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!

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Backstage with the Hound Guys – Part II

While the rest of the pack snuffled in the grass for their pre-hunt biscuits, Latch discovers that huntsman Lilla Mason has returned as huntsman. It was Lilla's first day carrying the horn since breaking her ankle in November. She's out of her cast, but not yet in her proper tan-topped boots because they don't fit over her swollen ankle.

The January 23 meet at Foxtrot was gray and damp. But it was a happy day for huntsman Lilla Mason, who picked up her horn again after almost three months on the sidelines.

When they rushed out of the hound trailer at the meet, the hounds went about their usual business–that is to say, they immediately sniffed around in the grass for the biscuits Michael Edwards and Alan Foy scatter at every meet (a pre-hunt biscuit or two helps prevent stomach acid build-up).

“It was such a thrill when the hounds got out of the trailer,” Lilla said. “Latch came running over to me and leaped up in the air, standing on her back legs and jumping up and down. It  was like seeing old friends you haven’t seen long time. When I blew the horn, their heads snapped right up and they moved right off with me.

“Stanza was out in front of me, and when I said her name, she froze, turned and looked, then came running back. She ran a circle around my horse, then ran out and back again, like she was saying, ‘It’s you! You’re back!'”

Lilla has kept largely out of the hounds’s sight and hearing since she broke her ankle in November and handed the horn over to joint-Master Jerry Miller. Miller’s task since then was to maintain the pack without putting too much of his own imprint on them (read more about why and how he did that here). Did he accomplish that goal? The verdict from Lilla: yes.

“The best thing about the day I came back was that I could tell by the hounds’ demeanor and body language that they were the same as when I got hurt,” Lilla explained.  “That was so meaningful to me. If someone other than Jerry had taken them over and managed them differently, it would have been heartbreaking if the hounds had cowered or been different when I came back. After an absence, you wonder, ‘Are we all going to be on the same page mentally?’ And we were. They were the same pack they were when I left: confident, enthusiastic, obedient, just as they were when I left them in November. I’m very thankful to Jerry for that.”

Before the hunt, Lilla tells the whippers-in, including road whips Michael and Alan, her planned route and directs them to where they are most needed.

The conditions were … I guess “gooey” would be the technical term. We’ve had drenching rains all winter, and the ground was deep. It was only thanks to a generous landowner that we were able to hold the meet at Foxtrot, and it turned out to be a showcase for how complex and important Michael and Alan’s work really is on a hunt day.

This says it all about the footing on Jan. 23

Lilla and the whippers-in all carry radios, and so do Michael and Alan. That communications network is solely for the hounds’ protection. It allows Lilla to direct the whippers-in even over long distances when they are out of sight, allows Michael and Alan to position themselves along a stretch of road where a coyote (and thus the hounds) might try to cross, and allows everyone to communicate and get to hounds as needed.

I hopped in Michael’s truck once the hounds had moved off. When Lilla radioed that the hounds were heading into the Silo Covert, Michael drove on top of a rise to the south of the covert. From there, we could view a wide swath of landscape, keep tabs on the hounds, and speed back toward any of three roads that border that part of the country, if need be. Alan, in a second truck, was stationed exactly opposite our position, watching north and east across the same acreage.

“We always like to keep the hounds between us,” Michael explained.

The radio, seen here in a leather case attached to the saddle, is an important part of a whipper-in's equipment. The hunt staff, including Michael and Alan in their trucks guarding the roads, use radios to coordinate their positions in order to protect the hounds

We sat watching and waiting, following Lilla’s radio reports as she tried a few coverts without finding anything. Then she brought the hounds to Junior’s Scrub, a brushy area with a thickety treeline and tall grass. Suddenly: coyote scent. The hounds’ noses played rapidly along the ground, searching, trying to parse out the coyote’s path. The hounds’ movements became electric, and they waved their tails quickly from side to side, feathering, a sure sign that they smelled something.

Lilla’s voice crackled over the radio: “Hounds are in Junior’s Scrub. They’re really feathering. Bonus and Stifle are really trying to work something out.”

The view from Michael's dashboard

“It was one of those days when air is dead still,” Lilla said later. “Sound really carries on a still day like that, and I could even hear the traffic from all the way out on the interstate. I thought I’d try moving through coverts a little more quickly, because surely the coyotes would hear us coming. When the hounds came in to Junior’s Scrub and started feathering, my heart started beating.

“I thought might be an old, cold line. So I waited to let them work it out. When the hounds started to feather, I didn’t move my horse forward with them, because any sound would echo through the still air, and I didn’t want to to distract them. There was something there, but they couldn’t quite work it out, and I wanted to give them ample room and opportunity. The field was quiet too, which was helpful.”

And then, all at once, the hounds struck off.

“It was like a clap of thunder,” Lilla said. “There was no preliminary yipping, it was just BAM and they were off–really thrilling. I knew they’d worked the line out and were right on top of whatever it was.

“But it was like a bad dream, too, because the mud was so deep,” Lilla added. “The horses were being so careful, and you almost had to push them into a canter. It was slippery, and they had to take it down a gear, where on a regular day you could have run on. We just couldn’t move fast enough.”

As the hounds shot away from them, Lilla and the field on their horses were mired down, slowed by the heavy ground. Jumping coops was out of the question, and even getting through gates proved tricky.

“It was very slick in the gateways where the tractors had gone through the gates, and some of the ground was still frozen, so it  was treacherous going,” Lilla said. “We ended up far behind the hounds. It was a good example of why things are different when you’re hunting coyotes. Unlike foxes, coyotes just get out of there so fast. It’s harder to protect hounds’ safety on days like that because you can’t push your horse and can’t get to the hounds as quickly as you could on days when the footing is better.

“We knew the footing wouldn’t be great that day, but I didn’t think it would be that deep. Still, we had to get the hounds out.”

Two coyotes had run simultaneously out of Junior’s Scrub, one heading west and the other south, a common tactic coyotes often use to confuse a pursuer. This time, the ploy didn’t work especially well, because the main body of the pack, 15 hounds, stayed together in pursuit of the southbound coyote. One hound, young Griffin, headed west after the other.

Griffin on the fly.

From where we sat in his truck on the hill, Michael and I couldn’t hear the spine-tingling sound of the pack until Lilla came back on the radio, breathlessly giving directions at a gallop. In the background we could hear the pack, too, off in the distance.

“This is my favorite part of the hunt, even though I don’t see a lot of it,” Michael said. “This is what it’s all about.”

We sat tight for a moment, tensely listening for the next update that would tell us which direction hounds were running, and therefore which way we should head.

The radio crackled again, but this time it was all a muddle of strong wind, flapping saddle leather, and an unintelligible voice calling out. Static. More wind, and then the signal clarified into the voice of one of the whippers-in: “Tally-ho! They’re right on it!”

Another whipper-in cut in to say the hounds had turned south and were running along the banks of a wide creek, just at the bottom of coyote-rich Pauline’s Ridge. There was a pause when hounds lost the scent and wheeled around like a school of fish, tails feathering busily as they searched silently for the coyote’s line, and then full cry again! The whipper-in closest to the hounds reported the pack had climbed the ridge and turned east at the top.

Back on the road, Michael headed east, too, the radio signal fading out and in again as we negotiated turns and crested hills. Committing to the east was a gamble, as all decisions on the hunt field are, but it put Michael in a flexible position if hounds switched direction and headed south again, something Michael thought was a strong possibility. “If they keep going east, I’ll be right in position,” Michael explained. “If they head back south, from this road I can get south pretty fast.”

We roared along, waving to landowners as we rushed by and keeping our eyes open for the hunted coyote. Instead, we saw ponds, flocks of Canada geese, horses grazing peacefully in their paddocks. At one point we passed a yard where three house dogs sat in a line, bolt upright and ears pricked, clearly tuning in to the distant cry of the foxhound pack.

All seemed quiet and pastoral outside our windows, but inside the truck the excited radio transmissions described a dramatic chase as it unfolded. Radio messages poured in from Lilla, from whips in their various positions, from Alan in his own truck as they spotted hounds, heard hounds, or requested information to adjust their positions.

Then hounds did indeed turn again, as Michael thought they might, and headed back south–a path that would bring them onto a busy road if they didn’t lose the line first. Michael detoured onto the back roads, taking a short-cut to the street in question, near the hunt country’s southern border. Our goal now was to get to the road before the hounds did and stop any oncoming traffic.

File:Canis latrans2.jpg

Wikipedia photo

And then, as we came up a hill to the place where Michael anticipated coyote and hounds might try to cross, we saw it: the coyote, a big one with a heavy coat highlighted with tawny gold. He loped along across the top of a ridge we call Smitha’s Cliff, too far away for me to catch on camera, then disappeared into a dip near the road. The next few minutes were frantic. Hounds, no longer speaking but still on the line of the coyote, appeared on the ridge and ran on. We backtracked, and so did Alan, just in time to see the coyote cross the road. That, we now knew, was the path the hounds would take, too. Michael and Alan braked, hopped out of their trucks, and stationed themselves along the road, arms spread wide, to stop oncoming cars and trucks.

Before they reached the guard rail on the road’s north side, the hounds were speaking again. They squirmed under the rail and screamed across the road, barely conscious of us as they passed. They were focused on one thing: following that coyote.

The coyote, meanwhile, had leaped up the rocky hillside on the opposite side of the road. He still had a significant lead over the hounds, and he made good use of it, skipping over the top of the ridge and disappearing. The hounds streamed after him but went silent along the top of the ridge, out of our sight. Their quarry evidently had made it to safety in a hole among the rocks and trees, and the hounds gradually began to filter back down the hillside toward the road again.

Lilla, hampered by the treacherous ground, was riding five or ten minutes minutes behind the hounds and still hadn’t made it to the road. By the time she arrived, Michael and Alan had held the road safe for the hounds. Lilla decided that, given the exhausting ground conditions, it was best to call it a day after a ripping welcome-back coyote run.

By day’s end, horses had gone 16 miles round trip over some of the most testing ground the hunt had ever faced.

The end of the day

Michael and Alan, who carry tracking equipment to track any hounds that are late in returning, loaded up the hounds. The hounds were damp from running through the wet thickets and mud. A few ears were scratched by brambles, but the hounds’ eyes shone with the startling intensity that working hounds are famous for. Sayso, below, is a good example. She came back when called, but her eyes suggest that, in her mind, she was still homing in on that coyote.

Sayso, a daughter of our beloved Stalker. She picked up some bramble scratches on her ear in the thick coverts, but she doesn't appear to care. How about those amazing eyes!

We headed back to the kennel, but for the kennel guys the day was far from done. While Alan attended to the hounds he’d picked up, returning them to the hound trailer at the meet, Michael pulled into a nearby farm to make sure a farmer’s gate we’d used was shut and locked, as the farmer wanted it. Michael counted up hounds as he went, to make sure everyone was accounted for. Griffin, the hound that followed the westbound coyote by himself at the start of the run, had hooked up with the hilltoppers, and Michael wanted to be sure he’d returned to the meet with them without incident.

Poor Griffin missed all the excitement. He eventually lost his coyote and came back looking for the rest of the pack, who had followed the southbound coyote. Along his way, he met up with the hilltoppers, who had not kept up with the first flight and therefore couldn’t return him to the pack. Horses, at least, were familiar, so he stayed with them until the end of the day when he was reunited with the pack back at the meet.

Joint-Master Miller confirmed for Michael that Griffin was safely in, and then Michael drove back to make sure the road signs warning about horses and hounds had also been collected; they had.

Back at the kennels, the hunting hounds still needed their dinner, as well as a thorough examination to be sure bramble scratches were the only things the hounds had picked up on their run across country. The hounds that hadn’t hunted also were waiting for their turnout time in the paddock. The puppies, having spent several hours out, were now ready to come back in.

It was, like most days at the kennel, a long day for Alan and Michael. But it was worthwhile, especially knowing that the hounds they care for had performed so well.

“This is a blast to me,” Michael said. “It’s what I live for, chasing these hounds. I get depressed just like they do if the weather’s bad and we can’t hunt. We spend the whole year getting them ready for this, it’s what they’re about and what I’m about, and I love it.”

Goodbye, Stalker

Stalker was a lion-hearted leader of the Iroquois pack until he retired in the care of the Hound Welfare Fund. He remained noble, friendly, and much-loved until his death on Monday, Jan. 25.

THERE is no sadder task than parting with a good friend, but there are times when it is right to do so. That was the case Monday, when kennel manager Michael Edwards realized that it was Stalker’s time.

Stalker’s time was something that we were all dreading, but come it did, and Michael shouldered the heavy burden of making the last drive to the Richmond Road Vet Clinic so that Stalker, his favorite hound, could be put to sleep. And so one of the Hound Welfare Fund‘s great favorites, and one of the Iroquois Hunt’s bravest hearts, died peacefully in Michael’s arms.

Stalker was 11. He was entered in 2001 and hunted right up until 2008. The circumstances of his retirement tell you a lot about Stalker, and also help explain why Michael, in particular, was so close to him. The following description of Stalker’s last hunt day is from the Hound Welfare Fund website’s “Meet the Hounds” page:

It was a windy day in 2008, making scenting conditions challenging. A cold front was blowing through. Hunt staff knew coyotes would be tucked in coverts out of the wind; on a still day, they’re more likely to be found out in the open.

The hounds moved off and explored one covert after another: the Railroad Track, Norton’s Clover, then Betsy and Knox’s Coverts, moving east to west, but found nothing. They moved on to the Swamp Covert but moved past it quickly, as if they knew it was empty and were anxious to try somewhere else. It began to seem hopeless that the hunt would find any game. But then they reached Possum Hollow and swarmed in. After a few minutes, Stalker’s unmistakable voice rose out of the underbrush. The other hounds harked to him and began speaking, too. They went around and around, speaking, then going quiet. Whatever game was in there didn’t seem to want to come out. The hounds knew they had found something, but where exactly was it?

Most of the pack finally came out of the covert but looked back into it, frustrated but listening. Stalker, one of our English hounds, stayed behind, thrashing around in the brush. Soon he spoke again, and out popped a coyote. Tally ho! The chase was on. It was a thrilling but brief run, as the coyote soon ran across a road too dangerous for hounds to cross.

The hounds stopped, and the hunt staff gathered them together, but one hound was missing. It was Stalker, who had stayed at Possum Hollow, happy to have found the coyote, but clearly out of breath and unable to keep up with the pack. We later discovered that he had developed a heart ailment and would never hunt again. But Stalker found that “invisible” coyote and mustered the energy and desire to get him up and running for the rest of the pack. …

When he came back from the vet hospital where they discovered his ailing heart, Stalker slept at the foot of kennelman Michael Edwards’s bed—on the mattress, of course!

“That’s the only hound that’s ever slept on my bed,” Michael said.

Stalker’s last public appearance was at the kennel open house earlier this month, when he waggily greeted visitors and enjoyed pats and scratches from children and adults alike. You can spot him in the video below, the giant woolly with the big smile that made him look absolutely delighted to see you:

Stalker was the son of two Iroquois greats: Grundy, probably the most famous hunting and stallion hound Iroquois has had to date, and Stamina, the grand dame who served as Miller Trust Farm’s unofficial mascot after her own retirement to the HWF.

Stalker, immediately to the left of huntsman Lilla Mason, was among the retired hounds she chose to attend the 2010 Blessing of the Hounds.

“I remember when he was a puppy, we’d turn him out with the other puppies in the back paddock and play with them,” Michael recalled. “He would just run and run and get so fired up he’d be going about 90 miles an hour, making these grunts and growls as he went around. He was always very boisterous, and he had an opinion about everything.”

Another favorite game of Stalker’s in his puppy days was to find Michael when he hid in the thickets of the turnout paddock. “We’d see how long it would take them to find us,” Michael said of the ST litter that included Stalker. “It didn’t usually take them very long. They could smell pretty well.”

In addition to his good nose, Stalker also had good sense. He once got his hind toes caught in a wire at the top of a fence he’d tried to jump out hunting. Rather than thrash and do more damage to himself, he waited patiently, certain that he’d be found and rescued. Which he was.

“He was just so smart,” Michael said, “and he had such heart. I can always remember him and his brother Standout, who was big like him. They both had a lot of heart, and if we ever had to stop them from chasing a coyote across the road, they’d both get so mad at us.

“Stalker was big and tough. He probably was one of the most powerful hounds I’ve worked with here. But the thing I like about him was that he wouldn’t take anything off of anybody, but if he got mad at another hound he’d never carry it too far. He’d let them know that he was mad, but once they’d get the message he’d stop: lesson learned.”

In November, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason selected Stalker as one of the retirees to join in the Blessing of the Hounds ceremony at the Iroquois Hunt Club, an invitation Stalker appears to have taken with great seriousness. You can see him in this video, alongside his larger and younger packmate Sassoon (who is still an active hunting hound). Incidentally, you can also spot Michael at the start of the video in his white kennel coat and orange Hound Welfare Fund cap. Toward the end of the video, Stalker is still standing at full attention:

“He couldn’t have been happier to be there,” Lilla recalled. “I chose him to join us because he was retired and we knew he wouldn’t be with us that much longer. I thought he needed a blessing, and he deserved one. He was magnificent.”

“I liked his boldness,” said Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller. “He had the courage of his convictions and was very bold out front when he was running. He was sure of himself, he was all business, and he was always right.”

Stalker was the boss in a lot of ways, but he also was a model team player, said Lilla. “Stalker was everything we want in a hound, for our country and for our quarry,” she said. “He was perfectly conformed and biddable and intelligent and tenacious. He just had everything, and he was always a contributor to the day. He really epitomized what that ST Carlow outcross brought to our pack when our quarry became coyotes.”

Stalker’s tenacity served him as well in retirement as it did on the hunt field. “He certainly was tough, and he lived longer than we expected,” Lilla agreed. “There were many times when we thought it might be over, but he was happy and wanted to continue on. He clearly enjoyed his life to the end.”

You might think that a hound that tough on the hunt field, and who loved his work that much, would be difficult to retire, but Stalker adjusted to his new life of ease without any trouble.

“He just settled right into it,” Lilla said. “You know, I think he knew something was wrong. He couldn’t keep up with the pack anymore, and he was happy in his retirement. His retirement was seamless.”

Fortunately, Stalker has left us more than just fond memories. He’s got sons and daughters currently in the hunting pack, including Sage and Sayso. Son Salt, sadly, died late last year, and another son from that litter, Sackett, recently retired and is now, like his father was, in the care of the Hound Welfare Fund.

“You’d think it’d get easier, but it doesn’t,” Michael said sadly. “He was one of my all-time favorites. But he was ready. You could tell. He had a look in his eye, and he was tired.”

When Stalker skipped a meal, that was the sign to Michael that the brave old hound was telling us something.

“He just had that look in his eye like, ‘I’m ready,'” Michael said. “He was one of a kind.”

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.”

A Pupdate: pack manners, playmates, and the kennel staff’s view of hound politics

Paper & Co.

Paper & Co. in a playful mood on Saturday afternoon

FOXHUNTING is on hiatus for now while the deer hunters are abroad in the countryside, and that gave us a chance to check in at the Iroquois kennels to see how the puppies are doing.

Paper, of course, has been out hunting now and is gradually maturing into an adult pack member. He’s had important lessons all summer and fall, and now the real education starts on the hunt field. There, he has to confront new situations and work professionally with the hunting pack. I guess to put it in human terms, he’s getting his university degree, and by next year he should be a full-time contributing member of the working world.

But what about our youngest puppies, Baffle’s litter and Dragonfly’s huge son Driver? They’re still in elementary school, but the lessons they’re learning now are critical to their future development.

These puppies were born in the spring, and for the last couple of months they’ve been getting their first exposure to working in a group, to pack manners, and to coming when called, Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards explained to us on Saturday.

Baffle's puppies in exercise field

Room to roam: all the hounds--puppies, current working pack members, and retirees--get plenty of free exercise in the two-acre field adjacent to the kennel

After breakfast each day, the 10 young puppies spend about three hours out in the kennel’s two-acre exercise field, one of the best tools the Iroquois staff has for the young hounds’ education.

“They stay out here while we’re getting stuff done in the kennel, and they play and play,” Michael said. “I try to get them out twice a day, once at the end of the day, too, so that they get four to five hours outside.

“Right now, the girls in this litter seem a little more rebellious than the boys,” Michael said of Baffle’s puppies. “The two bigger girls, Bangle and Bandstand, they’ll be the ones that won’t want to go in their kennel. But they’re all very lovable and want attention all the time.”

Assistant kennel manager Alan Foy (seen in the photo above with Baffle’s puppies) has also been working with the youngsters to start developing their sense of pack identity and cooperation.

“Alan’s been taking them out back here, just trying to teach them to stick together and respond when he calls them, and they’ve done really well at that,” Michael said, adding that it’s too early for most of the puppies to have learned their individual names yet. The kennel staff is trying to learn the puppies’ names, too! Many of them look so similar it can be hard to distinguish them, with a few exceptions. Bagshot is the woolly male of the litter; Bashful and Banknote are easy to pick out because they are the two smallest; and Driver, well, he’ll always stand out in a crowd due to his size and dark coloring.

Driver puppy picture 07-2009

Driver back in July.

Driver 11-14-09

Driver today with kennel manager Michael Edwards. A VERY big difference!

“Driver is the biggest baby out here,” Michael said, meaning both the biggest baby and the biggest baby. Recently, Michael set a five-gallon bucket out in the kennel yard, spooking Driver.

“He would not come out here on this concrete while that bucket was sitting there,” Michael said. “I had to get it and move it all the way out by the far gate before he would even come in here, and even then he came in looking at it real carefully. So we’re going to do something we did that worked well with the ST litter (Stam, Stax, Star, Stanza, etc., born in 2007). We’re going to put a windsock in their kennel, something that’s moving all the time so they get used to it. It made a big difference with them.”

In addition to their mini-houndwalks around the property, the puppies also have ventured farther afield with Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller and huntsman Lilla Mason. On those, they rode in the hound truck to the old point-to-point course, the same place the older hounds have their early summer walks and pond exercise. Like the older hounds, the puppies got to practice sticking together in a wide open space–their first formal exposure to that critical lesson in the company of the people who will actually hunt them someday.

“All that is important,” Michael said, “because they’re learning how to be a pack.”

The hunt and kennel staff have found it’s useful to start building the pack sense early with puppies.

“With the PA litter (including Panda, Parish, Parody, etc., born in 2005), Lilla and I would take them all through the area together,” Michael said. “By the time we incorporated them into the pack, they already had an idea what was going on, so they just blended right in.”

The puppies don’t yet have the attention span of the older hounds, but already they are focusing on people when they are out on walk, said Alan.

Baffle's pups Nov. 14, 2009

Baffle's litter, shown here with Michael, seem all grown up at seven months of age, but their lessons are just beginning. "I'd say they're like teenagers now," kennel manager Michael Edwards says. "They're just kind of lanky, but they're getting well-balanced."

In the case of Baffle’s puppies, it helps that they are part of a nine-hound litter–a ready-made pack, in a way. For Driver, a singleton, it was especially important that he learn group dynamics as early as possible.

“He lets the little girls chew on his ears,” Alan said. “He’s just a big, goofy puppy. But he’s fit in really well. I agree with Michael that he’s a little passive in the group, but I think it’s because when we first mixed him in with the other puppies he was so much bigger than they were. Now, he’s not quite as much bigger. Barwick and Backfire are getting pretty close to him in size. I think he knew he was bigger and couldn’t play as rough.”

“That all started when they were all at the lower kennel,” Michael said. “He was so much bigger at first that I monitored him closely. If he would be rough, I’d kind of get on him about it and growl at him.”

That lesson seems to have stuck. As Driver romped around with Baffle’s puppies, he was a perfect gentleman with his smaller playmates.

“One of the reasons we wanted to get him in with a group early was because an only child can sometimes have some trouble integrating,” Michael said. “When they’re on their own too long, I think they don’t get socialized with the pack. They don’t learn pack manners and how to respect other hounds. That’s why it was important to get Driver in with the other puppies as soon as we could, especially as big as he is. The longer we waited, the harder it would have been for him to understand that he is part of a pack.”

Baffle's wee pups April 2009

Baffle's litter in April.

“They learn how to be hounds from each other,” Alan said.

The next step, Michael said, is to start occasionally introducing older hounds to the puppies. Paper was one candidate, but evidently he felt pretty strongly that, having moved up with the big dogs in the pack, he was now too important to deal with the little kids anymore.

“He didn’t want any part of those puppies,” Michael said. “He jumped up on top of a bench and growled about it. I thought, being as young as he was, he’d adjust to it pretty quickly, but no, thank you. On the other hand, Panda went out there with them and loved it.”

“She educated them,” Alan said. “She didn’t get aggressive with them, but she let them know when they went too far and she let them know she didn’t want all of them piling on her at once. If they did that, she’d run away and hop up on the bench, and they couldn’t get up there with her. Then she’d wait until they scattered. Then she’d jump down again and play with one or two of them until all of them would pile on her again. She trained them in her way, which was very gentle.”

“Introducing older hounds to them out in that paddock is where I think they really start to learn about having manners toward other hounds,” said Michael. “I think they learn a lot out here in this field with each other, just about how to be a pack. Look at these guys out here right now. They’ve been running and playing for almost an hour. They’ll play to the point that somebody gets a little grumpy and growls, and then they’ll stop. These guys will say, ‘That’s enough,’ and it doesn’t escalate. Then they’ll play again.”

“Nobody knows more about being a hound dog than a hound dog,” Alan said. “We can let them know what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. But those hounds know even better how to tell each other what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and they know how to tell each other how far it can go before something becomes unacceptable. You’ll see them do it on houndwalk. A puppy will go off from the group and do something goofy, and when they come back, and older hound will growl at them to chastise them. Glog is really good at chastising the younger hounds on houndwalk when they do something wrong. He gives them a little scolding, like he’s saying, ‘That’s not how we act around here.'”

Paper at play 11-14-09

Paper (right) at play. Playing is an important part of learning.

While we were at the kennel, we checked in on the new English hounds, too. Cottesmore’s Samson, Strawberry, Structure, and Hawkeye arrived about three weeks ago and are adjusting well, Michael and Alan report. Like the puppies, they are having to learn their place in a new pack, and Michael and Alan are working to figure out which clique within the pack works best for them.

“I think a lot of their ability to adjust easily has to do with Neil,” Michael said, referring to the Cottesmore huntsman, Neil Coleman, who raised and hunted the four in England.

“Look at Samson over here,” Michael said, pointing to the group just turned out in the two-acre field. “He’s in there with all those males. They’re all at the age where they’re trying to show who’s top dog: Paper, Gaelic, Hailstone. But Samson’s the type you could probably stick him in any group and he’d adjust. Because he’s not aggressive. That has a lot to do with the way Neil has raised them. And the others are the same way.”

Samson and friends

Cottesmore Samson, the red-and-white hound closest to Michael here, has settled in well. Michael and Alan report that he is easygoing and adaptable.

Structure, Hawkeye, and Strawberry are kenneled in a run with the SA litter that includes Sassoon, Savvy, and Saracen. “They’re pretty easygoing, too,” Michael said.

One of the most important jobs Michael and Alan do is figure out which group of hounds should be kenneled together. Getting the mix right requires some experimentation, but it’s key to the hounds’ physical and mental wellbeing; getting it wrong could result in dangerous friction in the kennel.

“When I brought the English hounds up from the lower kennel (near Michael’s house, where they were quarantined before joining the rest of the pack at the upper kennel), I just started sticking them out in the field with different groups to see how they responded to each other. When they’re outside together with a lot of room, they’re more interested in what’s going on around them than they are in each other, and you can keep an eye on them. I stuck them in with the SAs and never had any issues with them, so that looks like a good fit.”

The process–the two-acre turnout paddock and essentially letting the hounds choose the clique they’re most comfortable with–is unusual, as the English imports let Michael and Alan know.

“When we first turned them out, they all just stood at the gate looking at us like, ‘What’s going on?'” Michael recalled. “But after a few minutes, they sort of went, ‘Hey, look at all this room! Let’s run!'”

Once the hounds have chosen their own group of friends, how do you get each set to merge comfortably with the pack? “We turn different groups out together,” Michael explained. “There are only a few groups that have a little trouble mixing closely, and you have to know all that, especially when you are loading them up in the trailer to take them to a meet. For instance, we can keep some hounds in the back of the hound truck instead of in the trailer if we need to.”

It’s also critical to know who the dominant dog is at any given time, Michael said. At the moment, it’s Alvin.

“Stalker was the big dog before we retired him,” Michael said. Stalker, one of our most beloved hounds, is now retired under the care of the Hound Welfare Fund. You can read his story here. But now that he’s retired, he spends more time in the kennel office, where he can relax and keep warm, and suddenly he’s a mellow retiree.

“Showing his dominance doesn’t seem to concern him so much now,” Michael said. “I guess he’s old enough to realize he’s got it made in there!”

Blessed are the foxhounds (with much video!)

IHC Blessing of the Hounds 11-07-09

The Iroquois Hunt's Blessing of the Hounds honored the pack's retirees as well as its current hunting members. The human "new entry" also were well represented among the riders!

THERE’S something truly beautiful about the Blessing of the Hounds ceremony that opens the formal foxhunting season. It’s a “high church” event for foxhunters, a way to honor the sport’s most important players: the hounds, the game, and the land.

At Iroquois, we add a special twist by including retired hounds in the blessing ceremony, a tip of the top hat to their years of service and all the sport they and their progeny have given the club.

A good many of the Iroquois Hunt’s neighbors and landowners were in attendance today as the riders, horses, hounds, and hunt staff gathered in toasty sunshine on the clubhouse lawn. Deacon Bryant Kibbler conducted the service, and in his brief homily, he, too, made a point to honor our old soldiers who were standing nearby with huntsman Lilla Mason, their sterns gently waving as if they were remembering their glory days in the hills and fields around them.

They were joined by a sprinkling of current members in the hunting pack. Our big woolly, Grundy’s son Sassoon, is “far from retired,” Lilla said, “but he loves a party.” The sisters Finite and Finesse, fondly known as “two bodies, one brain,” also attended before taking to the hunt field.

Finite and Finesse

Two bodies, one brain: Finite and Finesse

(In case you need a reminder about how they got their nickname, here is their story, originally posted in Hound’s Life: Summer Walk earlier this year:

They are a testament to this hunt staff’s patience. They showed little real interest in hunting early on in their careers and usually could be found loping along together as if in their own world. But one day, something clicked.

“Lilla spotted them on a run out hunting one day near Blue Fox Farm,” Miller recalls. “She said over the radio, ‘It’s Finesse!’ I said, ‘No, you’ve got that wrong,’ and she came back on the radio and said, ‘And Finite!’  I couldn’t believe it.”

But there they were, the two sisters leading the whole pack.

“They lost 10 or 15 pounds that season because they finally started hunting,” Miller said. “Before then it seemed like they could just live on air. We used to feed them about this much”–cupping his hand–”and they still stayed fat because they expended so little energy on the hunt field.”

Sassoon, Finesse, and Finite are all woolly hounds rather than smooth-coated. The other woollies out this morning to receive their blessing were Gloucester, Fickle, and Stalker.

For Stalker, it was an especially important milestone. Stalker is nine years old this season, and he has a heart ailment. “Every day is a blessing for Stalker,” said Lilla, and that’s true. We don’t know how long we will have old Stalker around, but he has earned the hunt’s special affection for his courage.

Stalker '01

For Stalker, every day is Blessing Day

The other retired hounds who enjoyed a nostalgic visit to the hunt club were Parapet, Pancake (better known in her early hunting days as “Pancake. Pancake. PANCAKE!”); Glamorous, so named because she appears to be wearing an ermine wrap around her neck and shoulders; Radiant; Glowworm (whose father, Captain, was the first hound retired under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund); and Harlequin, the HWF’s retiree of the year for 2009 who was featured in the blog earlier this year.

Harlequin photographed by Peggy Manness

Harlequin, as captured by Peggy Manness of Maness Photography

The older hounds stepped right back into their familiar role, pushing their way right up with the younger hounds to compete for biscuits and trotting over to visit spectators gathered around the lawn for the ceremony. One child could be heard to say, “Mommy! That dog’s got a beard!”

We love our woollies!

The clip below is from the beginning of the Blessing of the Hounds ceremony; the two biggest woollies are Sassoon and Stalker.

Then it was on up the road for a stirrup cup in a field adjacent to Miller Trust Farm, where the hounds are kenneled.

It was especially nice to see so many young riders out today! They took everything in stride. The smallest riders retired from the field after having their photos taken (and some ham biscuits and cake, provided by Lilla as part of the stirrup cup). But the other juniors joined right in for the hunt day, galloping and jumping and watching the hounds work in the grassy fields, woods, and creek bottoms on Miller Trust and the surrounding country.

We think everyone–hounds, horses, and riders–went home happy. The weather was too hot for good scenting, but the hounds worked well together, and, all in all, it was a pleasant start to the formal season, complete with some impromptu schooling over fences in “the bowl” near Boone Creek on Miller Trust. In the clip below, you get a good idea of how high some of the growth is now, courtesy of the unusually wet summer we’ve had. The clip starts with the field jumping a coop and also includes the sound of Lilla’s horn and the hounds speaking briefly.

Finally, it was time to hack home again. Lilla rode her horse, Lager, right into the kennel to make sure everyone was home safely.

Blessing Day - Back in kennels

Lilla and Lager make sure everyone's back safe at the kennel

Hound at Miller Trust

"I'd rather be hunting!"

We hope you had a happy hack home, too.

Long hack home

The end of the day. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

Happy Blessing Day, everyone!

Of horses and hounds

Stalker the horse and Stalker the hound

Stalker the horse and Stalker the hound

IROQUOIS has a lot of horses that are named for hounds. Joint-MFH Jerry Miller always has named all his horses for hounds, not all of them Iroquois hounds. Miller’s great hunt horses Furrier and Tennessee Lead, for example, were both named for famous hounds from history. (Furrier was described as “crooked as a crab’s claw” but the black and white Belvoir-born hound “ran hard at head and was as stout as oak” in his career with the Quorn and Brocklesby, according to author William Scarth Dixon; Furrier went on to become not only a famed hunting hound but also a renowned sire).  

But many of Miller’s current horses–such as Gangster, Farmer, Bonfire, and Grundy–are named for Iroquois hounds of the recent past. A few are named for hounds that are still with us, such as Stalker (pictured above with his equine namesake). Now retired under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund, Stalker is the fourth hound profiled in the “Meet the Hounds” link provided with his name above.

The Iroquois field secretary has a hunter named Harlequin after her favorite hound, the Hound Welfare Fund’s retiree of the year for 2009-2010.

Members of the field also have honored hounds by naming horses after them. I understand one of our accomplished young riders has a horse named Glog, just as Iroquois has a hound named Glog. Willy, if you’re out there, send us a photo of your horse!

If you’ve got a horse who shares a name with a hound, please e-mail beagle52@aol.com. Tell us why you chose the name you did and a little about your horse. If you’ve got a picture of your horse, send that as a JPEG file, too, and we’ll post it.

I’ll get the ball rolling. My horse, Sassoon, and the hound Iroquois Sassoon ’04 both were named for the English writer and World War I soldier Siegfried Sassoon. He’s best known for his poetry about the war, but he also is the author of the sporting classic Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man. I got my Sassoon in 2003 from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. The same summer, Jerry gave the name Sassoon to the only male puppy in that year’s litter by the great Iroquois stallion hound Grundy and out of Bicester Sandal.

The hound Sassoon was entered at Iroquois in 2004, the same year my Sassoon hunted his first full season.

Sassoon hound

Sassoon hound

 Iroquois Sassoon ’04 has gone on to fame and fortune! He won the foxhound championship at the Mid-America Hound Show a couple of years ago and has turned into an exemplary hunting hound. He’s easily recognizable in the hunt field, because he’s large and woolly.

My Sassoon has had a more up-and-down path. In 2005, just before the start of what would have been his second full hunt season, Sassoon got a tiny puncture wound underneath his fetlock while he was turned out. The puncture went into the tendon, infecting the tendon sheath, which then required four surgical tendon flushes and a stay at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

We weren’t at all sure he’d survive, but he did. Then we were pretty certain he’d never be rideable again, but he surprised all of us by coming all the way back. It was a long recovery, but in 2008 my vets declared him hunting sound again. He had missed two full seasons when I took him out again last October for the first time since his injury.

 

Sassoon horse

Sassoon horse (the black one!)

He’d been off so long, I put a green ribbon in his tail to let everyone know he might be unpredictable. That morning I overheard another rider remark, “She’s saying that horse is still green?”  That seemed unkind, but then she didn’t know the full story!

Sassoon doesn’t get out hunting as much as either of us would like (this really is true, according to a “horse psychic” I met at a horse sale the other day!), but he’s a great pleasure in my life, as I’m sure your horse is, too.

By the way, Siegfried Sassoon died in 1967, but his son George carried on his father’s support for hunting. When the foxhunting ban was debated in England, George and his stepson put pro-hunting signs on the family’s pasture fencing. The day the ban went into effect in 2005, George attended a local hunt’s first post-ban meet for drag hunting. He was too frail to ride anymore, but he wore a Countryside Alliance sticker (and an old Soviet army hat!).

George Sassoon and his furry Soviet hat attended a local drag-hunt meet in February 2005 after live fox-hunting was banned in England. He thought it was both flattering an amusing that there was a hound named Sassoon across the Atlantic in Kentucky!

George Sassoon and his furry Soviet hat attended a local drag-hunt meet in February 2005 after live fox-hunting was banned in England. He thought it was both flattering and amusing that there were canine and equine Sassoons hunting across the Atlantic in Kentucky!

George, a farmer, engineer, and linguist, died in 2006 after a remarkably interesting , though sometimes turbulent, life. After his funeral, the attendees gathered in in his regular pub. One of his pals at the bar, on hearing I was from Kentucky, said, “That’s where they’ve  got that hound and horse called Sassoon!” I got a kick out of that, and I guess George did, too.