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!

Stammer’s retirement party draws a crowd

The guest of honor, Stammer, with joint-Master Jerry Miller, Keeneland's Ted Bassett, IHC member John Milward, joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell, 2010 HWF honorary chair Dr. Michael Karpf, and kennel manager Michael Edwards. Photo by Dave Traxler.

STAMMER knew he had arrived at a Special Event as soon as he walked through the front door and smelled prime rib. What else would you have for a hound on the occasion of his official retirement party? And what a night it was! Hound Welfare Fund committee member Uschi Graham generously provided both her beautiful home and the catering for Stammer’s big night, which drew a big crowd.

Accompanied by Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards, Stammer did get some nibbles of prime rib, as well as a nice testimonial from Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. To read Stammer’s great story, click here.

Stammer: the Hound Welfare Fund's Retiree of the Year for 2011, as captured by photographer Peggy Maness.

Stammer retired from hunting several years ago but featured prominently (partly on account of his color!) in our 2011 Blessing of the Hounds ceremony this year (in that video, you can see him going up to get his own blessing with Lilla at about the 50-second mark). He’s also a star on the hound blog banner at the top of this page.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla S. Mason, guest Ted Bassett, and the night's hostess, Uschi Graham. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Stammer was the perfect guest, listening quietly to the tales of his exploits and modestly accepting the compliments and tidbits and kisses heaped upon him. To see some of Dave Traxler’s photos from the night’s events, please click the Smilebox below:

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Stammer with admirers Leslie Penn, Eloise Penn, and Hannah Emig. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Stammer has been enjoying his retirement alongside all his friends at the Iroquois kennel, thanks to the Hound Welfare Fund. The fund, a 501(c)(3) charity, covers the costs for all the Iroquois Hunt’s hounds once they retire, at which point the hunt’s budget no longer provides for them.

Three Hound Welfare Fund auction chairs: Dr. Michael Karpf (2010), Kasia Pater (2011), and Alex Boone (2012). Photo by Dave Traxler.

It’s thanks to the HWF’s many supporters and volunteers that we’re able to give every one of the Iroquois Hunt’s hounds a happy and dignified retirement. If you’d like to help us help them, please consider making a donation. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation will go directly to the retired hounds’ care. And that’s something for everyone–especially the hounds–to celebrate!

Blessings all around


The Iroquois Hunt's Blessing of the Hounds took place earlier this month, with some of the retired hounds participating. Photo by Dave Traxler.

AND so begins the formal season, with the blessing of hounds and riders gathered once again at the old Grimes Mill. Blessing Day harks back to St. Hubert, about whom we have written a great deal in the past. But it also, in a way, “harks forrard” to the hunting season proper, and God knows we need blessings aplenty for that, when somber weathermen and the Farmer’s Almanac both are making ominous noises about a winter of snow and ice. Phooey. The temperature is in the 40s today, and, though it is wet, the houndbloggers are determined that It Will Not Snow as much this year as it did last year.

Baffle got a blessing, too, along with Iroquois huntsman Lilla S. Mason, from the Venerable Bryant Kibler. Photo by Dave Traxler.

The Iroquois hounds and followers were blessed on Nov. 5 to have very fine weather for celebrating hunting’s high holy day, as you can see from the pictures and video accompanying. The hunt, founded in 1880 and reincorporated (after a 12-year hiatus) in 1926, has been honoring the Blessing Day tradition since 1931, when Almon H. P. Abbott, 2nd Bishop of Lexington presided. To read more about the history of the club and of the hunt’s Grimes Mill headquarters, click here. Norm Fine, our good friend over at the Foxhunting Life website, recently unearthed a tiny jewel of a film that provides a glimpse of the Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing Day from 1934. To see it, click here.  Interestingly, the 1934 blessing shown in this one-minute Universal newsreel isn’t at Grimes Mill, but, we believe, a stone church near Winchester. The following year, on Nov. 4, 1935, the Blessing of the Hounds took place at Grimes Mill (click here for a Universal newsreel of that Blessing Day), where it looked very like today’s ceremony: horses lined up along the drive, hounds brought down from the kennel behind the huntsman’s cottage, where our kennel manager Michael Edwards now resides. The priest today, as then, stands on the  same old millstone to deliver his remarks.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

From the Houndbloggers’ perspective, it’s especially interesting to look at the hounds, which then were of the rangy, longer-eared American type prevalent in the area at the time.

Today’s Blessing Day, as illustrated in the video below, shows that the hounds and the setting may have changed since 1934, but the basic ceremony (and its appeal to the general public) have not:

We’re also pleased to include a photo slideshow of pictures that our excellent friend (and excellent photographer!) Dave Traxler took on the day.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Several years ago, a friend sent me the text of the 1984 Blessing of the Hounds made by the Right Reverend Robert W. Estill, 9th Bishop of North Carolina, who, incidentally, also came back to the Mill for its centennial in 2008. Estill also was an Iroquois member before he moved to North Carlina, and so he was an especially interesting candidate to bless the hunt’s hounds for the 1984-’85 formal season.

“When I got my buttons and began to hunt with you while I was rector  of Christ Church,” Estill said in 1984, “my Senior Warden and godfather, Cllinton Harbison, penned a poem to ‘Our Riding Rector.’ It read:

‘A parson should have a ‘good seat’

Amd ‘light hands’ and an ardor complete

For riding to hounds

Where clean sport abounds.

May no spill that parson delete!

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“So you and I and this crowd of friends and well wishers come together for the Blessing of the Hounds,” Estill continued. “Yet are we not the ones who are blessed? Look around you. Even the person farthest removed from horses, foxes, or hounds could not fail to catch the blessings of the day, the place, and the occasion. We urbanites often lose touch with the good earth and with its creatures. We Americans have shoved our sports so deeply into commercialism and professionalism and competition that we have lost the sense of pleasure in sport for sport’s sake.

We lose touch with our past, too. With those who have gone before us. You and I are blessed today (in this time of the church’s year called All Saints) by those whom George Eliot first called ‘the choir invisible … those immortal dead who live again in minds made better by their presence.’ When those of you who will hunt step into the stirrups today, you will join, if not a ‘choir invisible,’ at least a bunch of interesting women and men who have done just that in years gone by.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“From the time of 1774 to about 1810, settlers from Virginia ‘came swarming over that high-swung gateway of the Cumberlands into Kentucky,’ bringing with them hounds, whose descendants are here before us now carrying their names as Walker foxhounds. They were first developed by John W. Walker and his cousin, Uncle ‘Wash’ (for George Washington) Maupin. Wash hunted as soon after his birth in 1807 as was practicable and continued to do so until close to his death in 1868.”

Today, the Iroquois hounds are English and crossbred, and the game is more often the coyote, who came into Kentucky from the opposite route that the Virginia settlers took, arriving instead from the West. We do still see the occasional fox, and the Houndbloggers take it as a lucky sign. We viewed a long red one on Blessing Day, racing across Master MIller’s driveway, and we hope he was an omen for good sport and safety for the season to come. But we are just Houndbloggers, and we will leave the actual, formal blessings to the professionals! And so we return to Estill, whose 1984 Blessing of the Hounds seems entirely apt today:

Lord, you bless us this day with all the abundance of your hand.

For horses which obey our commands,

and for mules with good manners,

for hounds in joyful voice,

for foxes given us to hunt,

and for covert in which you provide for their safety,

for friends and partners in the chase,

for food and drink and for those who prepared and served it,

for those whose vision and care made all this possible and for those who have gone before os and are now in your nearer presence,

for St. Hubert, our Patron, and his life in fact and fantasy, we give thanks to you, O Lord.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

The Houndbloggers would like to add a particular blessing for the retired hounds, several of whom attend the Blessing of the Hounds each year. We’re lucky to have them and however many months or years of their good company left, and they are blessed to receive the Hound Welfare Fund‘s support. We hope you’ll give them a blessing of your own, a way of thanking them for their years of service and sport, by donating to the Hound Welfare Fund. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation goes directly to the retired hounds’ care. 

Tonight’s the night!

The Hound Welfare Fund‘s annual dinner and auction takes place this evening. For more details on some of the items on offer–including sporting artworks and the unveiling and sale of a new work by Andre Pater–click here and here. We thought you might also be interested in seeing some of the the night’s live auction items, too, and hear some of the voices behind the artists who support the fund, the first registered 501(c)(3) charity to care for retired foxhounds after their working days end due to age or injury.

What’s so special about hounds?

WE asked famed sporting artist and Iroquois Hunt member Andre Pater that question and got a great, thoughtful answer, which you can hear on the video above (click play, then click the HD box in the upper right-hand corner of the video to see the high-definition version). He also offered his thoughts on retiring hunting hounds, and his timing was excellent: the annual Hound Welfare Fund benefit dinner and auction, which supports the Iroquois Hunt’s retired hounds, is right around the corner on June 4. And this year’s live auction will feature Andre Pater’s “Awake,” a charcoal and white pastel drawing of a foxhound.

Other well-known British and American artists whose works are coming in for the auction include Sandra Oppegard, Hazel MorganSally Moren, Ena Lund, Judy Boyt, and others!

This Wilton Hunt hound study in oil by English artist Hazel Morgan is among the Hound Welfare Fund's auction items this year.

The auction offers more than art, too. The live auction will feature a sporting clay shoot and picnic at Miller Trust Farm, traditionally one of the night’s hottest items, and the much-coveted chance to have a private hunt with the Iroquois for up to eight people. Other items in the live or silent auctions include  a morel mushroom hunt and gourmet picnic for two at one of the hunt country’s most beautiful fixtures, Boone Valley Farm; an antique set of stirrup cups with the Iroquois Hunt logo; a unique set of hand-painted glassware depicting hunt scenes; the ever popular tickets to HWF Retiree of the Year Stammer‘s exclusive retirement party; hassle-free Blessing Day braiding and boarding for your horse–and more!

This watercolor hunt scene by Sandra Oppegard also will be among the offerings at the Hound Welfare Fund's June 4 fundraising dinner and auction.

The Hound Welfare Fund is a 501(c)(3) charity that is the first of its kind to care for working foxhounds during their retirement.

Stay tuned for the Virginia Hound Show

Before June 4’s dinner and auction at the Iroquois headquarters, the old Grimes Mill, the hounds have business to attend to in Virginia. The Virginia Hound Show takes place this Sunday, May 30, at Morven Park near Leesburg, and the houndbloggers will be there to cheer them on. Last year, our Hailstone won his class, single crossbred dog–entered.

The 2011 Retiree of the Year: Stammer

Stammer '01 went from detention to stardom at Iroquois--and helped huntsman Lilla Mason learn how to trust hounds' judgment. Photo by Peggy Maness.

STAMMER is one of those hounds who could go on an inspirational tour, visiting hound high-schools and telling young dogs how important maturity is. The Hound Welfare Fund‘s 2011 Retiree of the Year came to Kentucky from England as a puppy and began his hunting career with Iroquois. He was so wayward when he first joined the working pack that Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller sent him straight back to the kennel for a long while. When he came out hunting again, Stammer developed into one of the pack’s most valuable members and taught huntsman Lilla Mason an important lesson about trusting one’s hounds.

“Stammer came to us from the Cottesmore,” said Lilla. “He wasn’t all Cottesmore breeding. Apparently, one day the Cottesmore had a joint meet with the Eskdale and Ennerdale, and one of the Cottesmore Masters particularly liked how an Eskdale-Ennerdale dog hound performed that day, so they asked [Cottesmore huntsman] Neil Coleman to breed a bitch to that stallion hound.”

Photo by Peggy Maness.

The resulting litter by Eskdale and Ennderdale Woodman ’96 out of Cottesmore Family ’98 was large and contained an element you don’t see often in the Iroquois pack: fell blood. The Eskdale and Ennderdale have worked over the fells in the vicinity of England’s western Lake District since 1857. For those unfamiliar with the term fell in its topographical sense, the word is defined as “a hill or other area of high land, especially in northwest England.” That makes fells sound a good bit more innocent and gentle than they really are if you’ve ever tried to follow hounds up and down them. Especially up. To see what we mean, click hereherehere, and here for several spectacular views of hunting on the fells, whose steep and rocky terrain is gorgeous but also very demanding, requiring huntsman and followers take to their own feet and leave the horses at home.

With hunt staff on foot, fell hounds must necessarily be more independent about their jobs than hounds that are  accompanied by mounted staff over open grasslands. And though Stammer isn’t all fell hound, that independent streak was still pretty strong in him when he was young, recalled Lilla.

Photo by Peggy Maness.

“He went well through the summer program and seemed fine,” she said. “But then when we started hunting, he was a keen hunter who was hell on coyotes, but he was also hell on everything else that moved. It was hard to rate him.”

At that time, Master Miller was hunting the hounds, and he made an unusual decision about Stammer. “He decided that Stammer just wasn’t mature enough to handle hunting with the pack,” Lilla said. “He said, ‘I just don’t think he’s ready, and we’re going to put him back in the kennel.’ That was one of the first times we ever tried that, and I respected that decision a lot. So Stammer went back into the kennel, and he didn’t go out hunting again until, I believe, the next February.”

About four months out of the working pack gave Stammer some extra time to grow up and think things over. When he was invited to join the pack again for a few hunts before the end of the season, he showed better potential.

“And the next year, and for his next five seasons, he was really a top hound,” said Lilla.

Stammer at the Blessing of the Hounds last November.

“He taught me how to trust a hound, because he was independent, so he was a little bit of a different duck from everybody else. I remember sometimes, leaving a meet on what I thought possibly would be a poor scenting day, he’d start going through coverts very quickly. The rest of the pack would honor him and go with him. It was really annoying to me, because I thought, ‘Gee whiz, the hounds aren’t settling, they don’t have their noses down, we’re going to blow through all the coverts in this fixture and then where are we going to be?’ But every single time he found a coyote.

“That hound had coyote-sense. He just knew where they were. It might be two or three miles from us, but he knew where it was. And I know he was winding it the whole time he went, and he was in a hurry to get to it. That’s why he would blow through coverts. I finally realized that was just his behavior. He didn’t do it every time–sometimes he didn’t scent something like that and would draw coverts well–but when he was on a mission like that, the rest of the pack always honored him and trusted him. And I learned to sit back and be patient, because he always found a coyote. I knew when Stammer was behaving that way, just go with him.

Stammer (far left) on summer walk with Iroquois joint-MFH Jerry Miller in 2009. Photo by Peggy Maness.

“I don’t think we ever had a blank day when he was out. We might not have found a coyote for two hours, but he knew where it was and we were going to catch up to it.

“Sometimes you just have to trust, and he taught me that.”

That Stammer could go from immature and indiscriminate hunter to such a key player convinced Lilla that sending a young hound back to the kennel for a little more time was an important tool in hound training. “It really did work with him,” she said, “and that’s when I really bought in to Master Miller’s ‘no hound left behind’ style of training, because it was clearly a maturity issue with this hound, not a behavioral issue. Otherwise, it would have come out again. But the rest of his life after that, deer could go by, he didn’t care. Raccoons could go by, he didn’t care. When he first came out with us, he’d chase deer, raccoons, rabbits, anything that moved, he was going after it. His mind couldn’t process what his nose was telling him. Master Miller understood that, and rather than waste him, and waste really good bloodlines and breeding, he gave Stammer that chance. After all, what’s a little time when it can save a hound’s life and make him productive?”

Stammer did develop another quirk. “After his second season, he wouldn’t tolerate puppies,” Lilla said. “You couldn’t take him out cubhunting, because he would just leave. Didn’t like being around puppies, didn’t like going on hound walks with them. So we never mixed him in with the puppies until they had maybe two months of cubhunting under their belts.”

Photo by Peggy Maness.

These days, Stammer is enjoying life as a senior gentleman with the other retirees at the hunt kennels.

“Hounds show you in different ways when it’s time for them to retire,” Lilla said. “In Stammer’s case, he became independent. “He would leave the pack and go hunting on his own. That sometimes happens, and once an older hounds gets independent, we have to retire him because it can ruin the other hounds.

“But he was one of the smartest hounds that ever was, and he had coyote-sense like no other. He had such a keen nose he’d immediately pick up even a very old scent and follow every place that coyote had been until we found it, and then he would open up. He  just knew.”

Stammer will be honored at this year’s Hound Welfare Fund Retiree of the Year Reception, which HWF supporter Uschi Graham will host at her home on Friday evening, November 4, the night before the Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing of the Hounds.

Tickets to the cocktail party will be up for auction on June 4 at the Hound Welfare Fund’s dinner and live/silent auction on June 4 at the Iroquois Hunt Club. For more information about the dinner and auction, please contact us before May 27 at beagle52[at]aol.com.

Houndbloggers Abroad–and an excellent fundraiser

THE houndbloggers are back in England for the next week or so, so we’ll be posting on a variety of topics as anything interesting comes up.

The most interesting thing so far has already happened, and that was the annual Hound Welfare Fund dinner and auction that took place on March 20 at the Iroquois Hunt Club. Thank you so much to all who bought tickets, attended, donated items, volunteered and bid–even if you didn’t end up buying, your bids helped the hounds. We thought the evening turned out splendidly, and auctioneer Walt Robertson of the Fasig-Tipton Company was a great help, as was caterer Cooper Vaughan, and so many others.

They’re still tallying up the income, but all in all it seemed a highly successful night for the retired hounds. Two of them–Stammer and Starburst–attended the silent auction and circulated among the partygoers to thank them for being there (and, more importantly, to remind them of what they were really bidding for). Thanks to one and all for helping the retired hounds again this year!