Elvis the hound

with Horse and Hound

FHL Week, eMagazine

May 2, 2024

Here is your issue of FHL WEEK in PDF format. Thank you for being a valued FHL Subscriber!

This Week In…

…Blog

Better Living Through Titanium Road Trip, Part Five

The fifth stop on a road trip across the country to hunt with as many packs as my new titanium would allow was in Virginia.

…Hunt Reports

Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds 2024 Vixen Hunt

“Flight of the Valkyries” was an appropriate soundtrack for Mr. Stewart’s Vixen Hunt held in Pennsylvania and lead by Olympian Boyd Martin.

…Hounds

Photography I: Shooting Foxhounds at the Hound Show

Norman Fine’s 2019 article gives great advice on photographing hounds at the hound show.

…Our Hunting World

A Kiwi Hunting Adventure

Kristy Lathrop recounts her adventure hunting hare and jumping wire with New Zealand’s Eastern Southland Hunt.

…Remembrance

Charles William Lewis, Sr., 1940-2024

Sadly, one of the most charming and colorful Masters of the Belle Meade Hunt in Georgia passed away.

…Videos

Coyote Serenades in the High Desert

A wonderful video of a desert coyote voicing his opinions with hounds in the newly built kennels for Sierra Nevada Hounds in Nevada.

Coyote Serenades in the High Desert

Paulette Schneider, Senior MFH to the new hunt Sierra Nevada Hounds, saw this coyote in early April having a loud discussion with the hounds just outside the newly built kennels (about 30 minutes north of downtown Reno). The elevation is almost 6,000 feet. Turn your volume up to hear the beautiful voice of this coyote.

A Kiwi Hunting Adventure

gray horse jumping fenceline
Kristy Lathrop follows the field over a fenceline in the Marairua fixture. / photo credit Tania Clarke

Kristy Lathrop has been a member of the Fort Leavenworth Hunt in Kansas since she was a junior, where she also whipped-in. Her whole immediate family has colors with Fort Leavenworth, and her mother, Gayle Rue, is an ex-MFH. Last season Kristy helped design an educational platform for her hunt’s juniors to be successful for the junior field hunter championships, and it was impressive. She had the opportunity to hunt down under in New Zealand, and below is her hunt report.

Large group of horses and hounds in front of stately home
The Eastern Southland Hunt and their pack opened their season at the Marairua Homestead in Tuturau- New Zealand. / photo credit Tania Clarke

I am an educational consultant who lives in Colorado and visits schools all over the world. While the majority of my journeys are local to the United States, I sometimes travel abroad to chat with teachers and learn how other countries approach education. One of my most recent international trips was down to the Southern Hemisphere to visit schools on the South Island of New Zealand. 

I’ve been to New Zealand a few other times over the years and have heard about how incredible and unique hunting was in the area. Thus, I’ve always had my eye out for an opportunity to cap with one of their hunts. This year that opportunity finally presented itself. Before my most recent trip, I combed through the New Zealand Hunts’ Association site in an effort to discover when most hunts begin their seasons. It just so happened that the Eastern Southland Hunt (ESH) was having their opening meet on Sunday, March 10th just one day after I was scheduled to arrive in the country. I reached out to Jane Pullar, their secretary, to inquire as to whether they might be willing to let me cap and hire a horse for the day. Jane promptly put me in contact with their Master, Lynley Daly and Derek Brown, a past Master and lifetime member who also whips-in for ESH. Lynley was glad to have me as a guest, invited me to wear my colors from the Fort Leavenworth Hunt, and Derek made sure I would be mounted that day.

two women on horseback in field
Kristy Lathrop and one of her hosts, Tori Brown, pause at a check on a hilltop. / photo credit Tania Clarke

The Day Begins

My hunting day started off with a lovely Dunedin sunrise, followed by a drive across the Clutha River valley weaving in and out of small towns through banks of fog in the early morning until I reached Derek’s house in Clinton, where he and his family own Atorvia Performance Horses. I pulled up to their farmstead and was immediately greeted by a number of very friendly dogs along with Derek’s daughter Tori and her partner James. Tori is a newly minted lawyer and an accomplished show jumper. She and her partner were already hard at work washing tails and prepping tack for the day. I made myself useful as hastily as possible and took over the responsibility of braiding and grooming Kaiser, who was to be my mount for the day. Kaiser is a rangy gray warmblood and is one of their homebred performance horses. His usual responsibility is to serve as Derek’s staff horse, but he was graciously going to carry me in the field that day. I learned quickly that I wasn’t actually braiding – I was “plaiting”… and try as I might, I don’t think I ever quite figured out the right way to pronounce that action (it might be something like “plate-ing”, but I’m still not sure). In fact, we found ourselves asking one another to repeat sentences from time to time due to our accents and different words for objects and verbs, but it was all in good fun!

In a short period of time, we had all the horses groomed, braided, loaded into the horse van (which was another entirely new experience for me), and headed across the rolling countryside to our destination of Marairua, one of the Eastern Southland Hunt’s fixtures. Sitting in the horse van and gazing at the beautiful scenery outside my window was probably the first chance I had to reflect on the amazing adventure that I was on. Everything about the day reminded me of those countless mornings getting ready to hunt with my family and friends back home. Yet, at the same time, everything felt remarkably different. My anticipation and excitement was growing with every kilometer. I couldn’t believe that I was getting to have this experience with these incredibly friendly hosts.

Arriving at the fixture just added to the surreal feeling of the entire day. We were greeted by the secretary, I paid my capping fee, and we drove up a long driveway as a beautiful mansion came into view. This historic place is made available to the hunt on special occasions. Everything felt like it was straight out of a story book, and I was to be one of the characters. I met friendly member, after friendly member at the unmounted stirrup cup. Each person was genuinely welcoming and curious about my visit. They were everything that I’ve come to know foxhunters to be: kind, generous, and open. There was one difference however; in New Zealand, there are no foxes or coyotes. Instead, their object is the chase of the ubiquitous European Hare, which has overrun their countryside. Thus, I had to try especially hard to refrain from referring to my fellow enthusiasts as foxhunters – they are simply hunters. (I must admit that this was a difficult habit to break!)

My host Tori and I excused ourselves from the stirrup cup so that I could meet their pack and she could help the staff with the hounds. I stood by as Tori opened the door to their hound trailer, their pack leapt forth with all the gregarious joy and noise that we know so well in hounds. After some cheery greetings, they scurried over to Huntsman Churchy Parish, and I was able to survey them more clearly. The Eastern Southland Hunt’s pack is composed of Harrier Hounds, which are just as clever, handsome, and eager as the foxhounds we know and love, but stand about a third shorter than your average foxhound. The strong relationship between Churchy, the staff, and their pack was evident: they gazed up at him and were in anticipation of a day of fun and excitement. Clearly, the staff have spent hours upon hours on the ground and in the fields cultivating that relationship, and it was a joy to watch.

huntsman leading pack of hounds beside water
ESH Huntsman Churchy Parish hacks the pack across the pond to the first cast. / photo credit Tania Clarke

And We’re Off!

Once mounted, Tori and I joined the rest of the field in front of the beautiful home to wait for a picture of the day. pictures complete, we set off to hack to the first field for the first cast. Once again, I found myself marveling at the beautiful countryside, the bright green grass, the dark green cedar trees, and the wide country lane that cut through the forest and opened into the meadows. Huntsman Churchy wasted no time casting, and the pack immediately spread out, their noses to the ground and their sterns feathering in the air. It didn’t take long for one hound to find the scent and the excitement built as the rest of the pack joined in honoring him. We were immediately off at a gallop, following the pack as they worked the line in pursuit of the hare.

hounds jumping over fenceline
The ESH pack leaps the fence whilst on a line. / photo credit Tania Clarke

As we came to a fenceline, I suddenly remembered the lore passed on to me from friends of friends who had capped in New Zealand before: “Kristy, you do know that they jump barbed wire there, right?” Sure enough, looming before us was a wire fence that had been compressed in one area with a log over the top. I had no further time to contemplate this – the field was hot after the hounds and my seasoned mount was not going to be left behind! After that first jump, the fences came naturally. I learned to trust Kaiser to boldly (and safely) carry me over every obstacle.

fence in field
One of the infamous fences found in a classic New Zealand hunt fixture. (Yes- the field jumped many of those fences during the day!) / photo credit Kristy Lathrop

The country that we hunted that day was absolutely spectacular. It was full of gullies and hilltops, the former held hiding places for the hares and the latter provided every member of the field opportunities to watch the sport unfold. As the meet went on, I marveled at the hounds’ stamina and focus. Their conditioning was superb and they were tenacious about searching for line, after line, after line. In fact, I believe that I viewed hares at least five times that day! It was so easy to forget that this was their first formal meet of the season, because the pack was hunting in mid-season form.

Besides the hounds, the staff, the horses, the country… (and, well just about everything else) I was struck by the juniors in their field. There was quite a large turnout that day, and I believe about a quarter may have been juniors. The juniors were some of the bravest and strongest little riders I’ve ever seen – their ponies kept right up with the big horses and were just as bold over those wire fences. When I asked Master Lynley Daly about this, she remarked, “Oh yes, our huntsman Churchy is very encouraging to junior riders!” As someone who grew up as a junior in the hunt field, this warmed my heart. Being raised on the back of a horse and following hounds is one of the best ways to gain confidence and grace.

group of hunt riders walking horses in field
ESH Master Lynley Daly (in scarlet) leads her field in pursuit of good sport. / photo credit Kristy Lathrop

After the meet, we gathered around a large table in the shade of some trees and enjoyed a breakfast. Each member that day had brought a plate to share. I took it upon myself to bring along a couple of American staples: sliced veggies with a Ranch Dressing dip and a giant bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Yes, I recognize that this might not sound like the classiest representation of America, but I knew the dressing and candy wouldn’t have a problem clearing customs at the border, and I still haven’t figured out how to use Kiwi appliances for cooking! Additionally, neither Hidden Valley Ranch nor Reese’s are commonly found in their country, so folks thought it was a treat. I promise to do better next time, friends! In addition to my food contributions, I brought some framed photos of foxhunting in the US for them to add to their clubhouse. These were perhaps a classier gift, and just as well received since folks in New Zealand are just as curious about our sport as we have been about theirs.

huntsman and hounds in field
ESH Huntsman Parish casts his pack in the countryside of the Marairua fixture. / photo credit Tania Clarke

Looking Back

As I write this, it’s been a little more than a week since my adventure and it still seems extremely surreal to me. I was half the world away doing something I love, and everything about the day felt just a little bit different from my experiences here in the States, but the core was the exact same. Just like us, Kiwi hunters are passionate about preserving and growing their sport. Their long-established traditions have been passed down for generations, just as we still look to the writings of William P. Wadsworth, MFH and Alexander Mackay-Smith, MFH to honor our heritage as foxhunters. Most importantly, my experience in New Zealand showed me that hunters, whether they be after foxes, coyotes, or hares, are the same everywhere. They are confident horsemen, enthusiastic sportsmen, and ready to welcome anyone who has similar inclinations into their community. I will forever be thankful to my hosts at the Eastern Southland Hunt: Lynley Daly – Master, Ashleigh Smith – Deputy Master, Jane Pullar – Secretary, Derek Brown – Past Master/Whipper-In and his daughter Tori, and all of the members from ESH and other hunts across the South Island. These generous people gave me a gift of indelible memories that I will treasure always. I hope to one day be able to return the favor!

Photography I: Shooting Foxhounds at the Hound Show

canadian17.toronto north yorks blue ridge wentworthThe conformation of Toronto and North York’s Blue Ridge Wentworth 2015, Grand Champion Foxhound at the 2017 Canadian Foxhound Show, is clearly seen in this well-posed photograph. / Denya Massey photo

This may come as a surprise to new hound show photographers, but…

…your primary purpose at the hound show is to produce hound portraits that clearly display the conformation of those hounds recognized by the judges as superior examples of the breed.

Secondary purposes may be to include the smiling faces of the Masters, handlers, distinguished trophy presenters, and judges, along with candids of attendees enjoying the day and the action in the ring. Those are nice things to do. But they’re secondary. The hound show is about the hounds.

There are those experienced photographers who are expert at photographing four-legged animals, both hounds and horses. The basics are pretty similar. Editors of sporting magazines—those who cover dogs, hounds, horses—love those photographers. They make us proud by providing images for publication comparable to our unforgettable prose. So, here are some basic guidelines for shooting hound champion portraits at hound shows, even those that include all the smiling faces.

fox river valley nightcap 2009The incomparable Jim Meads captured this portrait of Fox River Valley Nightcap 2009 when she was judged Grand Champion at the Southern Hound Show in 2011.

For hound show organizers who engage photographers for their shows, may I suggest providing these guidelines to any new photographer before the show. How else is any new photographer to know his or her job?

To the photographer, then. Since you are carrying a camera, I will assume you know all about light, shadow, composition, ugly backgrounds, shutter speed, apertures, and such. Here is only what you need to know about shooting a hound portrait for the benefit of houndsmen.

And, yes, it is the duty of the handler to present the hound properly to the photographer. But since live animals tend to move around, the photographer needs to know when to shoot, and when not to shoot the image.

1. Face the hound squarely broadside (or close to broadside). Ideally, you and your camera want to be perpendicular to the axis of the hound. If the photo is taken from too much of a forward angle or too much from a rear angle, perspective may distort the hound’s conformation.

2. Crouch down closer to hound level so perspective doesn’t foreshorten the legs.

3. The foreleg closest to the camera should be vertical to show the hound’s front end angles (shoulder to point of chest to elbow) best. If the pose isn’t ideal, at least one of the front legs should be vertical. The other foreleg may be either vertical or slightly behind.

4. The hind leg closest to the camera should be vertical from the hock down (to show off the shape of the gaskin and a well let-down hock).

5. Head and neck should be in profile, extended naturally.

6. Otherwise, don’t shoot! Instead, make a courteous suggestion to the handler. As in, “Could you please stand your dog up?” Or kind words of your own choosing, if you want to stay friends.

This is the ideal pose for the hound. The shot available to you will not always be ideal, but a study of the photos accompanying this article should give you a standard to strive for. There is even some leeway in less than ideal poses that still result in useful shots.

Photos that accompany hound show results on the MFHA website or in feature articles should show the hound to its best advantage, and hound show organizers should be sensitive to this. The photo should help show off that foxhound to Masters, hunt staff, and breeders so its desirable characteristics can be evaluated for their own breeding program, and to all foxhunters wishing to train their eye to a standard of correct conformation. That’s the reason for the hound show.

So much for a discussion of the classic foxhound portrait. Photo/journalist Lauren Giannini agrees with these basic guidelines. She also has a few rather more sophisticated tips. Giannini writes:

“If you want people to move closer together, make sure they move their feet. Countless photos get ruined by not insisting that they shuffle closer together and pack up, instead of leaning towards each other so that the awards photo brings to mind the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“The lovely, ancient trees at Morven Park create shade for hounds and humans, but wreak havoc when it comes to contrast and shadows. There is no easy solution, but sometimes in broad daylight, bouncing flash—an index card taped to the head of your flash—can help even things out without causing redeye or making the photographer go crazy editing.

“Re digital editing systems, some are better than others, but they also cost way more. Some professionals might use the basic built-in editing tools found on macbooks for a simple crop or easy exposure correction. For anything more complicated such as shadows, cloning (to get rid of a blue loo or something undesirable in the background), more sophisticated software is your best bet. Photoshop Elements (for PC or Mac) offers good value for your bucks.

“Sporting action—hound show candids, foxhunting, and other forms of horse-related motion—always entails shooting by the seat of the pants. At a hound show, most of the classes take place in rings, so you don’t have to worry about interfering with horses and riders, but it’s a tough stage to get great photos.

“The legendary Jim Meads does all his shooting with a fast 50mm lens. It doesn’t matter if he’s out on the downs chasing after the hounds, chasing after Charles James, or a drag, or at a hound show, he gets his shot. Oh, to be that skilled with a camera and fixed focal length lens that works like the naked eye….but that’s Jim Meads.

“The rest of us have to find our best focal lengths and hone our eyes to capture the important moments.

“Don’t get crazy. Keep your editing simple. Remember, it’s the hound that counts. But you want to try to make sure that the humans look nice, too. The hunt staff will be delirious with the hound’s achievement, so they’re easy. If Masters are in the frame, you want to try to make sure they look nice. Some of the best win photos are like a tableau—hound and handler posed beautifully with a backdrop of people, talking and smiling to each other and to onlookers.

“If you happen to photograph hounds showing off lead in any situation, the money shot is when the hound is leaping through the air like a dolphin as it chases the biscuit. Easy to capture if you have a motor drive and crank up your shutter speed: just hold down the shutter button and keep your camera steady at all times, but especially while panning.

“Editing is a very subjective endeavor. The goal is an attractive photo that shows off the winner and/or champion in the best possible way so that the image educates or affirms the eye of the beholder, who will agree with the judge, ‘Ahhh, yes, such a beautifully put together hound!’”

Posted May 31, 2018

virginia2016.crop.gr chNancy Kleck captured this excellent portrait of Midland Striker when he was judged Grand Champion at Virginia in 2016. This is a detail from a larger photo which includes all the smiling faces, but huntsman Ken George still made certain his hound was standing properly for the photo.

*reprinted from a previous article (2019) in FHL*

Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds 2024 Vixen Hunt

hunt horses and hounds on road
Mr Stewarts Cheshire Foxhounds leave the meet / photo credit Mark Jump

On International Women’s Day, Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” played from a boombox at the meet as the hounds lead the hunt away to start the day. Jumping four-plank fences as they came, led Olympian Boyd Martin, the only man out that day, over 120 women enjoyed a great day in timber country putting three foxes to ground.

On March 8, Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds held a Vixen Hunt as a fundraiser. Located halfway between Lancaster and Philadelphia, the meet was held at Lydia Bartholomew’s Plumsted farm in West Marlborough Township, Pennsylvania. Plumsted Farm is the home of the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup*, held in the fall, and the meet was on the timber course. The country is rolling farmlands, with lots of wood fencing that line the paved roads. This means that most of the jumping efforts land and take off very close to or on the blacktop.

hounds jumping fence
Mr Cheshire Foxhounds jumping the fence / photo credit Mark Jump

Timber racing is strong in the community, and many of the hunt horses are ex-timber horses. The hunt doesn’t build many coops like most hunt clubs. Instead, they build post and rails to mimic the timber jumps. And if a fox crosses the fence where there is no purpose-built jump, then the hunt will routinely jump the four-plank fence “as it rides” instead of going out of their way to a built jump.

woman taking selfie in front of line of hunt riders
Rachel Wilkoski takes a selfie with First Flight / photo credit Rachel Wilkoski

The charity meet, benefiting the hunt club, was organized by Rachel Wilkoski. This is the second year that Rachel has organized the event with its biggest asset, Olympian Boyd Martin, as the only man in the field.

Boyd Martin in red coat leading group of hunt riders on horseback
Boyd Martin / photo credit Mark Jump
Boyd Martin jumping hunt horse over fence
Boyd Martin / photo credit Mark Jump

Martin is a three-time Olympian, two-time CCI5* winner, and two-time Pan American Games team gold medalist and individual gold medalist for the sport of Eventing. He is currently listed as third in the world rankings of Eventing riders. Originally from Australia, Boyd is a member of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds and lives nearby.

The huntsman for the day, Mary Taylor Miller, fit the vixen casting call and was in her first season as a professional huntsman. She took the pack of mostly crossbreds out on a beautiful clear day to hunt red fox (coyote are considered riot). Approximately 120 ladies were split into two jumping fields and a non-jumping field.

two women riding hunt horses
Nicolette Merle-Smith and Toni-Ann Gambale / photo credit Mark Jump

I came to Pennsylvania from Virginia with my friends Nikki Merle-Smith (wife of Keswick Hunt Club’s MFH Joel Merle-Smith) and Toni-Ann Gambale (professional whipper-in for Keswick). We hauled up horses for Nikki and Toni-Ann to Cheshire member Cindy Buchanan’s Mercer Hill Farm. One of the great ways that Rachel organized the Vixen Hunt was to set up every guest with a Cheshire member to have a place to stay and to stable their horses.

Cindy’s place was beautiful. The horses were settled in paddocks, and we stayed in her children’s rooms in her house. The night before, as I was getting ready for the welcome cocktail party, I saw Cindy’s husband, Richard, leaving by himself. I asked him if he was meeting us at the party, but he said no. “They take this vixen thing very seriously. No men are allowed at the party, so I’m taking the husbands of the guests out to find our own dinner.”

On the way to the cocktail party, a red fox ran in front of our car. It was to be a good omen for the coming day. At the party, I met several new faces who told me that this would be their first foxhunt. The ladies had flown in from as far away as Los Angeles and Idaho just so they could ride with Martin. When I found them the next day at the Hunt Tea, they had grins on their faces. What a great introduction to our sport.

plumsted farm sign
Farm sign / photo credit Gretchen Pelham

When we arrived at Plumsted Farm, there was a line of trailers waiting to check-in. There were three stops, the first was Lydia Bartholomew, the owner of the farm, welcoming each rig to Plumsted. The next two stops were to check that the hunt cap had been paid and the liability release had been digitally signed. It was so well organized and fast, I was impressed.

As we rode up to the meet, held on the steeplechase course next to one of the large equipment barns, men were handing out glasses of port or champagne from silver trays. Several ladies arrived turned out to the nines in sidesaddle habits. Boyd Martin arrived mounted on a borrowed horse from a whipper-in. He had on his Olympic scarlet with the USA patch and the USA Olympic hard-shell helmet adorned with rhinestones. It was announced that he would be leading the Field, but as the hounds were hacked away from the meet I heard him joke, “Do I have to ride up front?”

reins lifted above neck of horse
Through the reins / photo credit Gretchen Pelham

Martin never did keep his honorary position of First Flight Field Master, as he kept dropping back to various positions with First Flight. And at every check, he would visit the other Flights to take selfies and chat up the riders. Martin is obviously a pro at being a celebrity. He was always charming and friendly without being awkward or impatient.

two women riding hunt horses
Karen Sargent and Gretchen Pelham / photo credit Mark Jump

I was in the Hilltopping field with a good friend Karen Sargent, who is a member of both the Woodbrook Hunt Club in Washington State and Belle Meade Hunt in Georgia. She splits her time between homes on each coast and in Ireland. We all want to grow up to be Karen. Karen makes the River Maigue Design stock ties, and they are just like her personality: colorful, fun, classy, and impossible to ignore. She was riding her medium pony Cricket, a Welsh cross that was pure energy. Throughout the day, I would check for Karen by thinking, “Where is my Cricket?” And there they would be, Karen and Cricket just bouncing in and out of frame.

Boyd trying to stay in the saddle / photo credit Erica Rose

I hired a horse from Erica Rose, a New York staple in the livery business. She had a rough time this spring with both her horse trailer and truck being totaled due to freaky mechanical issues. I met Erica down in Georgia with Belle Meade, where she spends the worst of the winter. She hired out for me a lovely large, paint pony mare named Sophie. Out of all the hirelings I had on the trip, this mare was one of the best I rode. She never tailgated, never jigged or pulled, and was foot-perfect over logs and creeks. She was lovely. She had only one flaw – and it was an unwillingness to stand still when I tried to get a photo with Boyd Martin. My mare almost pulled Martin out of the saddle! The only horse more allergic to standing still for a selfie was Cricket.

The day’s hunting was three red foxes put to ground. The first fox was found soon after leaving the meet and was put to ground in front of all three fields. The earth was in the middle of a fallow cornfield, so it was very easy for all 120 riders to watch the hounds mark the ground. The next fox was eventually put to ground in an old pipe. We in Hilltoppers watched the second red run alongside of us while we were stopped in a pasture. The red ran past all of us, and when he had passed the field master, he laid down by a fence row to rest and watch us. When the hounds got close, he slipped under the fence and disappeared from our view. He was put to earth in the pipe a little later. The third fox was put to ground in a quarry, but Hilltoppers missed out on that view.

Fields hack home / photo credit Gretchen Pelham

Despite the large number in the Hilltopper field, there was almost no chaos with out-of-control horses. The jumping fields, however, had some issues with fallen riders unused to the jumping efforts over upright panels landing on paved roads. The roads were extra slick, and I discovered that the mare I was on had no borium welded to the bottom of her shoes. Her imitation of Bambi on ice was not comforting. I had to be very careful with my balance when we trotted downhill so I didn’t pancake on blacktop with my titanium spine.

woman riding sidesaddle on hunt horse
Amy Magee, winner of the Best Turned Out / photo credit Mark Jump

The Hunt Tea was held in the large equipment barn at the meet. There were several vendors in the barn. The boombox has switched from the “Flight of the Valkyries” to girl power songs, ala the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child. Boyd Martin stood on a box to make the announcements and thank yous. Martin also gave out the awards of the day. Best Turned Out went to sidesaddle rider Amy Magee (who was also the vendor for Black Diamond Designs) who rode in First Flight. Youngest Vixen went to Cheshire member Adlai Kaplan, 11 years old and in her first season of hunting. The favorite thing that her pony, Harry, likes to do is to go fast. Appropriate since she started in Second Field but moved up to finish in First Field. There was also a prize for the best hat at the Tea.

Nikki Merle-Smith with Boyd Martin / photo credit Nicolette Merle-Smith

Boyd Interview

Did you foxhunt in Australia? No, the first time I hunted was with the Cheshire, and I just thought that it was a bunch of old ladies riding around the countryside. And then the first jump I saw was a big four-railer. My eyes lit up, and I couldn’t believe what you guys do out here. So I joined the Cheshire Hunt and haven’t looked back since.

How many Vixen Hunts have you done? This is my second Vixen Hunt.

What did you expect it to be? It’s been fantastic. As the only guy out there with 120 ladies, it’s very flattering.

How would you compare foxhunting to Eventing? It’s the same principle. The sports have a lot of similarities with the galloping and the fences. In Eventing, we get to walk to the course ahead of time, and then we complain about the ground if it’s not perfect. But in hunting, you really got to ride to the conditions.

Vixen Tea with Boyd Martin / photo credit Mark Jump

Martin wasn’t the only celebrity at the Tea. His wife, Silva Martin, is a well-renowned Grand Prix dressage trainer. When Toni-Ann met Boyd, she told him she was a fan of his but loved Silva more. Boyd pointed and said, “Well, my wife is right over there”. Toni-Ann’s reaction was to immediately ditch Boyd and race to go meet Silva, her idol.

Full disclosure, I once wrote an article several years ago on how to fan girl stalk Boyd Martin. It was written as a joke. The Chronicle of the Horse originally agreed to run it, only to decline it later for being “too weird”. I’ve never been so proud of a rejection.

The Cheshire Vixen Hunt was a great event that I hope to attend again.

*The Pennsylvania Hunt Cup is a Timber steeplechase race with a distance of four miles and 18 fences, over fair hunting country. From its inception, it has been intended as a substantial test of both horse and rider and is one of just three 4-mile steeplechase races sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association.

Charles William Lewis, Sr., 1940-2024

man in red hunt coat
Charlie Lewis- exMFH for Belle Meade Hunt for the 2016 Opening Meet

I was saddened to hear about the passing of Charlie Lewis, the larger-than-life Master of Belle Meade Hunt.  My first memory of Charlie was about eight years ago when Tennessee Valley had its first joint meet with Belle Meade. At the meet, during announcements, Charlie invited us all to ride up front with him but cautioned us to be careful.  He said that a group from Virginia had come down the month before and four of them fell off on the first day.  He smiled and said in that slow, deep Geogia drawl, “We haven’t found those ladies yet, so keep your eyes open for ‘em!”

Belle Meade Fox Hunt became a passion when Charlie moved to Thomson, Georgia. He officially served as Master of the Fox Hunt for 20 years, but he spent 50+ riding in the hunt and acting as an unofficial ambassador. His enthusiasm for the animals, the land, and the Hunt camaraderie was contagious.

Charles William Lewis, Sr, 84, beloved husband of Mrs. Trudy Eidson Lewis, of Thomson, Georgia died on April 9, 2024, at his home. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma in June 2023.

A private graveside service will be held at Westview Cemetery. A public memorial service will be held at the Belle Meade Fox Hunt Barns, 3532 Wrightsboro Road, Thomson, Georgia on May 18, 2024, at 11:00 a.m.

Charlie Lewis was born on April 5, 1940, and was raised in Trenton, SC where he could often be found working in his parent’s store, The Trenton Variety, driving the school bus, or hanging out at the Trenton jailhouse where his grandfather was the Sheriff.

After graduating from Johnston High School in SC, Charlie moved to Washington DC to attend George Washington University and to work in the fingerprint department of the FBI. He enlisted in the US Army and served in the Military Police Division at Fort Bragg and Fort Gordon.

After marrying Trudy Eidson in 1960, they moved to Aiken, SC where he was a partner at Forrest Crown Planing Mills, a wholesale lumber company. Two years later the lumber yard was destroyed by fire. This led Charlie to a job with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division where he often went undercover and then testified against crime syndicates moving moonshine between Georgia and South Carolina.

After being badly burned during a still raid, Charlie took a job at Knox Homes in Thomson Georgia. Knox Homes became National Homes and then National Building Systems. During the almost 30 years he worked there, he held many titles including Purchasing Agent, Special Projects Manager, General Manager, Vice President, and finally President of Southeastern Division.

Charlie became a licensed auctioneer and appraiser while working for National Building Systems. He was one of the longest-active appraisers in the state of Georgia. He earned his real estate license and then developed, built, and managed many apartment buildings and rental homes around the CSRA. The Greater Augusta Association of Realtors recently honored him as both an original and one of the longest active members of their organization. His company, Carriage Lane Realty, Appraisals and Auction still has its office in the Carriage Lane Shopping Center which he built.

In the Augusta area, Charlie opened six locations of Crack Shot Pawn Shops. He was considered an expert in firearm appraisals as well as real estate appraisals, often testifying for the GBI and in eminent domain and tax appeals.

With the late James Wilson, Jr, he built The White Columns Inn in Covington, GA. He also helped organize several local community banks including McDuffie Bank & Trust and Citizens Bank & Trust.

Charlie had a lifelong interest in developing woodlands and farms. His dedication to saving and improving Georgia’s countryside earned him the Outstanding Conservation Farmer in 1986.

In 2015 Senator Bill Jackson awarded Charlie with a Resolution for his “high ideals, morals and deep concern for his fellow citizens; and the example he has made of his life.”

Charlie was a benefactor of many local organizations including the Belle Meade Hunt scholarship for First Responder’s children, the Belle Meade Hunt Foundation, and the Chuck Lewis Memorial Fund at the First United Methodist Church. One of his and Trudy’s favorite events to host at their home was the Wounded Warrior Fishing tournament. For over a decade, active and retired servicemen were invited with their families and caregivers for a day of fishing and relaxation. “It was a way to say thank you to the men and women who serve our country.”

Charlie was preceded in death by his parents, Richard and Kathryn Lewis, his son Charles W. Lewis, Jr. (Chuck), his brother and sister-in-law, Larry and Sue Lewis, and his nephew Chip Lewis.

He is survived by his wife Trudy Eidson Lewis, his daughter Kathryn Lewis (husband Stacy Schultz), and his grandchildren, Frances and Geb Schultz.

In lieu of flowers, memorials in his name may be made to the Belle Meade Foundation at PO Box 60, Thomson GA 30824, or to the church he and his family attended, Ebenezer Baptist Church, 275 Samuel E. Diggs Rd, Trenton, SC 29847.

Better Living Through Titanium Road Trip, Part Five

Keswick Hunt Club hounds with Prof. Huntsman Paul Wilson. Photo by Gretchen Pelham.

Virginia

I arrived in Virginia after driving up from the beach in North Carolina. The drive was easy if you didn’t include the two ladders that had flown into my fast lane, with the owners of said ladders running down the medium to fetch the wayward equipment. At over 70mph I had to dodge each ladder by weaving into the medium and then swerving back into my lane to avoid flattening the runners. Two separate ladders in one day! Thank god I wasn’t hauling a horse trailer.

I arrived at the 600+ acre farm outside of Charlottesville, Virginia owned by my very good friends the Merle-Smiths. Rosie and Grosvenor Merle-Smith were my joint masters at the Tennessee Valley Hunt in East Tennessee. Their house is a combination of two houses dating to the 1700s that were disassembled when Gro bought them. The two homes, one a two-story clapboard house that used to be a tavern (with a rumored George Washington stay) and the other a log cabin, were reconstructed as one structure. Their daughter Nicolette, with her husband Joel (who is a joint master of Keswick Hunt Club), also lives on the farm in the original farmhouse, which dates almost as old as her parent’s house.

Thornton Hill Hounds at the Chancellor Gate Fixture on February 23
Sperryville, Virginia at an Elevation of 450 feet in the Foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Nikki, Joel, and I hunted the next morning with Thornton Hill Hounds at their Chancellor Gate Fixture. We parked in the shadow of Old Rag Mountain (elevation 3,284) in the Shenandoah National Park. The weather was spitting rain on and off the whole morning, so most of us wore raincoats over our tweeds.

I rode Nikki’s main livery horse, WinterStormWarning (aka Breezy), a Thoroughbred whom Nikki also competes in eventing. He was a perfect gentleman who never tailgated or pulled. But we did manage his ride by making sure that he was in front of the mares that both Nikki and Joel rode to prevent him from jigging to keep up with his girlfriends.

The country is both pasture land and wooded mountainsides, with coops on the covertsides. We spent most of the time on logging roads up and down Walden Mountain (just shy of 1,000 feet elevation). There were large white, quartz veins that crossed the logging trails, along with granite and greenstone boulders the size of cars. We rode through thickets of mountain laurels and over shallow creeks.

The three of us went with the Hilltopping Field. Master and Huntsman, Beth Opitz, cast her pack of Penn-Marydels in the covert of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her hounds struggled with a cold line until we were almost back at the meet. Then they hit on a red fox just 200 yards from the trailers. They ran the fox for about an hour, going around and around for three big loops. Fox and hounds, in full cry, were seen racing across a neighbor’s front porch! First Flight got several views, including the porch run.

However, we in Hilltoppers were thrown out. But we did listen to that amazing hound music when we went up high to listen to hounds race around and around. You can tell when a pack is circling, as the sound roars so loud to raise goosebumps on your skin then fade slightly before coming roaring back.

My first hunt, Tennessee Valley Hunt, was started by Beth’s late father, Todd “Doc” Addis. He brought some of his famous Penn-Marydels down from Pennsylvania to provide the pack for Tennessee Valley. Penn-Marydel’s are my favorite hound; I love how they hunt, how they sound, and how they look. And to hear a full pack of PMDs again just made my heart sing.

Beth’s mom, Happy Addis, arrived at the hunt breakfast to hear how the hunt went. I was so glad to see her.

Keswick Hunt Club at the Two Over Two Fixture on February 24 Green Springs, Virginia at Elevation 470 feet in the Piedmont

Keswick Hunt Club Prof. Huntsman Paul Wilson at Two Over Two House. Photo by Gretchen Pelham.

The fixture name, Two Over Two, is the local name for a classic farmhouse style that denotes a two-story house with two rooms over the first floor two rooms. This hunting day I went out in the electric Polaris with Gro and Rosie (just returned from England) at the Keswick Hunt Club fixture that was very close to the Merle-Smith’s property. The fixture is located in the 14,000-acre Green Springs National Historic Landmark District, which puts every privately owned house and building within the boundary under the management of the National Park Service.

Paul Wilson, professional huntsman for Keswick, took their American hounds out on the chilly, overcast day for fox (coyotes are considered riot). The country was rolling farmland within the Historic District. Scenting was difficult that day, and the hunt stayed out just a couple of hours before calling it a day.

I stayed with Nikki and Joel in their house as Rosie and Gro were not yet back from a trip to England to catalog one of the largest hunting horn collections in England (Gro authored the book, “The Hunting Horn”). This meant that when Nikki, Joel, and I all got COVID within a few days of my arrival, our house was the COVID House. And Rosie and Gro’s house was the Fun House, admission only possible with a negative COVID test. COVID took me out for a week. I had plans to hunt with several other hunt clubs in Virginia, but none of that happened. And to add salt to the wound, I got the flu less than a week after testing negative for COVID.

Keswick Hunt Club at the Montpelier Fixture on March 4
Orange, Virginia at Elevation 335 feet in the Piedmont

Keswick Hunt Club fields. Photo by Gretchen Pelham.

It was a beautiful day at their Montpelier fixture. Founding Father James Madison’s Montpelier plantation house is a 2,650-acre property that is open to the public. The park hosts the annual Montpelier Steeplechase each year and is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

We parked on the back side of the steeplechase course. The day was very warm and the only dry day in several days of rain. Scenting was off, but that meant that the Hilltopping Field was able to stay up with the huntsman for most of the day. Nikki was leading Hilltoppers, and our field stayed with Paul more than the other fields. This day was also the last hunt for Keswick’s long-serving whipper-in Barclay Rives, who was retiring.

The country was pastureland and the woods of the Montpelier property. We rode around the marked hiking trails in the woods of the park.

Keswick Hunt First Flight. Photo by Gretchen Pelham.

I got to ride Nicolette Merle-Smith’s beloved homebred Fortune Cookie. She was picky, fresh, highly opinionated, yet very bidable at the same time. She was so easy to ride, despite her being hot and forward. And with a collected canter to die for, she was so comfortable! I loved her.

Next Nikki and I, with Keswick’s professional whipper-in Toni-Ann Gambale, hauled up to Pennsylvania to ride in the Vixen Hunt with Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds.  

At the Montpelier Fixture with Keswick Hunt Club. Photo by Nicolette Merle-Smith.
With Thorton Hill Hounds at Chancellor’s Gate. Photo by Nicolette Merle-Smith.