Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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ceremonies2.croppedArapahoe Joint-Master Mary Ewing introduces Marvin Beeman. /  Douglas Lees photo

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.

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ashland bassets1The Ashland Bassets  /  Susan Monticelli photoWhen 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.

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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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neil.amatt.kleckNeil Amatt, professional whipper-in, Piedmont Fox Hounds (VA): “Anticipation, punctuality, how you present yourself—all these things are drilled into you in the English system. You start in the kennels, and you have to really want it before you’re even allowed on a horse.” / Nancy Kleck photo

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.

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nafhc13.teresa.callar2013 North American Field Hunter Champion Greyland Woods, owned by Karen Mantz and ridden by daughter Teresa Croce, jumps to victory over Judge Jean Derrick's scarlet coat (Belle Meade colors). / Liz Callar photo

Blistering hot weather visited Virginia for the past four weeks. While not unusual this time of year, the length of the hot spell, with temperatures hovering in the high eighties and even reaching into the low nineties, has proved miserable to man and beast alike, but it failed to deter foxhunters who entered this year's North American Field Hunter Championships.

On Monday, September 30, the Championships began at Keswick. Hounds met at Glenwood, a fixture in the neighborhood of James Madison's Montpelier, outside the town of Orange. Contestants from as far away as Florida and Georgia traveled to compete in the event, as well as to enjoy early autumn hunting in Virginia. They were not disappointed. Keswick huntsman Tony Gammell provided a fine day of sport in the lovely rolling countryside as hounds ran across the nearby road, back again, and beyond the fixture into a scenic expanse of woods and cornfields. Afterward, everyone enjoyed a tailgate as five contestants were selected for the finals.

On Tuesday, October 1, hounds met at Owl Run Farm in Warrenton, home of Casanova Hunt Joint-Master Mrs. Joyce Fendley. Previously the home of Donna and Jack Eicher, huntsman at Rombout and later Farmington Hunt, the grounds include a lake and a cluster of graceful weeping willows out front. The residence and barns all exude the charm of old Virginia Hunt Country—weathered stone, stout board and batten, low eaves and metal roofs. A special surprise awaited the field this morning when shortly after casting hounds, an eruption in a cornfield revealed that hounds had encountered a black bear! Fortunately, the pack obeyed their orders to ignore the bear as it beat a hasty retreat. The remainder of the morning proved quieter, and as the field hacked in, Mrs. Fendley positioned herself, as she always does at the end of a hunt, such that she could personally thank everyone in the field as they passed by on their way to their trailer. This small but thoughtful act is just one of many that make hunting in Virginia so special and unique. It was a hot, thirsty, and tired field that gathered under a tent to drink and devour a delicious crab dip while recalling the excitement of having gone on their first bear hunt! This morning, six finalists were announced.

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