Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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Passing It On: The Children's Hunt at Woodford Hounds

woodford1What's wrong with this picture? asks Mary Pierson at the Children's Hunt to test the youngsters' knowledge of proper hunting attire. Master Jane Winegardner (scarlet coat) observes with amusement.   / Sive Doyle photoTake a look around your hunt field. If your youngest members are the cute couple in their thirties, foxhunting is in trouble. Unless we share our passion with youngsters, foxhunting will die out when we do.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to set the stage for a Children’s Hunt, and you’ll be well-rewarded when you see all the smiles at the end of the day. Michelle Primm was the force behind Woodford’s Children’s Hunt on March 23, 2013. She held well-attended foxhunting camps the past two summers to introduce children to the basics of foxhunting, and a trailer-load of suitable ponies arrived at several meets during the season to take her students out for a day of sport. Wanting to get more kids together at the same time, “Aunt Primm” approached Woodford Masters Robbie Lyons, Jane Winegardner, and Jim FitzGerald with plans for the Children’s Hunt. Woodford Huntsman Glen Westmoreland was all in favor with just one caveat: no lectures!

Juniors Rule at Snickersville's Junior Meet

7Connor PoeConnor Poe whipped-in with Robyn Harter. / Middleburg PhotoLike most days at Nelson Gunnell’s Banbury Cross we expected a large field. But this was Junior Day—a day when the juniors take over the positions of staff and make all the calls. So the group that gathered for this nine o’clock meet was huge. I’m not sure, but I heard rumors there might have been eighty people out to hunt. We had fifteen couple of Penn-Marydels and Penn-Marydel crosses under open skies, with temperatures warming to sixty-eight degrees.

Don’t get me wrong; I like a large field. I want visitors and guest alike to see what one of the best packs in Virginia can do. But at some point it can get too large! We had a first field, second field, and a beginner field for children. We also had, besides the Field Masters, field stewards in the back to help along those who might fall out, to check gates and riders, and generally to keep order at the tail of the field.

Outreach at Cheshire Brings More Children to the Field

cheshire_juniorsThe late Mrs. John Hannum, former Master of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds (PA), was always thrilled to see a new child at the kennels on a summer morning. Nothing pleased her as much as giving a child—at the kennels for hound walking—his or her first opportunity to observe working hounds at close range.

Building on that early philosophy, the current Masters have introduced new incentives that have greatly increased the number of children in the field.

Adopt-a-Kid

norman.dede.karenmYou've come a long way, kid! / Karen L. Myers photoThe average age of active foxhunters continues to rise. Where are the youngsters? we ask. Pointing to all the “usual suspects”—risk aversion, social media addiction (living vicariously rather than actively), animal rights activism—is...well...pointless. Social change continues to be part of mankind’s evolutionary process. What can we do pro-actively? is more to the point.

The MFHA has periodically urged hunts to reach out to nearby Pony Clubs, and many of these efforts have been successful. The Live Oak Challenge sponsored by MFHs Marty and Daphne Wood has introduced numerous young riders to foxhunting by offering financial incentives to the winning Pony Clubs. The Guide to Establishing a Foxhunting Camp written by Joyce Fendley, MFH provides a cookbook approach to running a summer day camp for any hunt wishing to reach out to children. (The booklet is available from the MFHA.)

Hunts can do these things, but there is something we as ordinary members of the field can do. We can adopt-a-kid.