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People

Meeting Martha, Part III: I Got Ledburied (and Liked It)

Intrigued by a photo of a British foxhunter with smoldering eyes and apparent ice in her veins, and sensing a story, Leslie Wylie reached out to its subject, the Lady Martha Sitwell, in the hope she could arrange for an interview. The next thing she knew she had accepted Martha’s surprise invitation to come hunting with her in England (see “Part I: How I Got Invited to Foxhunt with British Royalty” and “Part II: Darling, You’re Mad!“). What follows is Part III of Wylie’s epic weekend.

martha sitwell3.1See the girl on the chestnut toward the left who is pointing her horse straight at a 10-foot tall stand of sticks? That's me. / Viki Ross photo (http:/www.vikirossphotography.co.uk)

Breakfast of Champions
“So, let me get this straight: This is your first time foxhunting in the UK and you’re going out with the Ledbury?”

Around the fourth or fifth time someone asks me this, accompanied by a snort of laughter, I begin to feel a pinch of concern. I grew up hunting and have jumped plenty of proper-sized fences in my life but… it’s been a while. The Ledbury is widely regarded as one of the formidable hunts in the world. Was I in over my head?

On the morning of the hunt Martha comes floating down the spiral staircase into Manor Farm’s kitchen looking like she’s just stepped out of an antique foxhunt painting. Smartly outfitted in a canary vest and those vintage balloon-thigh breeches that no woman has been able to pull off since Jackie O, she exclaims “Good morning, darling!” then leans in conspiratorially.

Meeting Martha, Part II: ‘Darling, You’re Mad!’

Intrigued by a photo of a British foxhunter with smoldering eyes and apparent ice in her veins, and sensing a story, Leslie Wylie reached out to its subject, the Lady Martha Sitwell, in hopes that she could arrange for an interview. The next thing she knew she had accepted Martha’s surprise invitation to come hunting with her in England (see Part I, “How I Got Invited to Foxhunt with British Royalty”). What follows is Part II of Wylie’s epic weekend.

martha sitwellviki rossPhoto by Viki Ross (www.vikirossphotography.co.uk)

A Grand Entrance
When the American guest-of-honor arrives to a dinner party over an hour late accompanied by a complete stranger from whom she has hitchhiked a ride, most people of a certain social stature wouldn’t be amused—and understandably so. But the Lady Martha Sitwell does not fall into the category of “most people.”

To rewind: The hosts of the next day's meeting of the Ledbury Foxhounds (UK), the Leekes, had generously invited Martha and me to stay the night at their Manor Farm in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, so we’d be on-site for hunting the next morning. I was coming in from London and, because I am logistically challenged, I caught the wrong train and dug the hole even deeper by getting off at the wrong station.

Meeting Martha, Part I: How I Got Invited to Foxhunt With British Royalty

leslie wylie.lady martha sitwell.equuspix"Who was this woman...who could manage such a cool, yet hot-blooded stare?" / Photo by EquusPix PhotographyIt all started a couple months ago when a friend posited the classic ice-breaker question, “If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be?”

Bypassing all sensible responses—the President, the Pope, Peyton Manning—I skipped straight to a personage whom I knew virtually nothing about: The Lady Martha Sitwell.

Ever since we ran this photograph of Martha in a 2013 Horse Nation story about sidesaddle foxhunting (“The Craic Heard Round the World“), I’ve been transfixed. Who was this woman who, despite being mud-splattered, mascara-smeared, and soaked to the bone by icy Irish rain, could manage such a simultaneously cool yet hot-blooded stare?

Everyone Knows Bundles Murdock, But She Knows Everyone Else!

bundles murdock.leesCatherine “Bundles” Murdock is the lady to seek out when paying your cap at Orange County. Be sure to observe proper protocol by enclosing your check in an envelope with your name and address. Ms. Murdock is one field secretary who knows her protocol! / Douglas Lees photoIn a recent article in the Loudoun Times-Mirror, Billie Van Pay wrote, “Almost everyone in horse country knows Catherine ‘Bundles’ C. Murdock, a fourth-generation member of a family well-known for its community leadership and for helping make the area known for its foxhunting.”

Indeed, Murdock is a long-time member of the Middleburg, Virginia community and the Orange County Hounds, serving as honorary secretary, field secretary, and road whip. And “almost everyone in horse country” does know her. But Murdock knows everyone else. Like Barbara and George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Queen Elizabeth to name a few.

Murdock was born in New York, but Middleburg has always been home. Her grandfather William Philander “Pappy” Hulbert came to Middleburg more than one hundred years ago, and her mother grew up on the family farm, Stonehedge, before her.