Most hunts are beset by similar problems: what to do with old hounds, how to attract more members, how to pay the bills, how to train staff, how to train young hounds. Lynn Lloyd, MFH and huntsman of the Red Rock Hounds (NV), found that the solution to one problem provided the key to solving several others.
What to Do with Old Hounds
The average hunting life of a hound is perhaps six or seven years. That means it is retired from the pack at age seven or eight. Beyond that age, most hounds start falling behind the pack, lacking the foot and endurance to maintain the pace over a full hunting day.
But with several years of life still remaining for the retired hounds, most hunts are hard-put to expend their limited financial resources to keep and maintain them. And here’s where Lynn Lloyd found a way to turn a burden into an asset.
Lynn keeps her old hounds and makes them pay their way, doing what they love to do but without the stress of trying to keep up with the pack. She designates certain days as “Old Farts’ Days” and sends them hunting. They shuffle along at their sedate pace, noses to the ground, hunting for a scent. When they find a line that interests them, they do all the things the varsity pack does—just...much...more...slowly.
Lynn sends out a pack of only ten hounds on those hunting days. So even if the old hounds happen to get over-inspired by a hot line, the checks will be more frequent, and even the walk-trot field will be able to catch up.
Think for a moment of all the advantages to be derived by sending out, every so often, a small, experienced, steady pack of good hunting, albeit slow hounds.
How to Attract More Members and Pay the Bills
The occasional day with the old hounds can give children, beginners, non-jumpers, trail riders, the cautious, the elderly, the older horses, and the hope-to-bes a place in the hunt membership where they can experience the thrill of a real hound hunt. The field can keep up with and watch hounds at work—an experience totally lacking when riding in the third or fourth field on a normal hunting day! And generally lacking even when riding in the second field.
This is not to suggest that these second, third, or fourth fields may not be good fun on regular hunting days. Rather, it is to suggest that a special hunting day of this sort offers a new and different hunting experience to a group of prospective or retiring hunt members who are not generally catered to, but whose dues or capping money can be as good as anyone’s! Surely every MFH, Hunt Chairman, and Hunt Treasurer can think of people in their community for whom a special membership category or cap with the “Old Farts’ Pack” might have appeal.
When it comes to dues or caps, Lynn makes no distinction as to the which pack a person hunts with. “The pay is the same,” she says. “All members are equal. Except for the kids. They pay by bringing dog food. Even if it’s only a can. That way, they learn and understand that it takes something to keep hounds.”
Train Staff and Young Hounds
Lynn sends the old hounds out hunting once or twice a week and will sometimes include young hounds that might profit from a slow day with a steady pack. The old hounds not only teach the young hounds, but Lynn found they can teach staff as well.
“I usually send the old hounds out with a whip as the huntsman,” said Lynn. “What it teaches the whip about hunting hounds is just phenomenal. The whip begins to understand what the huntsman needs from them, which is a great benefit!”
When the whipper-in hunts the pack, Lynn doesn’t accompany them. “If hounds even heard my voice, they’d be confused,” she said. “And the whips don’t need me looking over their shoulders. They need to go out and learn for themselves. It’s a great education for them, and they love it!”
Just the fact that the old hounds are out in the field and visible often helps to find homes for those that really need retirement. “I put out the word recently about retiring an old hound, and just last week two people said they had an empty sofa at home!” Lynn said.
So keep some old hounds. Have a special day with them once a week, or on by-days. What a break for older riders who miss being up with hounds, for children who—generally relegated to the rear—will see hounds work for the first time, for the trail rider who yearned but never felt sufficiently adventurous, for the old horse to relive his glory days, for the six-year-old child on the lead line. Here’s a constructive way of introducing riders to the most illusive yet most inspiring dimension of foxhunting—the hounds. And think of all the other problems you might solve.
Posted September 4, 2014
This article by Norman Fine was published in the June 16, 2014 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.