Many foxhunters grew up following beagles or bassets, but as increasing numbers come to our sport from suburban or equestrian-only backgrounds, it is important to maintain the close connection between mounted and footpacks. We share appreciation for determined hounds, challenging quarry, devoted staff, pre- and post-hunt camaraderie, and the unspoiled natural landscape. The Institute Farm in Aldie, Virginia - the 500-acre home of the National Beagle Club's headquarters - has been maintained for over a century to promote all of these values. 

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The Institute Farm's historic main building dates from the 1850's. M. Drum photo.

Fewer than 50 miles from Washington, D.C., the bucolic property was once part of President James Monroe's Oak Hill Plantation. In the 1850's, the historic main building housed the Loudoun County Agricultural Institute and Chemical Academy, one of the oldest schools of agronomy in the United States. The school closed after a few years and during the Civil War, the structure served as a hospital. The National Beagle Club (NBC) was formed in the late 1800's, a time when many sporting and recreational clubs were established in the East, and five of its members formed the Institute Corporation to purchase the property in 1916. 

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The cabins ring the inviting lawn behind the main building. M. Drum photo.

Interestingly, one of the buyers was Chetwood Smith of Massachusetts, brother of Harry Worcester Smith, MFH, whose American hounds won the famous Great Hound Match of 1905. Another incorporator was James W. Appleton, at the time Master of the Myopia Hunt north of Boston. These sporting gentlemen constructed permanent cabins to stay in during field trials, creating a campus-like atmosphere around the lawn of the main building. The cabins have been expanded and remain in use, with some renovations (including allowing female occupants).

Today, the NBC hosts several spring and fall field trials at Aldie, and benefits such as the recent Hounds F4R Heroes veterans' event, along with administrative meetings. Field trials include both beagle and basset packs - many traveling from across the country to attend - and Aldie also hosts America Kennel Club sanctioned field trials and specialty shows.

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Ashland Bassets, Babs Timmerman, Mary Reed (center) and Don Maley (right), joint MBHs, present to the judges Allen Forney and Jack Cooley against the beautiful backdrop of the Aldie property.

Activity on a chilly morning during April's Basset Pack Spring Trials combined the anticipation of a hunt meet with the hustle of the stabling area at a weeklong horse show: whippers-in busily prepared hounds while smoke rose from the cabins' chimneys and friendly chatter from the RVs parked around the kennels. Each pack was assigned a time to present to the two mounted judges, and 50 minutes to hunt for cottontails. Organizers kept track of which sections of the rolling territory had been hunted as the day progressed. Foot followers, also called "the field" here, grew in number from fewer than ten to as many as 20 by lunchtime at this midweek trial. At the end of one pack's allotted time, a cow horn was blown to summon the next pack to come find the judges. 

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Hill and Hollow Bassets head out to compete. Staff, left to right: Emily Melton, Bill Bush, Carter Amigh, MBH, Rita Bush, and Robin Conrad. M. Drum photo.

With comfortable shoes or boots, keeping up with the hounds was not unduly more strenuous than riding after a keen foxhound pack - beagles and bassets were bred to have shorter legs precisely so humans could stay within reach. The advantage for foot followers is the ability to get much closer to the working hounds than is typically possible in a mounted field. While the basseters observed the same rules as riders - stay clear of staff, don't get ahead where quarry might run - seeing and hearing the individuals in the pack is much more accessible. The Institute Farm's careful management enhances this experience: coverts of differing vegetation are cultivated (or benignly neglected when appropriate), some areas are burned in rotation, wide paths are mowed between sections.

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Lei Ruckle gives her Three Creek Bassets a little affection as Rita Bush stands by. M. Drum photo.

At the lunch break, everyone gathered in the basement of the main building to sit together for lunch and talk about the morning's competition. The walls of the dining room are covered in the names of previous trophy winners through the past century, haling from many regions. Like foxhunters, the beaglers and basseters readily shared their hunting tales with guests. In fact, many of the packs participating are informally affiliated with mounted packs, so some of the whippers-in wearing green hunter boots and brush pants at Aldie would have been in the saddle in dress boots and britches a couple weeks earlier.

The welcoming atmosphere and full day of great sport were only topped by the physical beauty of the land and its unique campus. Dedicated to field sports enthusiasts for more than a hundred years, the Institute Farm is a comfortable destination but at the same time, still a beautiful piece of wild space. To learn more about the National Beagle Club and inquire about attending its events, visit the website here.

The following is the report and results from the Basset Pack Spring Trials:

Eleven packs of Bassets made the trip to the National Beagle Club’s historic running grounds in Aldie, Virginia for their Annual Spring Pack Trials; Wednesday’s weather was chilly, but seasonable, and no one was really prepared for the tropical heat which began at mid-day on Thursday, and continued unabated until a storm front arrived on Sunday morning. By Thursday afternoon, most packs were shedding their livery….green coats…. and hunting along the creek beds and drainages so that hot hounds could find relief in the water. By Friday afternoon the temperature was in the upper 80’s, and there was no morning dew on Saturday for the Five-couple competition. All this notwithstanding, rabbits were plentiful and present in all parts of the grounds, and some exemplary performances resulted, despite the heat. Each pack was allotted 50 minutes to find, hunt, and (hopefully) account for their rabbit, with the first pack each morning meeting the judges at 7 a.m.

As always, we are deeply appreciative of our judges, who spend at least eight hours every day on horseback no matter what the weather. Allen Forney (who was fresh from judging the Beagle Trials two weeks before) was joined by Jack Cooley on Thursday ,as the seven-couple packs were run. Canadian huntsman Andrew Marren stepped in to help on Friday, and Hank Martin, the ex-MBH of the Tintern harehounds, judged the five-couples with Allen on Saturday. There was no rest for the weary…. Allen was called upon to judge the bench show on Sunday morning, but at least for that he didn’t have to sit on a horse! Kudos to Liz Reeser, the organizer of many things at Aldie, most especially the Basset Trials, to all the volunteers that make things run smoothly, and to the Three Creek/Okaw Valley contingent, who brought horses for the judges. Trial results are as follows:

Three Couple, the Strathalbyn Plate
1st Monkton Hall
2nd Three Creek
3rd Calf Pasture
4th Ashland

The Lees Plate, for 50% Conformation and 50% Field Work, went to the Monkton Hall.

Five Couple, the Skycastle Plate:
1st Ripshin
2nd Calf Pasture
3rd Upper Bay
4th Ashland

The Ashland Plate, for 50% Conformation and 50% Field Work, went to the Ripshin.

Seven Couple, the Ripshin Plate in honor of James S. Jones, M.H.
1st Sandanona
2nd Okaw Valley
3rd Ashland
4th Hill and Hollow

The Reedy Creek’s James J. Culleton Trophy, for 50% Conformation and 50% Field Work, went to the Sandanona.

In other awards, the Spring Creek Bowl for the highest scored hunt went to the Ripshin’s 5-couple. The Somerset Trophy, for the highest (cumulative) total score in the Field was won by the Ashland. The Tantivy Trophy for the Champion Basset in the Bench Show was won by Sandanona’s Calf Pasture Siskin. Reserve was Calf Pasture Nemo.

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