Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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rhoda hopkins2Rhoda Hopkins, one of the first female professional huntsmen in North America, died peacefully on June 18, 2017. She was eighty-eight.

Rhoda hunted the Fairfield County Hounds (CT) for fifteen years, from 1979 to 1994. Her pack of Penn-Marydel foxhounds provided excellent sport in the field, and excelled at the hound shows, winning the Pack Class at Bryn Mawr for seven consecutive seasons. Hers were the first Penn-Marydels I ever hunted behind, and I remember galloping as fast to keep up as I have behind any other pack of foxhounds since.

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Remembrance

rhoda hopkins2Rhoda Hopkins, one of the first female professional huntsmen in North America, died peacefully on June 18, 2017. She was eighty-eight.

Rhoda hunted the Fairfield County Hounds (CT) for fifteen years, from 1979 to 1994. Her pack of Penn-Marydel foxhounds provided excellent sport in the field, and excelled at the hound shows, winning the Pack Class at Bryn Mawr for seven consecutive seasons. Hers were the first Penn-Marydels I ever hunted behind, and I remember galloping as fast to keep up as I have behind any other pack of foxhounds since.

After leaving Fairfield County, Rhoda moved to the Old Chatham Hunt (NY) and served as professional huntsman there until hanging up her horn in the spring of 2000. Photojournalist Lauren Giannini interviewed Rhoda a few years ago for an article about women professional huntsmen. An excerpt:

“I joined Fairfield and became kennel whipper-in,” recalls Hopkins Root. “They had Penn-Marydels, my first love. I was driven. I loved being huntsman. It was a way of life, to the exclusion of everything else."

"It was much harder to prove yourself then."

When the huntsman decided to retire, she was approached by Master Villa who asked if she thought she could hunt the pack. Her answer was an unequivocal yes. Several hunt members said they would leave if a woman hunted hounds.

“I never felt any harassment. Once, while talking to Vince Tataglia [Rombout’s huntsman during the era of MFH Betty Davis], I said that I thought anyone would have antipathy for me as the only woman huntsman. He said, ‘Oh no, you are a huntsman!’ That was the greatest thing anyone could say to me.”

As well-known as Rhoda became in the foxhunting world, broader recognition came to her on the tennis courts here and abroad much earlier. She played under renowned tennis coach Mercer Beasley and was a member of the Junior Wightman Cup Team and the Sears Cup Team.

She ranked eighth in Ladies Singles in the U.S., won the Canadian National Singles Championship and the Championship of Mexico. She played at Forest Hills and Wimbleton and was a member of the West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills, the River Club (NY), the Westchester Country Club, the Greenwich Country Club, and the Everglades and Bath and Tennis Clubs in Palm Beach (FL).

In 1952, Rhoda married polo player and club developer Major Frederick C. Collin in Palm Beach. She maintained houses in Purchase (NY), Palm Beach, New York City, Detroit, and Patras in Greece. Rhoda built and operated Open Gate Farm in Newtown, Connecticut as well as the Polo Grounds Shopping Center in West Palm Beach. The farm was sold in 1978.

After retiring from her career as huntsman, Rhoda moved to Stonington, Connecticut and became a volunteer at the Mystic Seaport Museum. In January of 2002, she was named coordinator of Volunteer Services at the Museum and in January 2012 became associate director of Volunteer Services.

She married Dr. Howard Frank Root in September, 2006, living in Mumford Cove until moving to Bishops Cove and subsequently to Stone Ridge in Mystic where she volunteered as coordinator of The Country Store. Her boat, Hoagie III, is docked at Mystic Marine in Stonington.

A Celebration of Rhoda's Life will be held at noon on Saturday, July 8, at Ram Island Yacht Club.

In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to The Ames Fund, Ram Island Yacht Club, 60 Front St., Noank, CT 06340.

Posted June 21, 2017

* The first female professional huntsman was probably Betsy Park, who hunted the Millbrook Hounds (NY) beginning in 1977.

 

 

jef murdock.kleckNewly appointed Old Chatham MFH Jef Murdock tells how it feels to hunt hounds for the very first time. / Nancy Kleck photoOn a recent Saturday the Old Chatham Hunt (NY) had a rare hunting day. Hounds ran their first coyote hard for an hour before huntsman and staff had to stop them from going into country where it was difficult to follow. Hounds then found another coyote and ran it through their wooded country in fine voice for another forty-five minutes to finish an excellent day of hunting. What’s remarkable about that? one might ask. Nothing, except that the huntsman had never hunted a pack of hounds before in his life until that day.

At the end of last season, Old Chatham members made some difficult and controversial organizational changes in an effort to improve their sport. A new huntsman—Tommy Hopkins—was named, and a new Master—Jef Murdock—was appointed. Hopkins had been whipping-in for years and was familiar with the hounds, but Murdock, though he’d been following hounds as a field member for years, was better known for his skiing acumen—he owns the popular Butternut ski area in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts—than for his prowess with foxhounds.

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new englad.2012Grand Champion North Country Luna and (l-r) Jim Faber, judge; North Country huntsman Sandy Studer; Kendall Woodward; Owen Hughes, MFH, Norfolk Hunt; Vernon Studer, MFH, North Country Hounds  /  Sue Greenall photo

A Crossbred bitch rolled down to Massachusetts from the hills of Vermont and snatched the Grand Championship trophy from its habitual resting place at the venerable Myopia Hunt kennels. North Country Luna 2008 was judged Grand Champion of the New England Hound Show, hosted this year at the Berlin, Massachusetts home of Virginia Zukatynski, MFH, Old North Bridge Hounds on June 10, 2012.

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full_cry_largoFull Cry Largo, hunting back home, just after being judged top hound at the Belle Meade Foxhound Performance Trials. She still carries her number 17, which was painted on her for the competition. Adrian Jennings photoFull Cry Largo was judged top hound at the Belle Meade Foxhound Performance Trials held in Thomson, Georgia on February 25 and 26. Belle Meade Lifeguard was runner-up to Largo, and, with three hounds in the top ten, Belle Meade took top honors among the hunts. For complete results, click here.

“Largo's story is a great testament to how hunts and huntsman can work together to help each other out and find the right fit for hounds,” says  David Hyman, MFH and huntsman of the Full Cry Hounds (AL). “It's truly a unique fraternity.”

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