Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

Subscribe RISK FREE for complete access to website PLUS
twice-monthly e-magazine.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17

The Purebred and The Mutt

With the kind permission of the author, here is the first chapter of The Great Hound Match of 1905 by Martha Wolfe. The Library of Virginia has selected Martha’s work as a potential Best Book of 2016 in the Non-Fiction category. Readers may cast their votes by clicking here.

higginson and cotesworth with houndsA. Henry Higginson, MFH, Middlesex Hunt, in derby and spats with huntsman Robert Cotesworth and his imported English foxhounds of the period.  /  Courtesy, National Sporting Library and Museum

     Storytellers claim that there is really only one story in the world: “A Stranger Comes to Town.” In this case, two strangers came to two towns in Virginia bringing with them their separate entourages—private train loads of friends and their horses, trunks of tack, boots, formal and informal clothing, food and wine, servants and of course their hound dogs. Neither Middleburg nor Upperville, Virginia, had seen the likes since J. E. B. Stuart established his headquarters at the Beverage House (now the Red Fox Inn) in Middleburg during the Gettysburg Campaign. Alexander Henry Higginson of South Lincoln and Harry Worcester Smith of Grafton, Massachusetts had determined that the Loudoun Valley in Virginia’s pastoral Piedmont was the best place to prove the relative worth of their chosen foxhounds.    

     It was November of 1905, the peak of foxhunting season across the Midlands of England and up and down the east coast of North America and these folks had come south from already snow-covered New England to the relatively mild winter in Virginia to hunt her plentiful red foxes. There was to be a contest, a Great Hound Match, between two packs of foxhounds, one English and one American. The English hounds carried, on their great stout forearms and deep chests, the monumental weight of centuries of foxhunting in England and were expected to make their hound dog ancestors proud of their New World conquest. The American hounds were expected to show those stodgy old Brits how it was done over here—with spunk and intuition, individuality, drive and nerve. Of course the dogs just wanted to chase a fox or two; it was their Masters who loaded the poor hounds and The Match, this moment in history, with the weighty question of worth.

Meeting Martha, Part IV: A Very Grand Finale

Intrigued by a photo of a British foxhunter with smoldering eyes and apparent ice in her veins, and sensing a story, Leslie Wylie reached out to its subject, the Lady Martha Sitwell, in the hope she could arrange for an interview. The next thing she knew she had accepted Martha’s surprise invitation to come hunting with her in England (see “Meeting Martha, Part I: How I Got Invited to Foxhunt with British Royalty”; “Part II: Darling, You’re Mad!”; and “Part III, I Got Ledburied (and Liked It).” What follows is Part IV, the final episode of Wylie’s epic weekend.

martha1Martha Sitwell and Winston at Saturday's VWH/Cotswold joint meet. / All photos by Leslie Wylie

Do you still have skin on the inside of your thighs?
Firstly, thanks for your well-wishes regarding my busted-up face and bum elbow. Good news: I had my arm checked out by the physio and nothing is broken — just a bone bruise, it turns out.

Meeting Martha, Part III: I Got Ledburied (and Liked It)

Intrigued by a photo of a British foxhunter with smoldering eyes and apparent ice in her veins, and sensing a story, Leslie Wylie reached out to its subject, the Lady Martha Sitwell, in the hope she could arrange for an interview. The next thing she knew she had accepted Martha’s surprise invitation to come hunting with her in England (see “Part I: How I Got Invited to Foxhunt with British Royalty” and “Part II: Darling, You’re Mad!“). What follows is Part III of Wylie’s epic weekend.

martha sitwell3.1See the girl on the chestnut toward the left who is pointing her horse straight at a 10-foot tall stand of sticks? That's me. / Viki Ross photo (http:/www.vikirossphotography.co.uk)

Breakfast of Champions
“So, let me get this straight: This is your first time foxhunting in the UK and you’re going out with the Ledbury?”

Around the fourth or fifth time someone asks me this, accompanied by a snort of laughter, I begin to feel a pinch of concern. I grew up hunting and have jumped plenty of proper-sized fences in my life but… it’s been a while. The Ledbury is widely regarded as one of the formidable hunts in the world. Was I in over my head?

On the morning of the hunt Martha comes floating down the spiral staircase into Manor Farm’s kitchen looking like she’s just stepped out of an antique foxhunt painting. Smartly outfitted in a canary vest and those vintage balloon-thigh breeches that no woman has been able to pull off since Jackie O, she exclaims “Good morning, darling!” then leans in conspiratorially.

Meeting Martha, Part II: ‘Darling, You’re Mad!’

Intrigued by a photo of a British foxhunter with smoldering eyes and apparent ice in her veins, and sensing a story, Leslie Wylie reached out to its subject, the Lady Martha Sitwell, in hopes that she could arrange for an interview. The next thing she knew she had accepted Martha’s surprise invitation to come hunting with her in England (see Part I, “How I Got Invited to Foxhunt with British Royalty”). What follows is Part II of Wylie’s epic weekend.

martha sitwellviki rossPhoto by Viki Ross (www.vikirossphotography.co.uk)

A Grand Entrance
When the American guest-of-honor arrives to a dinner party over an hour late accompanied by a complete stranger from whom she has hitchhiked a ride, most people of a certain social stature wouldn’t be amused—and understandably so. But the Lady Martha Sitwell does not fall into the category of “most people.”

To rewind: The hosts of the next day's meeting of the Ledbury Foxhounds (UK), the Leekes, had generously invited Martha and me to stay the night at their Manor Farm in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, so we’d be on-site for hunting the next morning. I was coming in from London and, because I am logistically challenged, I caught the wrong train and dug the hole even deeper by getting off at the wrong station.