ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE
The second half of our season was the best I remember since 1981. 1993 also enjoyed some good spots but once we slid into December, 2015 the good days piled up, the foxes ran and ran plus they showed themselves. The hounds made me and hunt staff very proud.
Deer season ended January 3, 2016. Usually it takes a week or 10 days for foxes to give up sitting tight. Boom. On the very day the deer hunters trudged home, the foxes shot out of their dens.
Valentine’s Day proved especially memorable. Hounds have a 17 mile run! That was what I clocked in the hound Tahoe. The pack actually ran more miles than that as they flew to Durrettown, came back half way, returned to Durrettown, then using the top of the ridge, headed back to Tea Time, occasionally dipping off the ridge for another run. We could see some of it and hear all of it.
As we could not hunt Foxden that day, the field finally turned back because that’s where the fox headed and circled in there for a bit. Maria, Mary and Becky were hard put to keep up but they wisely stayed out on 611, going into the uplifts and ravines once beyond the Foxden, but hounds, by that time, were so far ahead there was no way whippers-in or huntsman could possibly catch them. As you know, this is quite difficult territory even on a slow day.
Maria held up by Jim Klemick’s 611 gate and blew. Luckily, Tom Harvey drove to pick up mail and then into his property. He kindly opened the iron gates, and told the whippers in to go on in which they did. By now the mercury wasn’t creeping upward, it was starting to slip down. You could really feel it; Maria blew and blew as she returned to Tom’s open gate. It’s difficult for any hound to surrender a scorching line.
They began to trickle in. I thought they’d need oxygen masks but they looked good. Thank God for proper conditioning.
Tucker lagged behind. I sat by the mail boxes and waited. Half an hour later she walked down 611, a bit fatigued. I opened up the back of the Tahoe then realized I couldn’t lift her in thanks to my broken hip. As luck would have it, my wonderful neighbor, Ella Sue Parker, drove up 611 to pick up her mail. Seeing my predicament she hopped out of her car, lifted up Tuckers back end while I steadied the front. In she went. Ella Sue and I had a good laugh.
How many women do you know who would come home, nicely put together, get out and lift up a hound to help your neighbor? We have really good people in Nelson County and wonderfully understanding neighbors.
Tucker arrived at the kennels as John and Toot were wrapping up for the night. She was very happy to go inside as it was now cold. Lots of tail wagging. The miracle was no cut pads, no barb wire slashes. Some food, water and warmth and everyone fell asleep.
That is the longest hunt Oak Ridge has ever had in terms of miles covered and the longest one I have seen period.
Each succeeding hunt provided good runs, multiple views, all reds. The music echoed adding to the excitement.
February 20 we had a joint meet with Farmington at Reynolds Cowles, DVM and Evie, his wife, who could organize anything. Their hounds were in good flesh, drew so well. Footing, slick in parts, was mostly good, a little gushy in other parts it okay. Our visitors from Rombout Hunt went out with us Friday the 19th, then Farmington, then us again. Farmington spoiled everyone with their breakfast and good company. I particularly enjoyed watching the huntsman draw. I have not had the pleasure of watching him, he came last year (I think, time flies so). He made such good use of the territory, has an upbeat personality and the hounds hunted well for him. Good for Farmington.
As an aside, we have never had a blank day on our Wednesday afternoon hunts. Some slow days but not this season. Long runs, hard runs with people turning back for home once the sun sets and the temperature creeps into your bones.
The oddity was we had two 80°F days and hounds still pushed out foxes for good runs. That’s just unbelievable.
CLOSING HUNT – March 2, 2016
Dire predictions of snow and rain worried a few people but most foxhunters know that’s the best weather and indeed it were. The first cast, 10 AM, witnessed glowering skies, mercury in the low 40s. Raw but not bitter, a slight westerly wind did promise good scenting.
Hounds, cast, trotted up the hill, struck and didn’t stop screaming and running until 1:30 PM.
How to describe this spectacular day? Well imprisoned in the Tahoe, I listened intently at the first strike. Rode around to the back of that ridge and thought I heard the packs split. Sure sounded like they were on two foxes. The group closer to me circled twice then dipped down to the feeder box were Jimmy Carter’s, Mrs. Woods’ and my territory join. From there they took off again and the sound rolled away towards the south. I waited and in about 15 minutes the hounds came roaring back and were down below where the creek meanders. That creek, while not deep, has a good flow even in summer.
Sitting beside the ever diminishing hay bales, which we put out for the foxes to squeeze between if need be, two hounds began to climb the hill. Next, more followed. I should add here that what really squeezes between those old hay bales are mice and rabbits. Hounds ignored them, shot by me and dipped to the other side of the farm road. Then Maria blew and back they hurried down again to where there used to be a tiny wooden bridge over the creek. Floods have taken care of that and to the right of it is a nice little ford, sometimes muddy but always passable. Again, as I couldn’t see it, sounded like hounds were all together, now the music increased in volume.
So I backed out and drove down to the Standard Oil sign, beyond and parked up by the other hay bales with the two fox dens. Obviously, these foxes did not wish to waste money on gas. Why not just live across the street from the supermarket?
A line of hounds appeared on the top of Mrs. Woods’ high meadow, turned down into the pines and all in a line, noses down, speaking; they ran, trotted at times, turned back and snaked through the cutover. This was textbook stuff, hounds nearly nose to tail. They turned, headed back and finally wound up with me, then back down to the other creek which is a little bitty feeder creek, more room to fan out so they did. What beautiful work. The entire day saw them either in a line or running together if there was space. It truly was right out of a Nineteenth Century fox hunting book.
People began to return to the trailers in small groups. No wonder, they’ve been running since 10 AM. I did not see or hear one check. I heard slower going at times but the music was continuous.
We flushed out the three fox, maybe four and I think one was put to ground early and finally one was put to ground over on Jim Klemick’s. (This is my conclusion via hearing).
Maria headed for home but hounds struck again in the cornfield. Sounded like it for by now I was sitting at the lower barn, the shed row barn. And darn if they didn’t go away, heading north. The only route for a vehicle is to go up on 611. I did. I could still hear them so I paused at the pretty new house which is being built since we do have a fox that crosses there regularly. But no one came up through the ravine.
I heard them turn again back towards the south. I couldn’t hear how that happened but later learned that the entire pack headed for Jim’s most northern bridge. Thank God, Dee Phillips blasted up there and turned them back because 151 is close by. But turn they did heading back to the cornfield.
Finally, with efforts from staff, hounds gave up the line and walked out, hardly the worse for wear, I might add, and ambled out to the arena. Thence to the kennels. This is not only the best closing hunt we have ever had, it’s one of the best hunts we have ever had.
It’s a terrible thing to brag but our pack was super, the youngsters stepped right up to the plate. All worked as though of one mind. I was beside myself with excitement.
Congratulations to Maria, Dee, Becky Birnbaum, Candice and Sonia. (Did I forget anyone else who whipped-in that day?) As always, special thanks to John and Toot for their hard work and care. My happiest days are with “the boys” at the kennels or walking along with hounds joined by Maria, Sonia and Mary, when she can make it. In the past, Stuart was with us and I would like to think he was with us Sunday, March 20. He would have been so proud.
The kids get a month to six weeks off. Fortunately no one is foot sore, tore up or has burned through a lot of weight. We have a few hounds of high metabolism but even they look presentable and usually by season’s end they begin to have the “Tijuana look” as Judy Pastore would say. So whatever needs to be done at the kennels, we start now.
It’s a joy to stop by and chat with the hounds who exhibit such curiosity about what one is doing. I think they all know how well they hunted this season and they’re probably blabbing among themselves.
“Well, you know I pushed out the first fox.” Mustard might say.
“Oh, dream on, girl. You know it was Metal.” Magnolia, her sister, will sniff.
On and on, they chatter, reliving the season. Kind of like us.
HOUNDS AND THEIR FRIENDS
Priscilla Friedberg and Jim Finn still send a huge box of hound cookies each month. Hounds love their cookies. We have to hide them in a safe place or all would be gone in the batting of an eye.
All the M’s have been outstanding in their second full season. They are also beautiful and beautiful movers, too.
Lilac, old Bywater’s blood, is not exactly beautiful but she possesses a rangy body and can cover distances with ease. You can go to the bank on this hound and all of staff loves and respects her. She’s easy to pick out in the pack and gives good voice, too.
I know it’s harder for field members to identify hounds by voice and staff can’t always do it either, but some hounds are distinctive, high piping trills, others have basso profondos. We’ve got the full chorus and that’s quite helpful. If all sounded the same it would be harder for us and you know it’s hard enough during cubbing when you can’t see much and the leaves on the trees soak up the sound.
A few hounds will be retired with honor. As most of you know, I can find homes for some but most I use during summer hound walks and our “games” which are really lessons. Those older hounds are dipped in gold.
We have some bad girls. You can’t hunt Lupine and Luster together. They behave like two high school sisters who have gotten hold of Mother’s credit card. Throw Mustard in there and you have a hound secret sorority. I’m surprised our little divas haven’t asked for hound collars studded with rhinestones.
The boys aren’t much for rhinestones nor are they naughty but there are times when you work to get them to focus, it isn’t even a girl coming into heat before humans know it. That we can understand. The males of all the higher vertebrates are just undone by bombshells. No, its things like butterflies, a large passing cloud which casts a big shadow or, for whatever reason, an especially interesting stick. This is the reason we don’t hunt the boys by themselves. We have to put some girls in there to push them on which we tried to do, too. Once the weather turns, the temperature drops, scent intensifies, they do a good job. The other thing about the voices, they are uncommonly sweet.
Having said that, Cortez hunts like a gyp. Total focus, focus like Piper.
While one can generalize about the difference between males and females in the pack, they truly are individuals to which those of you who remember Vandal can attest. I have no idea where the hound learned to love beer cans but my suspicions are aroused by some of you in the field. It’s too much fun, isn’t it?
A CORINTHIAN CLASS
If you subscribe to the “Chronicle of the Horse”, once a month they include a glossy magazine edition, “Untacked”. This March/April 2016 edition is excellent. On page 50 begins a section on foxhunting fashion. It’s worth a look. The turnout in there starts in the 1950s. Not every fashion changes included in a photo. Most especially the 1970s, there is a photo of a huntsman in a coat with properly longer cut to the coat. Jackets began to creep up in the 70s and the 1980s photo shows same, but that 70’s huntsman would have none of it. Fortunately, that fad, short flaps, is dying out, mostly for practical reasons, a longer flat flap keeps you more protected and warmer.
I mention this because, as many of you know, I care about turnout. And I know all these nasty little details like hammerhead spurs are more correct than Prince of Wales which came into fashion when The Prince of Wales, in the 1930s, began wearing a shorter spur with a nub. It looks just fine, but if I were judging a Corinthian class and two people were tied, I would pin first the one with the older type of spurs.
In general, I favor what has stood the test of time. Breeches. Now we wear them with leather knee patches sometimes even leather butt patches. Is that helpful? Yes. Is it 100% proper? Well, maybe it’s okay in the hunt field but not in a Corinthian class. If you do have patches they will be of the same color and fabric as your breeches.
My argument to anyone who wants to make a change is, “Can you find it in a 19th-century print?” I always lean toward the tried and the true.
The two biggest changes I have seen are in headgear and coat color, almost uniformly black. I still believe you wear a derby or a tophat unless you are staff and then you wear the velvet cap. However, I have gone to other hunts where the Master insisted, ever so nicely, that I not wear my derby.
But do I seethe when you show up in my hunt field with a bubble head? No. It’s your head. But you can’t dream of wearing such a thing in a Corinthian class, where even the sandwich in your sandwich case is inspected. (No crust. White bread. Sliced chicken. No butter or mayo.)
Also, men carry flasks; ladies carry a square case with their sandwich and a rather dwarfed flask. Ladies may use sherry, gentlemen something more robust. Now in the hunt field you can put whatever you want in that flask, but not in class.
Veils. Depends on the attire. In the very old days, those of my great-grandmother, veils were attached to derbies and tophats and ladies could roll them up whenever they felt it would have the most devastating effect on a gentleman. Now you rarely see them except sometimes with sidesaddle turnout. Is there anything more graceful, more divinely feminine, then a lady riding sidesaddle? God bless any woman who does so and as most of you know, a woman is tight in the tack.
The reason I’m nattering on about this is the Corinthian class is our history, our remembering our dress traditions, thus honoring all those who’ve gone before. It’s such a lovely class and not seen as much these days at hunt shows as I would wish. As an aside: If your hunt has livery, you are allowed to ride in same in a Corinthian class. We do have livery, light gray.
In England a few more hunts ride in livery than over here, but I think there are some in North America. Masters don’t insist you ride in livery. Once you acquire your colors, you are allowed to hunt in livery, always considered an honor. You may also ride in navy blue which is quite smart. Many hunts allow green, such as one wears hunting beagles, but you wouldn’t wear green in a Corinthian class unless that was your hunts livery.
As for our gray, well, I do love it but I know one must have the coat fitted properly by a tailor or seamstress. You can’t buy livery off the rack. We have a few people who ride in our gray and they look smashing. When Mary Shriver and Kristin Ford rode in gray for the pair’s class at The Warrenton Horse Show, they did cause an appreciative murmur. The fact that they rode so well didn’t hurt either.
There you have it. A brief overview. I haven’t addressed tack or garters, etc. but that’s another issue. Am I asked to judge Corinthian classes? NO. Everyone knows I am ruthless. I am asked sometimes to judge hunters in the field which I enjoy doing. Do I observe you in our hunt field? Indeed, I do and I thank you all for clean tack and a tidy appearance. Pulling yourself and your horse together on a dark, cold winter morning is no mean feat. Well done.
P.S. I have never seen a turnout class (it would not be called Corinthian) where ratcatcher is judged. As the rider has more range of personal choice I think a ratcatcher class would be great fun.
BE TRUE TO YOUR SCHOOL
By now many of you have ridden over the seven sisters or seen the seven jumps, each one named after a seven sister, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Radcliffe, etc. Each sign is in the colors of the school. Sara Bateman, ex-MFH has given them as a gift to the hunt.
If you would like a jump named for your college, university, or high school, $100 will buy two signs, one for each side. As many of you have attended the same university, you can go in together. Based on the number of UVA and Tech graduates alone, we could name many jumps. The purpose of this is twofold: to have some giggles and raise some money. To be able to identify jumps, should we need to get to them quickly, is an advantage.
We also encourage you to build new jumps if you so desire. We could use a bank jump, another tiger trap and so forth. And what’s prettier than a stone jump built out of limestone or slump brick? The fieldstone is okay but hard to fit together and falls down more easily. A two foot stone jump with a thick tree trunk or telephone pole on top is very pretty and inviting. We used to be able to pick up telephone poles and electrical poles for a few dollars, but they won’t sell them to the public anymore. Also, railroad ties, zigzag jumps, are really easy to build and give a rider a few choices.
If you want to name a jump, I will get the signs made. You will need to give me your school colors but don’t give me the check. Send that on to David. My cats will try to cash the checks or eat them.
For those of you who wish to build a jump or have us do it, identify where you want it, walk the area with us to make sure we, and you, if you’re building, set it correctly. It’s less money if you build it and scrounge the materials, but we will do it and bill you for the lumber, stone, etc. Of course, natural jumps, with which our territory abounds looks tidy and good. Also, not much cash outlay. You need to cut up some fallen hardwood and drag to site or have us do it for a small addition to the $100 for your sign. Small as in $20 for hounds. My experience, and I bet it is yours, too, is horses take a solid jump seriously. However we do have a few airy ones and the reason for that is we want Oak Ridge members and horses to ride over everything. This way if you are at another hunt, say with many stone jumps which they have more north of here, you and your horse will be fine.
We’d like to start this at the home fixture but over time, if our land owners allow it, we would build more jumps there. Some fixtures this is easy, others, not so much, but we can always ask.
What about coops? They are easy to put up which is why you see so many of them throughout the hunt world. We have them at various heights. I’m not opposed to coops but my sense is, if you jump what we have here, you’ll be fine elsewhere. My hope is to expose you to a variety, but anyone who wants to build the coop, go for it.
New York University’s colors are purple and white. I haven’t selected my jump yet but I will. Waiting for you all to join in.
Here’s another question: should we have a small sign, blank on the opposite bottom side of the jump or discreetly nailed to a tree? Should you encounter difficulty and a dismount at said jump, your name will be painted on that sign. Cruel? Well, not really cruel, but I have found the potential for humiliation a spur to focus. The worst part of it is this isn’t like a bottle and a poem. Your name (and eventually mine somewhere) will be inscribed for hunting eternity.
Well, once the hip is fixed, I need to work hard on my riding skills. Do you want someone saying about a jump, “Oh yeah, Charlotte’s jump?” (We don’t have a Charlotte but someday we will. Used the name so no one thinks I’m picking on you. I will pick on you, but not at this moment.) Of course, you don’t want your name attached in people’s minds to a jump. This really is motivation to improve.
Oak Ridge enjoys good riders. Our first flight often winds up being first flight elsewhere and at the end of the hunt; Oak Ridge is all that’s left. Still, we can all improve. Think on this but do come through for your school. We will have such fun with this, plus will learn where we all studied. I’m going to do one for my high school, too.
Up and Over (Really)
P.S. If anyone was born in another country, we can make a sign for your birth nation. And by the way, we are glad you are here.
A READING LIST
Years ago, Suzanne Hogg asked me to put together a reading list for fox hunters. Perhaps one of you can start this project and I can add to it, but I haven’t the time. I do have a good library and for me everything starts with Arrian but many of you might not feel the same. I am sure though that all of you would agree, “Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man” by Siegfried Sasson is a must. But do consider this if so inclined.
At our last hunt there, Bill Yancey and Neil Stout, Bill’s son-in-law, told us of future plans for that wonderful property. Neil also cornered Libby, a pug puppy he bought for his wife. Once on the ground Libby took over. Lynn Lloyd hunts with her pug in the pack. If the dog gets tired, she picks her up. They are tough dogs and utterly beguiling… as are Bill and Neil
Sandra Dawson led first flight, when asked, and Wayne Dawson whipped-in. Meghan Custer worked with Becky Birnbaum regarding with whipping-in also. Thanks to all.
As I often miss what’s going on in the field, my focus being the hounds, I may have missed thanking someone. Hopefully Bob and Sue will correct this oversight. It is gratifying to see members work to learn their duties as none of them are easy.
A SILVER LINING
A benefit of not being able to ride, following the hunts in the hound Tahoe (a gift from Donna Gaerttner), I’ve seen things I would miss otherwise. This will help me improve territory for next season. Rest on your laurels and you get a fat ass. We can always do better.
Every year differs from every other which makes hunting interesting. Our season started as it always does with cubbing right after Labor Day. Conditions remained warm and relatively dry for weeks. We cast hounds early enough to benefit a bit from dew.
Entering young hounds in less-than-perfect conditions actually helps. If youngsters only know great scent and long runs when less-than-perfect conditions occur, they can be at a loss. Of course, the older hounds help as they keep pushing.
The weather that’s impossible for everyone is drought. While we did have dryness we did not have a drought, so our hounds would pick up the line, run it for 10 or 15 minutes and lose it. They kept trying and staff was happy to see the youngsters pick up that work ethic.
Opening Hunt was as always. However, the black fox that lives on the eastern side of the cistern, down there where the creek is deep, made an appearance and just as quickly ducked back into the rough. We used to have trails in there and, with luck, we can again open them this summer. The creek flows behind the old beef barns and provide some moisture, no matter what. I have walked that area as recently as last spring so I know where some of the dens are, quite cleverly hidden. He’s a smarty.
November’s temperatures bounced around. This combined with deer season made for tough going but hounds pushed out foxes. Nothing lasted for long.
December defied description. The Mercury read 77° F at my house on Christmas Eve and about the same for Christmas. I remember a similar experience once in the nineties. God bless the hounds. They went out wearing their winter coats and tried.
Then like magic everything changed. Deer season stopped as the weather turned more wintry. We enjoyed a few good runs. The deer season ended, as it always does, the firstSaturday after New Year’s. Usually it takes foxes about a week to no longer sit tight.
As it happened, we put in a special Wednesday hunt on January 6, pretty cold and overcast. No one showed up but Jacque and it was the run of the season! Maria cast hounds, they hit within 15 minutes up behind The Arena and they ran, they flew, until sunset, when it became both dark and bitter. She had a bit of coaxing to do to bring them back to the horn, but good kids that they are, they did come. And since that afternoon hunt, the season has really picked up. Hounds have locked onto visiting dog foxes so the runs have been boisterous and long. Footing, bad in spots, is okay.
That is about to change. We’ve had Jonas. Naming the storms makes them easier to remember, I guess, and this was a whopper. Tucked up in the kennels, lots of straw to burrow into, all was well. Some of the older hounds liked their condos. In winter we put on their cold-weather doors, jam them full of straw and they preferred them. Well, what a surprise when hounds looked at all that snow about two and a half feet with bigger drifts.
Once the storm passed, they ventured out of the kennels and condos. There’s always some joker who rolls around, the canine version of snow angels. Given the depth of the snow they can’t run, but they can throw snow on one another. What a happy crew.
I have no idea when we will hunt again because the days, according to my weather app, will be high 30s, 40s, and the nights will plunge into the teens. That means melting and ice. As we’ve had so much snow it won’t disappear rapidly but there will be so much ice in the mornings. Even if you have studs in your horse’s shoes, it’s dicey, plus we have no idea of the condition in the mornings of the public roads. As to the roads on our fixtures, there’s no way we can remove the ice. So right now it doesn’t appear promising.
As soon as it’s reasonably safe for man and beast, we will go. Meanwhile, the foxes on the home fixture have plenty to eat. Some of our other fixtures have feeder boxes, some do not, but I expect those boxes need refills. Getting to them right now is impossible. Fortunately foxes are smart and good hunters. Still, I like to help them when times are harsh.
Have you noticed how thick and beautiful the coats are on our foxes? One of the reasons for this is our parasite control program. Once a month we mix some wormer in the kibble for them. Occasionally, we pour grease on the kibble, too. We used to be able to get restaurant grease but our source has dried up, so we purchase corn oil. They don’t need a lot, more like a healthy drizzle. The worming stops in March, usually mid-March, when the vixens are pregnant. Can’t give any wormer as you’ll kill the babies. So we start worming again in September, when the kits are about half-grown and all is well.
But our maintenance program is one of the reasons you see such healthy foxes. We have got to figure out a way to manage our far away fixtures on a regular basis. Of course you can hunt foxes without such a program, but I really believe in taking care of our quarry. They provide us with such pleasure, let’s give them the best.
We do have one fox on Tea Time Farm who has become a real smart ass, forgive the slight profanity. This fellow lives somewhere near the stick and ball field. I like to cruise the farm at dusk, and occasionally right after dawn, when the game moves about. Well, this guy is a medium-sized red. He walks in no hurry. Sometimes he will sit down and look at the car. When he’s satisfied that a large idiot is inside, he then moves along, beautiful brush much in evidence.
He may be the fellow hounds pick up south of The Arena, or just on the other side of the road behind the kennel, which goes down to the Jerusalem field. He knows every trick in the book.
With a bit of wandering off the actual hunting, that’s been our season to date.
Yes, it was warm. It was the miracle of the fishes and the loaves, but the best part of Opening Hunt is I couldn’t go on, and after about 15 or 20 minutes, gave the horn to Maria Johnson. I’d called her the night before stating I felt I wouldn’t last, thanks to the ever increasing pain in my broken hip.
Maria, who has been working with hounds and doing wonderfully well, still had never hunted hounds with that many people behind her. Well, she did like a champ and she’s carried the rest of the season.
This thrills me, and hounds are happy, too. Once I’m put back together, we will work out a schedule next season so she can keep up her skills. Good for both of us and this is the first time in 23 years when I could take a hunt day off. Naturally I never wish to do so, but this does please my publisher.
Maria and I have even talked about taking a day or two each month and hunting in tandem which would be enormous fun, I think.
She’s done a great job and do tell her. The whippers-in adjusted quickly and really like whipping-in to her. Oak Ridge is very fortunate.
Yes, Emert is back and better than ever! Hounds hunted there for the first time in years on Friday, January 15 and pushed a fox out on the west side of the paved road and off they went. The music was lovely.
With a bit of care here and there, this will be an outstanding fixture.
We are becoming more efficient here as we know it better and better. As topography goes this is our most generous fixture. The bears think so, too.
We are eager to keep hunting there, but Sunday, January 24th, we were snowed out.
Emert and Penlan Station are on the south side of the James River in Buckingham County, which is our territory. The soil is different than north of the James. Fortunately, our hounds are so versatile, more so than we humans. We keep learning. What we are learning is how much we like Buckingham County.
Our territory encompasses rolling hills, deep ravines, some wide, some narrow and the last remnant of the eastern ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is Ennis Mountain, to the east of State Road 611. The true last gasp of the chain is the Southwest Range, which is in Keswick’s territory.
The Rockfish River runs through Tea Time Farm, Rucker’s Run barrels through Oak Ridge and Cherry Hill, backed by Turner’s Ridge, sports a narrow but fast running creek, which ultimately empties into the Upper James, which you can see from the top of Turner’s Ridge.
The territories on the south side of the James have a lovely roll to them, but the steep, steep ravines are gone, plus you are that much further from the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are almost in the backyard of Tea Time Farm.
For a huntsman and whippers-in this means the winds can really fool you. Hounds can be traveling along Miss Wood’s Creek and the slight wind is right in their faces, where overhead it is whistling in the opposite direction. Hunt staff has to keep adjusting, tacking as it were, to that wind, knowing the minute they come up on the high meadows, it’s a whole new game.
Then there are the wind devils. Of course, they can occur anywhere but there are spots on the home fixtures where even if there’s a two mph wind, you’ll get a wind devil. The fox knows them. The fox also knows where all the running cedar grows and s/he makes good use of it.
If you’re riding in the field, certainly you feel the wind. The huntsman must use it. You don’t want the wind at your hounds’ tails. Now you can’t always help this as you may need to get from A to C, so you push through the unfavorable wind direction. Ideally, you want the wind in hound noses. Sometimes crosswinds work well, too.
Actually, most huntsmen learn to use wind and a cubbing wind is vastly different than a February wind. It’s harder for the whippers-in. A whipper-in usually tries to place her or himself in a place where they’ve got a good sight line. So they are often higher than the huntsman or, if asked to guard a bridge, etc., lower. Lower is always tougher. Anyway, that whipper-in can be waiting in a west wind and sees or hears the huntsman push hounds south. Here is where the whipper-in must trust the huntsman. Conditions are different and the huntsman is trying to use them to find scent.
If a whipper-in tries to second guess the huntsman, they will usually be a step slow. This doesn’t mean they are to mindlessly run about. Whipping-in is always about position.
As to the wind, next time you’re out there, see if you can figure it out.
Thank our whippers-in. We have good ones.
Hunting, central to high court life, was well recorded. I have no idea of the earliest documents of game, expenses or staff salaries, but I cite a few that we do have.
In 1398, the French Royal Account marks the annual salary of Philippe de Courguilleroy at 100.1 livres per year. He was the Master Huntsman to the King.
Added to this would be extra for clothing, living quarters, if needed, plus a bonus or two for an exceptional day. 100 livres was really good money in the late 14th century.
The next huntsman in line, probably a younger man in training, was Robert de Franconville and he was paid 46.1 livres per annum with a few extras thrown in for boots, axes, etc. (de Franconville was well born.)
The keeper of the hounds, called Varlet of Hounds, Robin Rasson on was paid around 14 livres per year.
Lodging, wood for the stove and fires, was part of the salary and if horses were needed, they, too, were provided.
A skilled huntsman or anyone involved in the hunting, including the keeper of the books, was assured a decent to good living. Also, they had the great good fortune of sharing with the king what he and his court loved.
Alfonso V of Portugal, in the mid-15th century, had written Ordinances of Hunting which his father instituted. One of these states if any huntsman reaches the age of 70, he will be lodged by the current Master Huntsman and retains all the privileges he enjoyed in his prime. This was written down, which does tell us the favor in which such individuals were held.
Regarding being given a horse! Remember, a non-noble as a youngster might sleep with the hounds, no matter what country he lived in, and receive only food. These boys would be under the charge of the page des chiens (even in England much was written and spoken in Latin or French, and you know chien is dog in French). Anyway this page was the lowest -ranked officer in the hunting establishment but a man could rise, as could the boys over time. Then as now, reliability, aptitude, and a pleasant manner paid off.
If a man evidenced talent, he may not have been noble, a night or a squire, but he was given a horse which today would be like being given a Ferrari. Riding literary literally raised a man above others.
So coveted were hunting positions that members of the nobility entered hunt’s service. A non-noble might well end up a squire or a knight and that led to advantageous marriages, etc.
I mention all this as I am now 71. I would like to think the king would take care of me.
Up and over,
Stuart Jones left us October 14, 2015. Born in Richmond in 1931, he graduated from Glen Allen High School and served in the Navy during the Korean War. After that he attended the University of Virginia, made the Dean’s list and improved all the many clubs of which he was a member. This experience inculcated in him a great fondness for UVA sports. Football, however, usually let him down.
Those of us at Oak Ridge who hunted with him over the decades often heard about the latest defeat, snatched from the jaws of victory.
Few who saw him in the field would believe that he didn’t take up riding until his sixties. He found Karen Osborne who worked with him and it didn’t take Stuart long to find his way to the hunt field. It helped that he was a natural athlete and not given to excessive fear. Of course, there were times when he put the fear of God in us.
His service in the Navy, he really did see the world, either gave him or brought out in him a flexibility, a curiosity about other cultures. Stuart could work with anyone. He listened and he was respectful of differences. He was a man who learned from life and we were all the better for it.
He was a lifetime member of the Sons of the American Revolution, as was my father and we would often talk about history, what our forefathers and foremothers in endured, built and hoped for, and perhaps we represented their hopes. We had a lot to live up to and he did.
Boy Scout, Stuart’s horse, had his number. Early on, when these two were getting acquainted, Boy Scout stopped, refusing to move. This irritated Big Daddy who expanded his vocabulary of abuse. The field moved on and there was Stuart trying every way to move Boy Scout forward. No sooner was everyone out of view than Boy Scout, ears pricked up, watched as a healthy red fox emerged from the woods, trotted across the pasture, walked, no trotting, walked in front of Stuart and his horse. Stuart had to admit that Boy Scout knew more than he did and an accord was reached. Lavish offerings of apples and carrots cemented this accord. Boy Scout loved Big Daddy.
Mustard also loved him. Mustard was born in 2013 by Archie out of Moxy. Slight, mustard colored, she’d come out for her walks, see Stuart and run in wild circles until she calmed down. He had to praise her then she would behave herself. Stuart walked and worked hounds with me for years. Emily Schilling, Maria Johnson, Mary Shriver, John Morris, Toot Morris, along with Sonia Johnson, worked puppies and hounds in the off-season. We work harder in the off-season than actual hunting. If I’ve forgotten one of our regulars forgive me.
He loved hounds and they returned the affection but Mustard was just besotted with him. He’d also walk and hunt the bassets with me on foot, enjoying the music from those deep voices.
As years flew by, his whipping-in finally landed him at the utmost perimeter. He didn’t feel he could run full out, plus Boy Scout was so good at knowing where the fox was, he viewed more than if he was flying along. During the last year of his life, he became a wheel whipper-in where he, John and Toot could watch, listen, and delight in tormenting one another.
He didn’t want to leave us. Stuart loved life and would have lived to two hundred, if there was a way.
Our relationship grew over the years. He never could resist teasing me over feminism. I would return the favor. Back and forth, how we would laugh. His good humor touched us all and you really could talk to this wonderful man about anything and everything. Much as he teased me and vice versa, Stuart gave me and everyone else a fair hearing.
As he began to fail, I would call him after the hunts to give a full report. Not long before he died I called, he still had his voice, and told him Mustard had been naughty.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” He wanted to know.
“Blame you.” I fired back.
That essentially encapsulates our friendship: devilment, laughter, a lot of love.
Oak Ridge is especially grateful to Karen, Pete, Hayley, and Lindsay Osborne for their kindness to Stuart. Karen would carry him to appointments; pick up what he and Cushman (his wife) needed with the assistance of her family.
At the very end, Karen recalled to Stuart a glorious hunt they had been on in prior years and it made him happy.
He asked that donations be made to the hounds in his honor. When staff heard of this final wish, it was difficult not to just fall apart.
As one should, I told Boy Scout that Big Daddy was gone. He dropped his head, put his forehead on mine and we stood that way for a bit.
Then I told Mustard. Sweet little thing, it took her over a month to come back to herself. She’d get off the trailer and look for Big Daddy.
Anyone who thinks we anthropomorphize animal emotions doesn’t live with them. They know and they loved him as did we all.
I am sorry it took me so long to write this. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Rita Mae Brown, MFH
Due to the rain and thunderstorms forecast, Oak Ridge regrets to announce we will be cancelling the Wednesday, October 28 Hunt. Please enjoy the rest of Virginia Hunt Week safely.
The first day of cubbing is Friday, September 11, 2015, seventy-two days from today as I write this, 9 July 2015. For those of you going on vacation, I hope the time is restorative, great fun. For those of you staying home, I expect you will be repairing fences, boots, sewing ripped hunt coats and for those of you who were truly impressive, weeding your garden. I am looking out my window at wisteria that needs cutting before it takes over the state of Virginia. As for my gardens, well, I tell myself that flowers were once weeds so really, my gardens do have flowers. Oh, the fibs we tell ourselves.
Even with the heat I know most of you are walking out your horses. We start the true conditioning in about three weeks, taking it slow. By the first day of cubbing the horses are ready and so are the hounds. As always, there’s a bit of fat. Never start cubbing 100% fit. A little pad provides insurance because once we pass Opening Hunt, November 1 this year (yes, it will be 80° F, I swear) but once we get through it the temperatures drop, many more calories are burned. If you start cubbing without that insurance you can really run down horses and hounds. Then again, they will lose warmth.
While most of you know how focused we are on nutrition, conditioning, training it occurred to me this morning after working puppies that I have never discussed our physical structures, land or rationale behind the same.
Before that, puppies are doing very well. They aren’t ready to walk out alone but they can go one or two at a time with the big kids. Wednesday or Friday mornings they “play” just with themselves. So this morning, lots of running about, then called back to me, a little walking, packing in. Pretty good but Lego feels being in front is more important than being with the group. Just takes time. They are surprisingly good about loading up on the party wagon. Yes, a few need to run laps around the wagon but they finally load up. And the puppies immediately rush to the top tier of the trailer so they can see outside. You know they might miss something otherwise and this group doesn’t want to miss a thing. We are preparing ourselves for that first deer jumping in front of their noses. What a shock. A few will go after the deer but this class is very wanting to please so a call should bring them back. Remember, the youngsters are seeing everything for the first time. They’ve already seen foxes because the foxes patrol the kennel. I always fear that unkind words are spoken.
As to the wildlife, our bears, plural, are much in evidence. Docile, they keep to their routine but they’ve been hell on the feeder boxes.
More wild turkeys than I remember and rude, too. Those pompous lead hens will stop in the middle of the road and shoot the bird at you, forgive the pun. Really, this younger generation, no manners at all and their parents are even worse.
Hawks, owls in abundance, as well, which means a bumper crop of small game which means happy foxes.
That’s the home fixture report. Now on to our Oak Ridge kennels.
Roughly an acre and a half plus are fenced and cross fenced. We also have a third of an acre or more to the south of the kennels with a narrow creek through with if we ever need to expand. We are fortunate to have so much land and we always have acres across the road that could be used.
One story high, cinder block construction with a concrete floor, a slanted roof, and three rubber base painted bays inside and a tiny room with an even tinier bathroom and sink, a refrigerator for meds and a small desk.
Each bay has a partially covered back section which can be closed if a hound or hounds needs to be sequestered. The floor is also concrete.
Immediately behind this is a trench, concrete, which carries water and waste to a buried tank. You have to lift off the cover, let everything run down, then put the cover back. There are two of these tanks in the main kennel which are pumped out each year before cubbing. There is also one at the Puppy Palace, thousand gallons. Because we keep the heavy lid on, we have not endured overflow which would happen with these torrential rains. This system which was costly to install and necessary, according to newer state laws, cuts down on odor.
If in the narrow aisle you face the bays, the first two bays to your right open out onto an enormous run which wraps behind the side yard, more on that later, to another large yard containing a pond, small, and two condos along with a raised wooden bench. There is also a condo in the section of the run closest to the kennels.
Hounds love, love, love their condos which have removable doors for summer, replaced in winter along with straw.
Housing choices make for happy hounds. Some like the raised benches inside, others want to curl up in their condos or lounge on the porches built on to the condos. The porches delight the hounds in all but the most inclement weather.
Also, inside the main kennel is a whelping room which doubles as a recuperation room. This space has good ventilation and is easy to keep warm when bitterly cold. The concrete floor has rubber mats such as you use in your trailer. And yes, they can be chewed to bits faster than you can realize but they are easy to replace and if a hound is bone weary, the mat helps. Also, it’s easy to clean.
To the left of this is a feed room with built in wooden coffers, shelves and this room can be closed off.
To the right of the whelping room is the large feeding room and draw pen. This is two stories high, a concrete floor and three ways in and out.
You can open the draw pen door from inside or outside but if you are inside you have to have help in lifting the heavy outside bar. The bar closes upon to thick wooden doors.
The sides are 10 or 12 feet high so this, while roofed, has plenty of ventilation. It’s easier to keep hounds warm than cool.
Large troughs are used to feed and they are hosed out daily. Part of this space has a loft for storage. We put the summer fans up here when fall comes along with some odds and ends.
Our dream is to extend the floor across the space. We would not enclose below this room as we still want the ventilation. This would be our office and with lots of windows, we could monitor hounds in the main kennel and the side yard without going out there which, of course, changes their behavior. We’re lucky, they get along but it’s helpful to observe them among themselves.
The little room with the drain and bathroom is too small for an office, plus mud slides in on the bad rains. Comes in right under the door. It’s easy enough to clean but this isn’t a place to put records. Too difficult to protect plus the humidity won’t help the papers.
I would like my whippers-in, John and Toot to have access to hound papers, medical records, etc. A computer up there would help, too, as we could get into the MFHA stud book whenever we needed something. There’s no way we could put a computer in that tiny room.
We would like a place to sit down, talk over the hunt, etc. Right now we try to cram into a truck with double doors, huddle together for a little bit around the tailgate table. Being able to review a hunt after it has just concluded allows us to iron out some wrinkles, most especially to review hound performance. As we each cover different territory we each see different things.
This is a dream, one we’ve had for years but in the fullness of time, I believe it will come to pass.
As it now stands we have one full staff meeting once a year usually at Mary Shriver’s. She is excessively generous so this year we had it at Tea Time and we will probably move it each year until we get our true office. You’d be amazed at what we cover. To give you an idea, this year, I posed three questions which led to many others.
- How do you know when hounds have overrun the line?
- How do you know when hounds are running heel?
- How do you know when the fox has doubled back?
Maria brought aerial maps of our territory and Mary and Dee brought more maps from the MFHA seminar and Becky brought a grill! (She brought other things, too) but our Becky B. lashed her big grill onto her truck. Sonia helped her lift it off. I think we have resourceful and creative ladies here.
I mention all this because it might please you; interest you to know what goes on. We all look forward to being able to do this on a more regular basis right there with our hounds.
This is the octagonal building you pass when we ride back to the kennels coming from a westerly direction. Four pie shaped rooms feed into a center space with a large drain, the hose hangs overhead. You can wash out this kennel in the blink of an eye. The fourth bay stores food, broom, and mop.
If you close the outside door and the outside window, open the door into the kennel you can keep it warm or open and keep it cool. The outside runs are nothing like the huge runs at the main kennel but they each have condos.
As this was originally built for puppies, we didn’t need a lot of space and we were careful about the chain-link fencing. Puppies can crawl under, through, do the damnedest things. The priority was safety, fresh air, cleanliness, and sunshine. Each bay has a mud flap entrance for hounds and each bay has a raised bench now that this isn’t used for puppies anymore. One bay is used as a backup whelping room but now that we have the big whelping room we may change this. There is quite a bit of light in this kennel.
If I could do things over I would build a gigantic octagonal kennel because cleaning is quick, the shape lends itself to conserving energy. The ventilation and natural light are so healthy, pleasant. We now use this for old hounds, a retirement place with some younger hounds they are also. The small puppies are up in the grey kennel which I will come to later.
I forgot the side yard at the main kennel. It’s just that, to the right of the kennels, secured so the hounds can’t get in. Two condos and one big outside water trough take care of the hounds in this space who are some of our more sensitive girls.
Another very large space at least one quarter of an acre. This is Herb’s old four horse trailer with a big pitched roof and surround porch and steps. Inside is a raised area across the nose which we bed with straw in winter. Lucite panels are slipped into the side slats and a heat lamp, as well as a big fan, is fixed to the ceiling.
This area like all of them uses a frost free pump. On the bitterest of nights the big outdoor water trough freezes. The indoor buckets have only frozen on the subzero nights but it takes a lot of refilling on a winter’s day. A wonderful new condo is also on these grounds along with too many pine trees.
Gyps in season are put up here as it is further away from the other kennels. The distance goes a long way to keeping order. It’s harder on John and Toot but better for hounds.
Oak Ridge hounds enjoy an abundance of space, light, fresh air, and shade. They can run and play to their hearts content. Happy hounds are easy to work with plus why have hounds if you don’t give them the best?
THE GREY KENNEL
A gambrel roof building about 14’ x 12’, 10 foot high ceiling, insulated, with a wrap around porch on two sides with a railing. Very warm in winter and the porch, as well as a raised bench, plus a small, low condo help in summers.
The puppies and mom come here. After weaning, the mother returns to the kennel. We introduce her again to her friends over a period of days, returning her to the grey kennels later each day. We’ve never had a problem but why take a chance? The inside of the grey kennel has a raised bench where mom can repose if she needs a break.
Puppies are kept here until at least six months old. I work with them almost every day except when I’m on the road. It’s really playing with some horn calls and running around the area which is a square about half a football field maybe a tad larger. It’s next to the five bastards so no one is out of the gossip loop.
Keeping the puppies close has drastically cut down on training time once they go down to the big kennels. We are very careful about this and initially take them down for an hour, monitored. Each day it’s a bit more time. However, I will feel better when I can put half-grown puppies in the yet to be built second trailer run.
There you have it. With the exception of the ladies planting flowers last year, our kennels aren’t pretty but they are tidy and serviceable. Hounds are happy and we have few problems with sickness or parasites. The only real problem we’ve had was kidney failure due to old age. I believe our hounds stay healthy because they are not in crowded spaces, have with the exception of the Puppy Palace, and many choices as to where to sleep and play. In good weather they all choose to be outside. Of course, keeping current on all their shots, monthly worming helps, too. And that is your complete kennel report.