) where he could stand in the breeze from his fan. But once or twice a day, greeted by his loud neigh that clearly seemed to say, “Where have you been!” I would come to give him his shower, as usual, and clean and refill his water bucket. He so loved his clover that he would stand for a while under the cold water, then head off to the clover patch nearby, allowing me the time to go “change his sheets” in the stall and restock his water. By the time I was done, he’d usually be walking back to the wash pad for a second shower.

Even on days when Dr. Beyer came to check on him, Snaffles would stand for examination for a few minutes only, then drag me by the lead shank to the wash pad or the clover patch. He was this way about his baths, too: generally he was too busy to allow you to wash both sides without a fuss. Always impatient after a few minutes of standing, he preferred you to wash one side on one day and the other the following day. He was spoiled, I know, but he deserved it, and I complied with his wishes in this, as did others.

He could be affectionate, and he sometimes was with me, especially in his dotage. He was, in fact, a little jealous, and Idiscovered a few years after he came to me that he would allow himself to be led in with another horse by anyone but me. If I brought him in, I could not lead another horse in at the same time, or he would pin his ears and snap at the interloper. I was his, and he was mine.

We do not know how Snaffles spent his last evening, but his death, Dr. Beyer tells me, appears to have been peaceful and probably quick, possibly a heart attack. He died overnight near his beloved pond, and they found him lying on his left side, with no sign of struggle or abrasions that would indicate a fall. He was simply gone, as if he had decided that this was the night, and had lain down to die. He died as he lived: completely on his own terms.

My only regret is that I was already gone to Saratoga to cover the big yearling sale for the Daily Racing Form and did not get to say a proper goodbye. The Saratoga sale is a fancy affair, with the bidspotters in tuxedos, ladies dripping with diamonds, and yearlings as shiny as satin circling in the ring as the glitterati of the Turf cast hundred-thousand-dollar bids for them.

It sounds, I know, like an awful lot of fun. But standing there among the swells and socialites, I can tell you it was nothing like as much fun as standing in the heat of a July afternoon, holding a cold-water hose in service to that old horse. He was a king among his kind, and among us, too, and I would not have traded him for all the blueblooded yearlings and all the ladies’ diamonds combined. He was my friend, and I miss him.

He was buried yesterday evening near his old stomping grounds, with a box of his favorite Nature Valley oat bars by his nose and within a close walk to a view of the river. I know he’d like that.

Things we’re thankful for

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

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

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

The great (though tiny) Felix

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

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

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

Bingo with his rope toy

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

Mr. Tobermory Box lines up to catch a biscuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!

Houndbloggers Abroad: Hounds between the covers (of books, that is!)

The Ways' bookshop in Burrough Green, near Newmarket

The Ways' bookshop in Burrough Green, near Newmarket

WHEN we’re not chasing hounds chasing game, the Houndbloggers’ favorite hunt is for old sporting books. We prefer ones dealing with the management, breeding, and training of hounds–and especially if they include great old anecdotes about specific hounds, their personalities, and their adventures (or misadventures, as in Captain Pennell-Elmhirst’s great piece about the Ootacamund Hounds in Ooty, India).

There’s probably no better place in the world to shop for those treasures than in England. Hunting with hounds has such deep roots there, and the love of the dog is so generally strong, that you are likely to stumble on some extraordinary and delightful find every place you try, from the second-hand bookstore on the corner to the expensive sporting specialist shop. Every year, we visit England and return overloaded with tomes that have taken our fancy, often on fairly obscure topics. England’s bookstores, in fact, seem to specialize in the obscure, which is one reason I love them so much. How could anyone resist the slender volume titled Arthropods of Medical Importance or the obviously intriguing Life of the White Ant found in d’Arcy’s second-hand bookshop in Devizes?

Here are a few of our favorite sporting shops, excerpts of books we’ve recently spotted there, and their websites or contact information, in case you’re interested in inquiring about your own particular passion, from the history of the grouse to house-training your own dog.

Most of these are in England’s southwest because that is where we spend most of our time. But there are excellent second-hand and sporting specialist book shops throughout England and around the world. If you know of one and would like to share information about it, please let us know, and we’ll be happy to do a later post on them.

R.E. and G. B. WAY, Burrough Green, near Newmarket.

Contact (from the US):  011-44-1638 507217. From the UK, dial 01638-507217.

This lovely shop’s location near the heart of Britain’s racing country attracts a lot of Thoroughbred lovers. But their enormous and varied stock covers many, many canine and hunting subjects, too. Their hound-book inventory, in particular, is outstanding. They’ve got single copies of exceedingly rare or hard-to-find books, but they also have multiple copies of desirable volumes considered classic and essential for foxhunters and hound lovers, like The Noble Science of Fox-Hunting by F. P. Delme Radcliffe and Ikey Bell’s Foxiana, all beautifully aged.

The Ways' bookshop occupies a lovely old house that is completely stuffed with sporting tomes, photographs, personal hunting journals, and the like

The Ways' bookshop occupies a lovely old house that is completely stuffed with sporting tomes, photographs, personal hunting journals, and the like

The shop is open by appointment and occupies a marvelous ivy-covered house just a few miles outside of Newmarket. Among the unique offerings there are several personal, handwritten hunting journals kept by individuals who hunted with some of England’s most renowned packs at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century.

In the Ways' front grande, a hint of what topics lie inside

In the Ways' front garden, a hint of what specialities lie inside

The Ways’ shop took the biggest toll on our bank account, and it is fairly expensive, but the fact that they have multiple copies of many books does allow the shopper some chance to compare prices.

Good to know: The bathroom on the ground floor also serves as the half-price room! The books there cover a huge range of subjects and fill the shelves all around the, er, bathroom equipment. Worth a visit.

A Find: The Science of Foxhunting, by Scrutator. Published in 1868, this volume is a presentation copy signed by the well-known 19th-century huntsman Frank Goodall, who gave it to a friend whose name, unfortunately, we can’t decipher! (UPDATE! We’ve found that it is inscribed to the Hon. Alan Pennington, an apparently very dashing and forward sort of rider to hounds who also served as Master at the Holderness for one season before “resigning on account of the scarcity of foxes,” according to one reference.)

A View: “We dislike to see hounds at anytime huddled up together round their huntsman, like a flock of sheep penned in the corner of a field by a dog snapping round them. When the entry have become steady, and are admitted into the pack, discipline of this kind  is as injurious as unnecessary, since we have remarked that hounds kept in such  strict order are more inclined to run riot than those treated with more confidence.

“The late Assheton Smith was, in this respect, the most  trusting huntsman we have ever seen in the field, and we were often amused with the sudden change in the behaviour of his hounds on his arrival at the place of meeting. Whilst in charge of the kennel huntsman and two whips, they trotted along in a compact body, solemnly and demurely, not a hound venturing to step out of place; but no sooner did they catch sight of their master, or hear his voice, than, breaking loose from further restraint like boys out of school, they rushed eagerly to meet him, jumping and playing round his horse, with other manifestations of excessive delight.

“The character of the hounds seemed changed in a moment, and as they moved off to draw covert, an independence of action was assumed totally at variance with their former deportment. They knew no whipper-in dare touch or control them in their huntsman’s presence, to whom, however, they yielded that cheerful obedience so pleasing to behold in all animals attached to a kind master, a word or wave of the hand being sufficient to recall or turn them in any direction.”  –The Science of Foxhunting, by Scrutator, p. 165-166

John Head, who owns the Salisbury shop with his wife Judith

John Head, who owns the Salisbury shop with his wife Judith

JOHN AND JUDITH HEAD, Salisbury

Website: http://www.hollom.demon.co.uk/

In Salisbury, our favorite stop is John and Judith Head’s, one of Britain’s top sporting booksellers. They specialize in highly prized rare volumes and sporting prints, but don’t be afraid to peruse the handsome shelves if your budget is small. We’ve found terrific books there for prices starting as low as £7, about $13. Small hunting prints, including some by Munnings that are difficult to find in print form in the US, also start in that price range. Also on offer: signed prints by Snaffles, Lionel Edwards, and John King.

But the real beauty of the Heads’ shop is in the variety of rare and high-end stock on a wide range of sporting and countryside subjects. My favorite purchase from there is my copy of Hon. George Charles Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley’s Reminiscences of a Huntsman from the late 1800s, and more recently we have spotted some beautiful treatises on hound and dog training.

Another plus to visiting the Heads’ quiet shop in Salisbury is the chance of meeting John and Judith. They are wonderful storytellers and are also a wealth of information about books, field sports, and much more.

The Heads' shopwindow in Salisbury offers a tempting glimpse at the delights inside, from rare signed prints to valuable volumes.

The Heads' shopwindow in Salisbury offers a tempting glimpse of the delights inside, from rare signed prints to valuable volumes.

Good to know: The Heads’ shop is closed on Saturday. On the other hand, if there is a game fair or horse trials going on any particular Saturday, you can probably find them there!

A Find: Tell Him, by Lt.-Col. G. H. Badcock. We usually spend most of our time looking at the books about hunting and hounds, but we happened across this slim but interesting volume about dog training and thought it worth mentioning, although it is less representative of the Heads’ stock than the more beautiful and rare books are.

A View: “The whole secret of success with a dog lies in being perfectly natural with him, and trying to copy someone else is not being natural. How many times have I said that you cannot fool a dog by trying to be other than yourself, I should be sorry to say, but certainly, in regard to training, it is the greatest truism of all. Every normal dog has the power of thought-reading very highly developed, and they will give their confidence to one person who they know understands them as readily as they will withhold it from someone who does not, and I admit at once that this is a very difficult proposition to tackle, if the gift for understanding and winning the confidence of a dog is not a natural trait.” —Tell Him, by Lt.-Col. G. H. Badcock

D’ARCY BOOKS, Devizes, Wiltshire

Contact:  011-44-1380-726922 from the US. From the UK, 01380 726922.

This charming two-storey shop on the High Street in Devizes is a must-visit for us. It’s known in our family as “McGregor’s,” because the owner is a Mr. McGregor; he usually can be found at the shop on Thursdays and Saturdays, sitting in a lawn chair just to one side of his shop entrance, wearing his fingerless gloves and reading some interesting book.

D'Arcy Books in Devizes has small sections on field sports, equestrian, and canine topics that never fail to yield marvelous finds at very fair prices.

D'Arcy Books in Devizes has small sections on field sports, equestrian, and canine topics that never fail to yield marvelous finds at very fair prices.

Mr. McGregor at his second-hand bookshop, d'Arcy Books

Inside, d’Arcy Books is the epitome of an English second-hand bookshop, complete with creaky stairs leading up to the history and military sections. You can find anything and everything there, from cookbooks to ancient guidebooks describing local landmarks, and, in fact, the section reserved for sporting and equestrian books is fairly small. But we have always, always been extraordinarily lucky at d’Arcy, and I never seem to venture in without leaving with something exquisite–and usually with some change still in my pocket!

One of our two best finds there was a pristine biography of the famed but tragic jockey Fred Archer, who rode Iroquois (for whom the Iroquois Hunt is named) to victory in the 1881 Epsom Derby. The book dated from the early 1900s and had the softest red leather covers, and it is one of the best biographies I have ever read, of anyone.

D'Arcy Books also excels in local Wiltshire and British history and countryside books, like these pretty old guide books.

D'Arcy Books also excels in local Wiltshire and British history and countryside books, like these pretty old guide books.

The other miraculous find: an exceedingly rare presentation copy of artist Joan Wanklyn’s Guns at the Wood about the Royal Horse Artillery’s elite King’s Troop.

Good to know: The sporting section in d’Arcy Books might look small, but new books are added there regularly, and it is always worth checking back there even a couple of times in a week. It is one of the best sources we know for wonderful volumes at good prices. Also worth a look: the local history and countryside sections.

A Find: The Way of a Dog, by William Beach Thomas. Essentially an essay on living with dogs, this lovely and moving book is written largely in the form of a letter to the author’s dog.

A View: “Though I let you wander freely, it scarcely occurs to you to leave the garden. A walk with me is so much greater sport than a solitary ramble that you have half-forgotten that the second is a pleasure at all. But when I promise a walk you even open the wicket gate, which leads to the fields, by yourself and hurry to the juncture of road and path to await, in utter excitement, my decision. When the field path is chosen every nerve in you tingles to delight. Companionship with me–that is your consummate pleasure; and if two animals enjoy companionship as you and I do, each must surely understand the other, by virtue of some sense of which this reason, or our boasting, is mere branch. If you possess no reason, you are conscious of something better and more full of meaning even than instinct.” —The Way of a Dog, by William Beach Thomas

The famed "Bibliotherapy Room" at Mr B's Bookshop in Bath features free coffee and a fireplace

The famed "Bibliotherapy Room" at Mr B's Bookshop in Bath features free coffee and a fireplace

MR B’s EMPORIUM, Bath

Website: http://www.mrbsemporium.com/

For new books, we heartily recommend Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath. It occupies three floors of in one of Bath’s remarkable champagne-colored stone buildings, and it is, without question, the best bookstore for new books that we have ever been in.

Mr. B’s isn’t a sporting specialist; it is a general-interest shop that specializes instead in very high-quality editions of old classics and new works. But we include it here because it offers a notable array of works about countryside subjects that are near and dear to many foxhunters’ and dog-lovers’ hearts. Not only can you find unusual works pertaining to wildlife and country life here, but almost every book they offer is also gorgeous, making it an outstanding place to purchase gifts or books pretty enough to collect on their looks alone!

Head up a twisty staircase to the shop’s second floor, and there you’ll find the shop’s horse, dog, and country life sections. Conveniently located in the next room is what Mr. B’s calls its Bibliotherapy Room: comfy chairs facing a fireplace, with free coffee on offer in Mr. B’s own mugs. All of which makes it very tempting to sit for a long while, paging through dog books.

Mr B's Bookshop is hands-down the best shop for new books that we've ever visited--anywhere!

Mr B's Bookshop is hands-down the best shop for new books that we've ever visited--anywhere!

Good to know: Mr. B’s has a resident dog, Vlashka. Ask to meet her!

A Find: Words from The Countryman, edited by Valerie Porter. A collection of wit, wisdom, article snippets, observations, and letters to the editor that have appeared in The Countryman magazine, published since 1927.

Two Views:

“While staying with a friend in Scotland, a very deaf man of my acquaintance thought it would be interesting to try the effect of his electric deaf-aid on the 15-year-old dog. He put it in place, and when the owner called the dog it immediately started to its feet, barked, and wagged its tail. It had not heard its master’s voice for years.” — from 1953, in The Countryman

“Motoring one night recently I saw, on rounding a bend, that the whole roadway ahead was dotted with pairs of tiny green points, gleaming iridescently in the darkness, and continually appearing and disappearing. I found that I had met an army of rats on the move, and that the green points were the creatures’ eyes. The gleaming brilliance of animals’ eyes, when caught in the glare of headlights, is a common sight to motorists. A cat’s, a dog’s, or a rabbit’s eyes usually shine green. The eyes of a fox flash back bright crimson, the eyes of a bullock a kind of rich amber.” — From 1931 in The Countryman

Mr B's specializes in beautiful, upmarket editions of familiar classics as well as new books. These gemlike special editions often feature gorgeous covers that makes these books ideal gifts.

Mr B's specializes in beautiful, upmarket editions of familiar classics as well as new books. These gemlike special editions often feature gorgeous covers that makes these books ideal gifts.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this e-ramble through these shops. I know the Iroquois hounds haven’t been able to hunt much recently due to the terrible weather, and so that means their devoted followers have been “in kennels,” too! Here’s hoping this “paper chase” of sorts has helped keep you occupied until you and the hounds see sunshine and the hunt field again.

Sporting treasures, these from John and Judith Head's shop in Salisbury

Sporting treasures, these from John and Judith Head's shop in Salisbury