Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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New Conservative Government May Bring Vote on Hunting Act

UK Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom has consistently pledged to bring a free vote in Commons to overturn the hunting ban. It was part of her election plank as she sought to become Prime Minister in last summer’s election. Although she lost her election bid to current Prime Minister Theresa May, because Leadsom is head of the department in charge of the issue, she is still positioned to fulfil her pledge.

David Cameron made the same election promise before he became Prime Minister, but he never did bring the matter to a vote, fearing it would fail. The odds against are still overwhelming, but many Tories now fear that low ambition guarantees failure.

Current Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken in favor of foxhunting in the past, and her stiff support for other contentious government issues has given new hope to many Conservatives who wish to square off on the foxhunting issue. They chafe under the Hunting Act which they see as a Labour-inspired class assault on the countryside in the guise of animal welfare.

Tony Blair was Prime Minister at the time the Hunting Act was passed and implemented. Blair managed to leave hunting “banned and not quite banned,” and he admitted in his recent memoir that the Hunting Ban was a mistake. There appears to be renewed resolve among some well-placed Conservatives to force a vote on the issue, win or lose.

Posted September 20, 2016

Horses Can Learn to Read and Communicate

A Norwegian study recently proved that horses can quickly learn to read simple symbols and use them to communicate whether or not they wish to wear a blanket. The study was conducted with twenty-two riding horses of various breeds over a period of time during which weather temperatures varied from pleasant, to cold, to cold and rainy. After completion of the training process, each horse chose accurately and appropriately according to its individual desires over a test period of nearly a year.

Four days within the period were shown on a chart as examples. On pleasant days in May and August, all horses chose not to wear blankets. On a cold, drizzly day in April, fifteen out of twenty-two horses chose to wear blankets. On a cold, very rainy day in September, twenty of the twenty-two horses chose the blankets. Of the two un-blanketed horses that day, both chose blankets on a still colder, sleeting day.

To begin the study, three white boards were used to teach the horses to choose their preference. One had a horizontal bar in the middle (meaning, “put blanket on”), one had a vertical bar in the middle (meaning “take blanket off”), and one board was blank (meaning “no change”). The boards were introduced, one at a time, to each horse. When they touched the single board with their nose, they were rewarded with a piece of carrot, and the appropriate action was performed by the handler. It took just two weeks for the horses to learn the meaning of each symbol.

Then all three boards were mounted on a paddock fence, their positions continuously shuffled. Each horse would be brought to the paddock on a warm day covered with blankets and sweating. When they chose the appropriate symbol, they were rewarded and the blanket was removed. Each horse had to make the correct choice twelve times before moving on to the next step—a cold and uncomfortable day when they were brought outside without a blanket and presented with their choices. Finally, when they were brought out suitably dressed for whatever the weather—un-blanketed on a pleasant day or blanketed on a miserable day—they would receive the carrot if they chose the blank board, but no reward for any other choice.

A few horses were too smart, and tried to game the system to get more carrots. A couple tried nibbling on the boards, but eventually learned that this strategy didn’t produce more treats. Another horse apparently loved the attention of having blankets put on and off, so he kept choosing the all white board just to get changed! After a while he learned that changes had lasting consequences, like becoming overly hot or uncomfortably cold.

For a short video and more detail, click to see Karin Brulliard’s article in the Washington Post.

Posted September 24, 2016

Sewickley Hunt Will Raise Funds for Local Park

hartwoodHorse Show at Hartwood, 1932

Successful and long-lasting hunting establishments are those which not only provide benefits to their subscribers, but also contribute to and become an integral part of their communities. Like the Sewickley Hunt (PA), which will stage a demonstration fox hunt on October 9 to help raise funds for the Hartwood Acres Park in Allegheny County.

The park covers 629 acres just ten miles from downtown Pittsburgh. Hartwood is considered the crown jewel of the county’s park system, comprising nine parks totaling 12,000 acres. At Hartwood, hounds will follow a drag laid over the trails and fields, with funds being raised from the sale of tailgating spots in strategic areas for viewing. Funds will help the nonprofit Friends of Hartwood restore and preserve the historic stables at the former estate, the centerpiece of which is a stately Tudor mansion.

The thirty-one-room slate-roofed stone mansion was built by Mary Flinn Lawrence in 1927 and features design elements she and her husband John Lawrence had seen in a manor house in Broadway, England. The grounds of the estate were transformed by Mrs. Lawrence into an equestrian showcase of riding trails, show rings, steeplechase course, and stables.

The property was sold to the county in 1969. The mansion contains a collection of original English and American antiques. The park also offers a large-stage concert area where summer concerts and music festivals are held. Thirty miles of trails are available for horseback riding, walking, hiking, biking, and cross country skiing.

The hunt has never ridden at Hartwood, according to Andy Komer, MFH, but no problems are expected in traversing the country. Komer will talk to spectators about the hunt and its history, which spans nearly a century. The other three Sewickley Masters are Anne Metcalf, Diane Dubois, and Doug Christy. John Tabachka is the professional huntsman, and, as a multiple winner of the annual MFHA Horn Blowing Championship, could give a good demonstration of horn calls to the spectators as well.

Sewickley member Amy Giammattei, who serves as chairman of the Friends of Hartwood, suggested the demonstration as a fund raiser for preserving the stables. With stalls finished in varnished oak, it’s a project deserving of restoration, indeed.    

Posted September 28, 2016