On January 20th, the Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C. featured numerous military and mounted organizations. Bennett Opitz, a fourth-generation foxhunter, rode as part of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. This historic unit, now part of the Pennsylvania National Guard, has ties to sporting clubs and reflects the centuries-old connection between members of the military and riding to hounds. Opitz said, "To be able to represent the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry in the Inaugural Parade was an incredible honor and validation for all the hard work that the men of this unit commit to."
Bennett Opitz, second from right (horse with stripe) at the Inaugural Parade. Photo by Mitch Miller.
The unit traces its founding back to members of Philadelphia's Committee of Correspondence to the First Continental Congress, meeting in the city in 1774. It was the earliest volunteer cavalry troop organized to defend the colonies, and remains the oldest mounted military unit - perhaps the oldest military unit of any type - in continuous service to the United States. Gentlemen from the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, among other social clubs, helped develop the nascent troop.
This connection to the hunt field continues today. "The Troop has a strong connection with Radnor Hunt, which was founded by members of the Troop," said Opitz. "Furthermore, we have a strong connection with the National Beagle Club, and many of our members will often be found at Aldie for the spring and fall beagle trials."
Opitz worked for the MFHA for a summer before his National Guard unit was deployed and he was sent to Kuwait. Since joining the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, he has been promoted to Stable Sergeant. This position puts him in charge of organizing the men for their weekly riding lessons and parade practice, and completing all paperwork and phone calls to government agencies. "Many of these men have started riding since joining the organization," he said, "and it has been my job, along with others, to increase their proficiency to participate in our riding traditions."
A lifelong foxhunter, Opitz identified several areas where his experience in the field supported his military roles. "For me, to continue the tradition of serving in a unit founded by foxhunters is very important. Many of the leadership skills, i.e., decision making, navigation, and terrain association that I have learned while whipping-in, directly translate to skills I have used throughout my military career as an Army scout."
Beth Opitz, MFH, Bennett Opitz, Elida Opitz, Erwin Opitz, MFH. Photo by Jake Carle.
The Opitz family's involvement with foxhunting stretches back to his great-grandfather, Dr. Clarkson Addis, MFH and huntsman of three recognized packs in Pennsylvania, Montgomery Hunt, Perkiomen Valley Hunt and Whitelands Hunt. Another great-grandfather, Bennett Crain, was Master of De La Brooke Foxhounds (MD), and his grandfather, Dr. Todd Addis, has been Master and huntsman for his private pack, Warwick Village Hounds, for 55 years. Today, Opitz's parents, Erwin and Beth Opitz, are joint Masters (with Jeffrey Lehew) at Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hounds in Virginia. Beth is also huntsman.
Opitz praised the spirit and commitment of the First Troop's members. "We still embody the same volunteer spirit the unit was founded on," Opitz said. "We are also very thankful for the support from past generations of Troopers. Everything we do today is built around the same hard work that they sacrificed for."