It was standing room only on Saturday, May 23, 2015 as the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, VA hosted The Dynamic Role of Lady Masters: A Foxhunting Roundtable. The lack of available seats was a testament to the interest in, and support of, women’s roles in North American foxhunting, as women vastly outnumber men in the modern hunt field. Yet, while the population of women Masters of Foxhounds has grown steadily over the last thirty years, the number of women Masters is decidedly not in proportion to the number of women foxhunters.
Co-chaired by Vivienne Warren of Orange County Hounds (VA) and Penny Denegre, MFH Middleburg Hunt (VA), the panel featured Masters Daphne Wood (Live Oak Hounds, FL), Joyce Fendley (Casanova Hunt, VA), Denegre, Marion Thorne (Genesee Valley Hunt, NY), and Lynn Lloyd (Red Rocks Hounds, NV) and was moderated by former MFHA President and current MFH of the London Hunt (Ontario), Dr. John McDonald.
Guided by McDonald’s inquiries, a lively and candid discussion addressing the role of women as Masters ensued, with each panelist offering insightful wisdom based on their individual experiences. One theme rang true throughout the dialogue: Being female was not a factor foremost in their minds when they assumed their Masterships.
“I wasn’t motivated to become a Master as a woman, but as a foxhunter,” said Marion Thorne. “I became a whipper-in, then honorary huntsman. I realized I had to become Master in order to manage my hunt.”
Joyce Fendley echoed Thorne’s sentiments, stating “I wasn’t motivated to become a Master; I first started as a field master and long-serving Masters brought me on. I do it because I love to hunt.”
Yet in spite of how these talented MFHs view their ascendency to their leadership roles, they readily admitted that at times, being female has presented particular challenges.
“There are special challenges to ‘lady anythings’,” explained Penny Denegre as the audience nodded in agreement. “Foxhunting has been run by men for a long time, some of whom can be characterized as ‘good old boys’, which can create inherent difficulties in a woman’s leadership role and they may refer to us as something other than ladies.”
When the panel was asked if they felt any managerial duties were better suited to women, Daphne Wood piped up, offering, “Women have unique problem solving traits. If there is a real problem, the male Joint Master will send you, the woman, to deal with it.”
“Men are given respect and women have to earn it,” said Wood. “In 1976 women were not invited to the annual Master’s Dinner, which is unimaginable now.” She continued, “You have to be good at humble pie and admitting when you’ve screwed up; if you’re with a good pack, things can get unpleasant with landowners, and women are good at calming things down and managing problems.”
“What’s the best way to meet landowners?” asked Fendley. “Look around. Observe. Circumvent things that didn’t work."
“Once the cowboys came on board with foxhunting, they were impressed that a woman could do all of that,” quipped Lynn Lloyd, referring to her pack which hunts vast, open territory in Nevada. (A sign at the Red Rocks kennels reads “So You Think You Can Ride?”)
Lloyd continued, “Being a Master influences all facets of your life and gives you more confidence in other areas of your life,” to which her colleagues agreed.
“It permeates every part of life,” Thorne said. “You see other women doing it— take the passion and the responsibility and move forward in order to seek women with the talent and ability to do the job.”