Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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BobSmith2Betsy Burke Parker photoRobert L. Smith Sr. (Bob), an institution in New York State’s horse world, died on February 19, 2015 at his home farm, Netherwood Acres. Bob is responsible for introducing countless riders to the foxhunting fields of the Millbrook and Rombout Hunts over his long career. The love and respect so many sportsmen and women hold in their hearts for this man will endure long after his ashes are spread over his beloved farm this spring.

Bob’s career with horses began in 1928 at age ten, when he began taking tourists from the city for trail rides into the Catskill Mountains on horses from his father’s farm. He was a member of Millbrook and Rombout as early as the 1950s, and his riding students of all ages rode in horse shows, hunter paces, hunter trials, and were taken foxhunting.

Bob studied agriculture and veterinary science and played on the Polo Squad at Cornell University for two years before leaving to strike out on his own and pursue his dreams in the horse business. Early in his career, Bob was involved in the breeding program for the Remount Service, which provided horses for the U.S. Calvary during and after World War II. Bob also trained a horse named Holy Smoke to jump through a ring of fire for the Disney movie Run Appaloosa Run.

In 2009, prize-winning photo/journalist Betsy Parker wrote a personal profile of Bob Smith for Covertside, which we published in the Winter edition. That story is re-published here with Betsy’s kind permission:

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stu grod2.julie stuart segerJulie Stuart Seger photoStuart Grod—popular field member of the Fairfield County Hounds (CT)—has retired after forty-three consecutive seasons hunting in the first flight. A retirement party was held in Stu’s honor at the hunt’s clubhouse on November 22, 2014, where well-known food and travel author Michael Stern read a poem he composed for the occasion.

"Build a bridge with your hands on the mane;"
"Trot smooth as you head for the jump;"
"Go light when your hands hold the reins;"
"And don't crowd on the lead horse's rump:"

Just some of Stu's tips I've acquired
Since I started to ride with you folks.
I'll miss you up there, you strange country squire
With your bright eyes, your wisdom, and jokes.

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bellemeade.2014.gianniniEpp Wilson, MFH and huntsman of the Belle Meade Hunt brings hounds to the first draw to kick off "Gone Away with the Wind" Hunt Week. Whippers-in Lucy Bell (left) and Natalie Gilmore flank the pack. / Lauren R. Giannini photo

“We have arranged to have ten coyotes on standby for your hunting pleasure today,” announced Joint-MFH Charlie Lewis as he welcomed guests to the opening meet of Belle Meade’s “Gone Away with the Wind” Hunt Week. It was Monday, January 27, 2014 in Thomson, Georgia. The footing was perfect and the sun was shining.

The following day it snowed, closing schools, paralyzing the Atlanta area, and prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency. The Belle Meade hosts were resilient, however, improvising substitute activities for members and guests for the very few events that had to be modified.

Hunt Week guests had come from the Blue Ridge Hunt (VA), Bull Run Hunt (VA), Golden’s Bridge Hounds (NY), Marlborough Hunt (MD), Millbrook Hunt (NY), Montreal Hunt (PQ), Moore County Hounds (NC), the Potomac Hunt (MD), Toronto and North York Hunt (ON), and the Whiskey Road Hounds (SC).

The Meet
The Belle Meade hounds typically meet at three o’clock in the afternoon. In the warmish environs of north Georgia, Senior Master and huntsman Epp Wilson likes to hunt as temperatures are dropping and scent is improving. Of course it often results in riders hacking back in the dark, and even jumping fences after sunset—an adventure in its own right for many followers!

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booli selmayr.kirsten edlundBooli Selmayr, professional whipper-in, Millbrook Hunt (NY): “A good day whipping-in is not having to be told, but instead, allowing natural instinct to guide me: listening to the horn and hounds, reading the terrain, and quickly distinguishing whether fox or coyote.” / Kirsten Edlund-Tunkel photo

Professional or Honorary
The world of whipping-in is split into two camps—professional and honorary. The professional whipper-in often fills the position to gain experience and recognition on his or her road to becoming a huntsman. As the title suggests, it is a paid position. The honorary whipper-in is not paid, is generally recruited from the ranks of the hunt membership, and generally does not aspire to become a huntsman. He or she may be a riding member or one of the Masters.

Professional hunt staff in England go through a structured period of apprenticeship. Years there are spent just doing kennel work before even being allowed to walk hounds out on exercise and before even being allowed on a horse. If recommended, they will finally be taken on as second whipper-in to a hunt. After a few moves, they may be recommended to fill an opening for a first whipper-in somewhere else. Under the system, they purposely move every few years from one hunt to another, gaining experience and exposure to different huntsmen and different methods before finally being offered a huntsman’s post. Clearly a strong foundation is laid through such a rigorous system.

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loudounLoudoun West huntsman Martyn Blackmore blows his fox to ground.Aiken Hounds huntsman Katherine Gunter and I had been planning this trip for months. South Carolina summers are tough, and no sooner had we returned to Aiken after the 2011 Virginia Foxhound Show and found ourselves enveloped in ninety-plus temperatures that we began to think about September and a possible hunting vacation.

Everything came together well. We don’t begin our own cubhunting until October, which left September free and clear for adventure. Where shall we go? We had a wonderful invitation from friends in Millbrook, NY, so we decided to make the big push north, out of the heat first, and work our way back south.

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