Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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bay cockburn.leesDouglas Lees photoBay Cockburn, ex-MFH, hard-riding huntsman, and former winning steeplechase jockey and trainer, died of complications from melanoma on December 25, 2013.

Confined to a wheelchair for the last fifteen years of his life as the result of a riding accident, Bay was an aggressive race rider and had been referred to as the Evel Knievel of all huntsmen. He represented the epitome of invincibility in the saddle until one fateful day, while exercising a hunter over a straightforward coop that he had jumped countless times, he fell and was left paralyzed from the chest down.

He stayed in the game as best he could, training steeplechase horses, and despite the wheelchair, he continued to live the only way he knew how: full speed forward. I saw him at the races one day propelling his motorized chair, rocking perilously over the lumpy ground across a hillside until it finally toppled over. Friends rushed to right him and rearrange him in his chair, and he continued his hurried progress to get a glimpse of his horse at the next fence. Just another of many falls to ignore. Bay maintained his training license and remained active through 2013.

Bay rode in sanctioned races and point-to-points from 1991 to 1997 with twelve sanctioned wins to his credit. I saw him steal a race down the stretch at the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point one year. He was lying second trying to overtake the leader. He anticipated just when the jock in first place would turn around to check on him. His body went quiet as if he had resigned himself to second place. The jock in front checked on Bay, was satisfied he had the race won, turned back to the wire and went to sleep. Bay got into his horse like a whirling dervish and passed his victim just before the wire.

bay cockburn and randy.leesBay Cockburn at a joint meet of the Loudount Hunt West and the Piedmont Fox Hounds. Piedmont MFH and huntsman Randy Waterman follows. / Douglas Lees photo

Bay hunted the Goshen Hounds (MD) from 1991 to 1994. “They were wonderful seasons,” said Goshen MFH Tom Pardoe. “His enthusiasm for the chase was infectious to those of us around him as well as to his hounds.  There never was a lack of excitement when Bay was in the field!”  

In 1994 Bay accepted a Joint-Mastership at the Loudoun Hunt West (VA), and he carried the horn there until his accident in 1998. He showed great sport and several of my friends and I became subscribers at Loudoun West to hunt behind him. He was always on the move. If hounds weren’t running, Bay was trotting on to the next covert—a man of action who transmitted his energy, his physicality, and his enthusiasm to his hounds.

The Equiery reported in 2011 that while Bay admitted to being overwhelmed by the support he had received from the community after his accident, he said, “They can only do so much for you. Then, you’ve got to do things for yourself. Basically, you’ve just gotta get on with life. Really, there’s no choice.”

A celebration of Bay's life will be held on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 3:00 PM in Buchanan Hall, Upperville, Virginia. In lieu of flowers, Bay asked that donations in his name be sent payable to the Hunt Staff Benefit Foundation: MFHA, PO Box 363, Millwood, VA  22646.

Posted January 2, 2014

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