In January, we shared Red Rock Hounds' (NV) tradition of Senior Sundays, when retired hounds offer a slower day in the field. At Santa Ynez Valley Hounds (CA), the breeding schedule allows puppies to start walking out toward the end of hunt season, and members are invited to join them for relaxed midweek exercise. Joint Master Bonnie Hayden calls it a perfect opportunity for those with young or old horses, and anyone who wants to learn the future entry.
Huntsman Claire Buchy introduces puppies to the lush Santa Ynez Valley country. Jennifer Calderwood photo.
Hayden says, "For me, as a Master, it recharges my love of the sport as there is little for me to do but enjoy. Our huntsman, Claire Buchy, breeds such that the new litters are able to go out before the foxtail plants become an issue. So you watch these young hounds develop from wanting to be behind Claire, so as not to make a mistake, and being non-confident, to slowly moving out in front of her and confidently hunting." Buchy adds, "I suggested we should make an official 'puppy day' because I go anyway, and it's nice to have some help as the puppies get older. It's a great informal day to bring up new whippers-in, new horses and new guests and members."
"I take them all out!" Buchy explains. "I start them on foot, they can barely waddle behind me, then when they start thinking they are smarter than me, I upgrade to the quad, and then the horse. You need a very special horse to train puppies. It has to be super kind, patient and careful. Very, very, very hard to find the rare pearl!" She describes how she begins training with the horn: "Teaching pups to come to the horn is the first part of early training, even before we start any walk. The horn call means feeding time, means Mommy is back. It becomes such a reflex that I wonder if it is not deeply inbred in hounds."
The puppies aren't simply taking a walk - Buchy looks for appropriate opportunities to hone their nascent hunting skills. "If I see a hare, I put them on the line and I call and encourage them to look for it. Of course, at the beginning they have no idea why I am going crazy, but they very rapidly 'get it.' The key is to be patient and not get frustrated. It is so much fun to spend quality time with them, it turns into a extremely strong bond. I had really nice hare hunts, by myself, with a pack of tiny hounds."
"I love watching the progression from young pup, to surly teen, to full-fledged hounds tackling the terrain," adds Hayden. "Because Claire starts them the way she does, we do not need to couple hounds. Since these puppy meets are low-key, you can 'train' your horse or take him in if he's had too much excitement. Our dress for hunting with puppies is low key as well. Hunt logo attire, from any hunt, is welcome as are button down shirts." Santa Ynez Valley only hunts a dog pack, so brood bitches join the midweek meets to get out of their exercise yards, too.
The huntsman encourages puppies to chase hares when they pop up to develop their hunting skills. Jennifer Calderwood photo.
Buchy learned her training techniques over three decades' work with dogs. "My puppy training has improved over the years. I learned from my mistakes, what works, what doesn't, what's helpful, what's a waste of time. Mostly I learned to be patient. I think it served me very well knowing nothing about hounds, because I had no limitations. I just 'tried things,' some worked and some didn't, but they led me to this wonderful pack of grown-up hounds now, with new and better ones coming.
"Though I would like to add that a great puppy always turns into a wonderful hound, always! I love working with hounds so much." The midweek puppy days give everyone at Santa Ynez Valley a chance to follow those great puppies along their first steps toward joining the pack.