Brian Kiely knows he will have big boots to fill when Larry Pitts, huntsman for the Potomac Hunt (MD), retires after thirty-five seasons there. Brian spent a weekend recently with the Potomac Masters, had a chance to hunt with Larry, and accepted the position of huntsman starting next season.
“The way Larry conducted himself, the way the hounds related to him, was poetry,” said Brian. “It was a fabulous experience just to watch him.”
“I remember seeing Larry some years ago at the Virginia Foxhound Show,” Brian continued. “Hounds from hunts all over were arriving at the kennels...nervous...running off...and there was Larry, calmly walking his pack through all the confusion, without a care.”
Talk about experience. Hugh Robards has spent fifty-three years in hunt service. He whipped-in to some of the legendary huntsmen in England—Brian Gupwell at the Eridge (later to become huntsman for the Duke of Beaufort), Percy Durno and Captain Ronnie Wallace at the Heythrop, and Charlie Wilkin at the Wynnstay.
Upon Captain Wallace’s recommendation to Lord Daresbury, MFH of the County Limerick Foxhounds, Hugh moved to Ireland to take up his first post as huntsman. There he remained for twenty-seven seasons showing world-class sport to the Irish—none keener—and visiting sportsmen and women from around the globe.
After parting from the Limerick, he came to the U.S. to help rebuild the Rolling Rock Hunt (PA), remaining there as Master and huntsman until 2007. From Rolling Rock he moved to the Saxonburg Hunt (PA) where he served as huntsman until coming to the Middleburg Hunt last year as first whipper-in to huntsman Barry Magner. (Barry is moving to Australia this season, and we hope to catch our readers up with him in another article.)
“Hugh continually reinvents himself because of his love for his work,” said Juli Robards, his wife. “Transcending change is one of his great qualities, and I’m unabashedly one of his biggest fans!”
Those who have hunted behind him are big fans as well. Tony Leahy, who grew up in Ireland, is first vice-president of the MFHA and serves as Master and huntsman of the Fox River Valley Hunt (IL). “Hugh is without question one of the best huntsmen I’ve seen,” said Tony. “I remember hunting behind him at Limerick, and I’ve seen him do amazing things!”
What does a huntsman do when he finds himself in the autumn of his prime? The same question faces every athlete who commits his or her life to a sport. Some carry on doggedly until they are unable to continue or until their career is terminated by outside forces. Others find a path to contribute their experience and knowhow to the benefit of a new team in a different way.
Cathy Eising has a twenty-month-old foxhound out of her mother’s rescue foxhound, and she works at his training diligently. She writes:
“I am seeking advice on how to raise the foxhound as a family dog, especially off-leash training. Will he ever stop chasing wild things and pay attention to me outdoors? I have done a lot of obedience with him, and all areas are coming well except off leash outdoors. He needs to run and I can't walk fast enough or long enough for him to get properly exercised, so I need to trust that he will come when called under all circumstances (including around deer). I'm very dedicated and work with him every day.”
From the founding family—the Mellons—to the professional huntsman’s family—the Stickleys—the Rolling Rock Hunt nourishes its family connections.
Today, two Rolling Rock Masters represent the founding family: Mrs. Armour (Sophie) Mellon and Christina Henderson, granddaughter of hunt founder Richard King Mellon. Christina’s daughter, Kendra, thirteen, helped with hounds at the Virginia Foxhound Show this year and showed in the Junior Handlers Class—a fourth generation of the Mellon family involved in the hunt.
Mark Stickley, the current Rolling Rock huntsman, whipped-in to his father Lovell Stickley, who came to Rolling Rock as kennel huntsman in 1956 and carried the horn from 1961 to 1977. Today, Mark’s daughter Virginia whips-in to Mark and worked side-by-side with her dad showing hounds at the Virginia Foxhound Show—a third generation of Stickleys working with hounds at Rolling Rock.