Kathleen O’Keefe has been named Joint-Master of the Casanova Hunt. Many feel her appointment to be a natural progression for this accomplished horsewoman. O’Keefe takes the reins of one of Virginia’s oldest foxhunting clubs, expanding a lifelong love affair with horse and field sports.
O’Keefe, fifty-four and a native of Stephens City, Virginia, started riding when she was six months old in a wicker basket saddle, she says. A fourth-generation foxhunter, her late father, grandparents and great-grandfather were riders, and she grew up foxhunting with her grandmother at the Blue Ridge Hunt in Clarke County, Virginia. “I am especially proud of my father, Peter Drinkwater,” O’Keefe says, noting he won the Virginia Field Hunter Championship twice, a feat O’Keefe repeated in 2000 with her Thoroughbred field hunter Lord Hugh.
A countryman from Virginia, a veterinarian from Colorado, and a businessman from north Florida were honored by an appreciative crowd of well-wishers on the occasion of their induction into the Huntsmen’s Room of the Museum of Hounds and Hunting. Ceremonies were conducted at Morven Park, Leesburg, Virginia on Saturday, May 27, 2017. This was the evening before the Virginia Foxhound Show over the Memorial Day Weekend.
James Lee Atkins, Dr. G. Marvin Beeman, MFH, and C. Martin Wood III, MFH were selected by a committee of their peers for having carried the hunting horn with honor, courage, and distinction in hunting fields across North America in their lifetimes. The three men join a select club of just forty-one pre-eminent huntsmen so honored. The last inductions were made two years ago.
When not following foxhounds on horseback, many foxhunters and their like-minded friends can be found following their local basset or beagle pack on foot—a perfect way to continue enjoying sport and a country lifestyle. Any foxhunter who thrills to the cry of foxhounds and hasn’t yet heard a pack of bassets in full cry must try a day’s hunting behind these wonderful hounds!
Even after dismounting from the saddle on a Saturday, many still yearn to hunt on before returning to an office on Monday. There are others who have hung up their tack for various reasons, and some who have never hunted astride yet love being outdoors on fall and winter afternoons. For all these sportsmen and women, the Ashland Bassets—hunting the territories of the Casanova, Old Dominion, Orange County, and Warrenton foxhound packs in Virginia—have provided a welcome window through which to extend one's weekend enjoyment of the countryside and venery.
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.
With the start of a new season just around the corner, we bring back this article, first published in 2013, not only for the benefit of all new and aspiring whippers-in, but also for those field members who wish to appreciate all that happens in the hunting field.
Last season, after forty-five years of hunting, I witnessed a simple act of sophisticated whipping-in that left me shaking my head in admiration. For a huntsman or an experienced whipper-in, it was perhaps no big deal.
My hunt fielded an all-new professional staff last season—huntsman and whipper-in—both of whom were learning the country on the fly. Hounds had checked in a thick covert, and we in the field could see them, heads down, trying to recover the line. The whipper-in came galloping by headed for the end of the covert.
“Over here,” called the Field Master, pointing to a concealed trail. “You can get in over here.”
The whipper-in came back, talked urgently to the Field Master, then turned his horse and continued in the direction he was originally going.
After the meet I asked him what that exchange was all about.