Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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Here you will find reviews of, selections from, and commentaries concerning books, many of which don't even appear on Amazon's radar. But what goldmines for the literate foxhunter!

Hunters' Moon

With this issue of FHL WEEK appearing the morning after the annual Hunters’ Moon,* we consider this poem especially appropriate!

hunters moon.gilbert hollidayIllustration by Gilbert Holliday

By Edric G. Roberts

The horizon, sapphire and amethyst,
   Pales in the East and soon,
Like a copper shield through the evening mist,
   Rises the Hunters’ Moon.

On the turnpike road every hoof-beat sounds
   Clear in the frosty air,
As the Whip jogs home with the straggler-hounds
   Jostling his weary mare.

The Great Hound Match of 1905: Alexander Henry Higginson, Harry Worcester Smith, and the Rise of Virginia Hunt Country

This book will be launched at the National Sporting Library, Middleburg, Virginia, on Sunday, November 8 at 2:00 pm. Author Martha Wolfe will speak and sign books.

Review by Martha A. Woodham

great hound matchThe Great Hound Match of 1905: Alexander Henry Higginson, Harry Worcester Smith, and the Rise of Virginia Hunt Country by Martha Wolfe, Lyons Press, 2015, Hardcover, 224 pages, $22.95Before Virginia became the epicenter of foxhunting in the United States, two men staged a contest to determine which was hound was better suited for hunting in America—the heavy, biddable English hound or the ill-mannered American hound that ran like a screaming banshee.  

In The Great Hound Match of 1905: Alexander Henry Higginson, Harry Worcester Smith, and the Rise of Virginia Hunt Country, author Martha Wolfe sets a fictionalized version of this competition against the history of foxhunting in Virginia. She has written a wonderful account of the battle between two wealthy men—Higginson and Smith—with egos to match their fortunes, each adamant that his hounds were the best.

Set in an optimistic America just recovering from the 1893 depression, the match was very much a stuffy Old World versus the brash New. Against this background, Wolfe gives us a portrait of the vastly different men—Higginson, the gentlemanly foxhunter, and Smith, who liked his hounds intuitive, impulsive, independent, and to show “initiative...like any full-blooded American.” According to the author, “Smith and his [Grafton] hounds were mongrels—bold, forward, and independent to a fault. Higginson and his [Middlesex] hounds were the refined, reserved elite—passively aggressive, methodical, accustomed to queuing, happy in a crowd of equals.”

Wild Lone: The Story of a Pytchley Fox

wild lone2Everyone to whom I have recommended this book loved it. In Wild Lone: The Story of a Pytchley Fox, the reader experiences the sights and sounds of the woodlands by day, and the silence and stealth of the forest by night—not from our usual vantage point in the saddle, five or six feet above the ground, but down low, nearer the earth, where dry stalks of grass brush past our ears and our noses inhale the musky scent of decaying leaves.

Because the reader becomes acquainted with Rufus when he is whelped and gets to know him and his habits intimately, we feel his pain when he becomes caught in the wire snare and we root for him when pushed by foxhounds. We care about him deeply, because we know and respect him. Yet Rufus is an opportunist and kills whenever he can—birds, mice, hedgehogs, rabbits, chickens. He kills so often and so casually that we hardly notice. We feel nothing for these creatures—his quarry—because they are, unlike Rufus, anonymous.

The book’s message is revealed to us by a consummate woodsman: that life and death happen to every creature in the forest, mostly shortly after birth. Nature is harsh, but that is its way. And the pressure put on each species serves to improve the species, for only the best examples (and the luckiest) survive for a fulfilling time—as does Rufus.

The following excerpt, in which the author exercises his full powers of language and imagery, is quite lyrical. Yet, if an adventure story is what you prefer, I promise you won’t be disappointed by Wild Lone.

Cubbing

cubbing.aldinIllustration by Cecil Alden

by Duncan Fife

I wouldn’t change places with any man,
Were he powerful, rich, or wise,
As I stand in the early morning chill
While we wait for the mist to rise.
There are silver threads on the bracken fronds,
And a peaty tang in the air
That goes to the head like a draught of wine,
As we stand by the cover there.

If the creak of leather and clink of bit
Makes me yearn—well I’m not ashamed,
For I’ve got no horse of my own to ride,
And I don’t suppose I’ll be blamed
If I look around with an envious heart
At the satiny coats nearby,
At the twitching ears and the nostrils wide,
And the eagerly watching eye

That seeks to pierce through the curtaining mist
Where it clings to the dripping trees,
Concealing the cubs as they wait, alert,
For a chance to run. Then a breeze
So faint, so soft, that the glittering drops
Which hang on the bramble and thorn,
Are scarcely disturbed, but the low-lying haze
Dissolves at the coming of dawn.