Peterborough foxhound show: The video!

Ringside scenes from the world’s most important show for working pack hounds! Thanks for your patience!

To see Part One of our coverage, click here. Two see Part Two, click here.

The show’s modern foxhound results are here. Old English foxhound results are here.

And the houndbloggers offer many hearty thanks to Creative Commons, the Free Music Archive, and composers Kevin MacLeod and Jonah Dempcy for use of their wonderful music.

Houndbloggers Abroad: A Royal Artillery meet

The Royal Artillery hounds with professional huntsman Rob Moffat at the March 24 meet.

ANY trip that starts off with hounds has to be good! Not long after we landed in England, we attended a meet of the Royal Artillery Hunt, Britain’s last surviving military foxhound pack.

The Royal Artillery Hunt is unusual in many ways, most notably for its hunt country. Most people, when thinking about English foxhunting, conjure up images of the rolling grasslands and terrifying five-foot hedges that Leicestershire’s fashionable hunts face on their fast runs. But the Royal Artillery hunts (within the law as decreed since the hunt ban of 2005, so they now drag hunt) across Salisbury Plain (for one photo, see here, though this doesn’t do full justice to the plain’s amazing sweep and great beauty). That presents an altogether different set of challenges for horse and rider.

Salisbury Plain appears, from a distance, innocently simple to cross. It is vast and, though a plain, it has quite a few gentle rises that just beg you to gallop up them. (Its most famous feature, incidentally, is Stonehenge, which once was a regular meet for the RA hounds!) The plain’s openness makes it a great place to watch hounds, and the hunt country’s description at the Master of Fox Hounds Association website makes it sound uncomplicated enough: “There is very little jumping: there are always ways round any fences. It is a good country for seeing hounds work, with few of the problems generally encountered in modern hunting. Sport is varied; there are some good long runs of up to ten miles unimpeded by roads, railways, wire or urban sprawl. Any horse, young or old, would enjoy a day on Salisbury Plain. The RA Hunt is run on military lines and is an exceptionally friendly hunt with a jolly atmosphere. Fields average up to 60 on a Saturday and up to 30 on Wednesday.”

The RA hounds were interested in the stirrup cup.

But the 300 square mile Salisbury Plain also is a military training ground, and once you ride out on it, you begin to realize just how tricky it can be for the unwary! What the MFHA site doesn’t tell you is that you will occasionally gallop around a bend to find a tank or two in your path. There are horse-eating slit trenches dug into the ground here and there. Part of the hunt country passes a mock village used to train troops in house-to-house combat.  And the tank tracks can be a foot deep and extremely awkward to cross if you don’t know the trick to it, which is to always, always take them on the diagonal, and never try to cross them on the perpendicular. Children are almost always welcome to join the hunt, but not, the hunt says somewhat ominously, “on days of military activity.” You get the idea.

For more general information on Salisbury Plain, click here.

The Royal Artilery hounds. You’ll notice a few that are slightly woolly, but most are smooth-coated.

Once you’re over your initial surprise at the unusual conditions, you settle in to a great day of hound-watching. Despite the military activity, including regular firing pratice, the vast plain is full of wildlife, including red foxes, badgers, and the great bustard, a large bird. It also has some farmland, and so there’s a lot to see. And Salisbury Plain is truly beautiful, changing colors with the seasons and as cloud and sun pass overhead. Definitely worth a trip.

A handsome pair in conversation at the Royal Artillery meet.

A note about the gray horse you see in the picture above. We’ve bumped into him before–and photographed him–on our last trip to England, when we visited a horse trials at Larkhill, a racecourse and fixture for the RA hounds. That day, he was ridden by an officer in the horse trials, and on this day he was taken hunting by another officer. The horse’s name is Ollie, and we recognized him easily, because he is missing his left eye–not that that stops him from leading a highly active life as one of the Royal Artilery saddle club’s mounts!

The saddle club provides an excellent opportunity for soldiers to learn to ride or to continue riding, and there are lots of chances for them to compete, too, in local events. It’s a great feature that undoubtedly has helped introduce more people to the joys of a day behind hounds.

Let's gooooooo!

One of the RA hounds makes the rounds at the meet

You’ll also notice that the hunstman and Masters of the RA Hunt wear green coats, instead of scarlet. This is a nod to the pack’s history as a harrier pack; the staff and Masters of harrier packs, as well as of beagles, traditionally wear green coats, and the RA have kept that tradition even after switching to foxhounds in 1946.

The RA hunt staff wear green as a nod to the RA Hunt's history as a harrier pack. The RA changed its pack to foxhounds in 1946.

Some of the RA pack's woollier members.

We will have video from this meet, including hounds’ voices and the huntsman blowing his horn to gather start off from the meet, on Wednesday when we are back in Kentucky.

Food for thought …

To no one’s surprise, yes, I have been hunting the fertile ground of England’s second-hand bookstores again! As always, Mr. McGregor’s shop and the Heads’  sporting bookstore yielded treasures. From McGregor’s (better known by its formal name of d’Arcy Books, in Devizes), this great quote from Lord Willoughby de Broke’s The Sport of Our Ancetsors:

“When a highly-bred pack of Foxhounds have been running full cry for nineteen minutes and come to a check, the first thing they do is to quarter the ground and fling themselves this way and that, all with heads down, and some with hackles up, to recover the scent. There is nothing more beautiful and wonderful that this in the whole of Fox-hunting. Any mere human being in a red coat who tries to correct animal instinct at sublime moments like these, by makng a noise on a copper instrument, is at once a Philistine and a fool–a Philistine to try his hand on what nature is doing for him so much more artistically than he can do it for himself; a fool because no good pack of Foxhounds would take th slightest notice of him if it were anything like a scenting day.”

And speaking of copper instruments …

Next week we’ll also have a little video of the Cheffins auction at which the great 19th century huntsman Will Goodall’s horn was sold for £2600.  Sellers Denise and James Davies of Zimbabwe were delighted with the price but confessed to having mixed feelings about the sale.

James and Denise Davies (left and right), sellers of Will Goodall's hunting horn this week, with a houndblogger in the middle

The Davieses, like the houndbloggers, feel certain that the horn did indeed belong to Will o’ Belvoir, the subject of Lord Henry Bentinck’s classic hunting treatise “Goodall’s Practice,” and they are committed to trying to solve the greatest mystery of all: how the horn got from Goodall’s home at Belvoir Kennels in England after his death in 1859 to an auction house near Harare, Zimbabwe, some 150 years later.

Musings from the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show (with video)

Some 1500 hounds from more than 100 hunting packs converged for the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show in England on July 22

Some 1500 hounds from more than 100 hunting packs converged for the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show in England on July 22

It was all about the hounds at Peterborough in England late last month as hunting folk and hound lovers gathered for the Royal Foxhound Show.

American hound show buffs might have been surprised by the setting. Peterborough’s show takes place not in a stately grass ring on some storied estate, but in a concrete-floored indoor arena. That’s actually better for the participants, some huntsmen point out, because the concrete floor harbors fewer natural scents than grass does. Grass rings are more picturesque, but by the time several dozen hounds have shown in their classes, the grass also becomes cluttered with lost bits of biscuits, which then can distract later hounds in their own classes.

(One note regarding scent, though: at Peterborough, our correspondents and quite a few competitors and spectators noticed an interesting thing. The bitches, who showed in the afternoon, did not seem to show nearly as well as the dogs had in the morning classes, and a number of people ringside theorized that this might have been due to the fact that a ringkeeper mopped up the concrete floor after each class, clearing away waste with what appeared to be water and disinfectant. If the water was mixed with disinfectant, could the accumlating chemical scent have put hounds in later classes off their game? We wonder!)

The Beaufort hounds, including the show's top dog, were relaxed in their kennel on the showgrounds

The Beaufort hounds, including the show's top dog, were relaxed in their kennel on the showgrounds

Peterborough has the flavor of a national fair for hunting people. There are row upon row of kennels housing the most beautiful hounds in the world from some of the sport’s most revered packs. There are also stalls to tempt your wallet, selling everything from antique hunt whips to gleaming hunting horns to sporting art, ancient tomes, kennel coats, custom Patey helmets, and handsome tweeds. But even those delights could not compete with the show ring itself for the crowd of dedicated hound aficionados.

For huntsmen, Masters, and hound breeders, Peterborough is a useful chance to see what everyone else’s breeding looks like and to compare notes with others about what crosses work best on the hunt field. One thing that stuck out to the Iroquois Hunt contingent was the dominance of the Duke of Beaufort’s stallion hound Bailey ’03, whose get filled the classes. Some breeders at Peterborough expressed concern that Bailey’s popularity eventually could shrink the pool of available outcrosses, which could become  problem in for future breeding. But there was no denying his influence in the pedigrees.

It’s interesting to see the trends in a hunt’s breeding, and regular Peterborough attendees who view packs year after year can spot when a hunt’s breeding program is on the improve as well as when it hits a bump in the road. One indication that all is not well in a breeding program, for example: loss of hounds’ size and scope. But spectators’ eagle eyes aren’t just looking for flaws, they’re also picking up signs of the next great stallion hound or brood bitch–perhaps with thoughts of breeding their own stock to that line in the future. 

Green the dominant color

Speaking of dominance, the Duke of Beaufort’s and the Heythrop continued their historic rivalry in the show ring, piling up rosettes between them. When the seasoned sporting writer and Peterborough historian Michael Clayton noted that “Peterborough has become very green,” he wasn’t referring to environmental friendliness–he meant that the dark green coats worn by both the Beaufort and Heythrop staff had come to seem unbeatable. The Beaufort, in fact, took the big prize of the day when its doghound Farrier ’07, winner of the stallion hound class, went on to take the doghound championship; that was the Beaufort’s eighth Peterborough doghound championship, and their dog Gaddesby ’07, reserve champion in the stallion hound class, finished third in the championship, too. Gaddesby, by the way, is the sire of current Iroquois puppy Driver, out of Dragonfly.

Cottesmore's hounds, shown here with huntsman Neil Coleman and the Peterborough judges, showed well all day

Cottesmore's hounds, shown here with huntsman Neil Coleman and the Peterborough judges, showed well all day

The Cottesmore finished second in the stallion hound class to the Duke of Beaufort’s eventual doghound champion Farrier with Cottesmore Badger ’07. Badger got an especially loud round of applause, partly, we imagine, because he represented an unusual incursion by a non-Beaufort and non-Heythrop hound.

We had a rooting interest in the Cottesmore hounds, having a long relationship with the pack and some of its bloodlines in the Iroquois pack. Their outstanding doghound Stampede, in fact, is the sire of nine puppies out of Cottesmore Baffle, whom we imported this spring. So Iroquois had good reason to celebrate along with Cottesmore huntsman Neil Coleman and whipper-in Jack Bevan!

Luminaries, old friends, and good hound stories

Legendary Cottesmore Master and huntsman Capt. Brian Fanshawe also was on hand to enjoy his pack’s successes, and he pronounced himself “very proud” of their performance.

Speaking of Capt. Fanshawe, here’s an interesting story he told. One of the reasons Fanshawe is famous (and there are many!) is for bringing the highly successful ST Carlow bloodline from a disbanded Irish pack to the Cottesmore, launching one of the great hunting bloodlines in the United Kingdom. (“They are terribly easy to handle, nearly like pet dogs,” he once told Michael Clayton for a history of the Cottesmore. “They need plenty of hunting, but they are biddable, and they have what Sir Peter Farquhar called ‘fox sense.'”) 

One day, Fanshawe explained at Peterborough, he met up with a huntsman from Melbourne, Australia, who mentioned that he, too, had some old ST Carlow blood in his pack. Fanshawe was understandably skeptical. But it turned out, Fanshawe said, that the Australian was right. It was little known that a single male from the Irish STs had indeed been shipped to Australia sometime in the 1800s, where his blood lives on! The Iroquois pack also has this wonderful blood through our importation of Cottesmore, Bicester, and North Cotswold hounds. We would love to know more about the original Australian ST Carlow hound, and we’re putting out the call to anyone who knows the tale to share details with us. In the meantime, we’ll see what we can find out on our own and try to get back to you with the  more complete story.

Philip Stubbings, far right, was a whipper-in at Iroquois in the 1990s and is now huntsman at the Blankney

Philip Stubbings, far right, was at Iroquois in the 1990s and is now huntsman at the Blankney. Philip and friend Sara, far left, met up with Iroquois MFH Jerry L. Miller and huntsman Lilla Mason at Peterborough.

Also on hand at Peterborough this year and seated ringside throughout the day was Fanshawe’s cousin, Capt. Ian Farquhar, Master of the Beaufort. Others seen and noted: the Berkeley Hunt’s Henry Berkeley, sporting photographer Jim Meads, and Philip Stubbings, formerly of Iroquois (about 10 or so years ag0) and the Belvoir and now professional huntsman of the Blankney in England. We were especially pleased to see Philip again. He appears to be doing very well at the Blankney. He also made our day by mentioning that he had seen an article in England’s Horse and Hound magazine about the Hound Welfare Fund the week before the show. Philip said he was especially pleased to see old Stamina’s picture accompanying that story. One of our most beloved retired hounds and an import from the Cottesmore when she was a puppy, Stamina died last year.

“Woollies” proving more popular
 
Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason and Master Jerry Miller noticed an interesting trend at Peterborough this year: there seemed to be more  “woolly” hounds, the rough-coated type you often get with the Welsh blood we also have at Iroquois. Woollies are sometimes less popular in the show ring than the smooth-coated hounds, although (at the risk of tooting our own hunting horn) our loveable and highly talented woolly, Iroquois Sassoon, won the 2008 Mid-America Hound Show’s grand championship. “You’d love him if they threw a bucket of water over his coat!” one judge memorably chided another, who liked Sassoon but not his wool, before they both chose him champion.
An outstanding woolly, Iroquois Sassoon, who won the 2008 Mid-America grnd championship. Woollies like Sassoon were more in evidence this year at Peterborough.

An outstanding woolly, Iroquois Sassoon, who won the 2008 Mid-America grnd championship. Woollies like Sassoon were more in evidence this year at Peterborough.

 “It was really striking, the number of different hunts that have woollies now,” Lilla said. “I think there were four or five hunts that had woollies at Peterborough this year. Of course, the Bicester and the Cottesmore had woollies, but there were three or four other hunts that also brought woollies, and that was eye-opening. Woollies haven’t usually been fashionable in the show ring, and we wondered if that trend is slowly changing.”

One thing the Iroquois group particularly liked was a small but pleasing tradition: the winning hounds’ puppy-walkers were invited to accept the hounds’ trophies on behalf of the winning hunt. That’s a nice touch that reminds us again that bringing a puppy along often really is the work of a team.

Peterborough was only the start of a brilliant week for our intrepid Iroquois correspondents, who also attended a major game fair at Belvoir Castle, visited kennels, and went roading hounds through the English countryside with the Cottesmore. More on that in a later post!