For many Biennial Seminar attendees, the most memorable event of a fantastic weekend was Saturday afternoon's presentation, "Different Hound Breeds and Their Conformation: Which Breed is Right for You?" Featuring two couples each of English, American, Crossbred, and Penn-Marydel hounds, the magnificent display of handsome hounds and staff in full kit drew a large audience of curious tourists as well as a rapt crowd of foxhunters. An historic interpreter portraying Washington's personal secretary introduced the program with entertaining and accurate details about the first president's own pack and their place at Mount Vernon.
Seminar organizer Penny Denegre welcomed the spectators and thanked the hunts who brought hounds to the Twelve Acre Field on the historic property: Blue Ridge (VA), Orange County (VA), Elkridge-Harford (MD), and Marlborough Hunt (MD). She then introduced moderator Marty Wood, who has judged every major hound show on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, in addition to founding and developing the renowned pack at Live Oak Hounds. Wood spoke about Washington's skill in the hunt field and how "foxhunting made General Washington the rider that he was, and I like to maintain that it also made him the tactician that he was." Wood then removed his hat and said, "I take my hat off to the General, I wish he was here today so that the two of us could discuss different types of hounds."
Marty Wood on English Foxhounds
Moving on to analysis of the specific breeds, Wood turned his attention to Blue Ridge's English hounds. Huntsman Graham Buston, assisted by Sheri Buston and Ashten Sfarnas, had brought the unentered dog Rambler, best of breed at Bryn Mawr, whom Wood brought forward for the audience to study. Wood noted that "he has all of the points you want to see in a high quality hound," noting his "lovely swan neck, dropping into a good strong shoulder" - with a caution to ignore a deceptive marking that made the shoulder appear straight - with matching angles along the shoulder from withers to chest and the hip from loin to femur.
He emphasized the importance of a strong thigh and loin, which provide the drive and reach in the hunt field. Wood noted that as a young hound, Rambler's musculature was not yet as full as it would be after a season or more of hunting, but this should not detract from the functional correctness of his conformation. Wood also praised the dog's depth through the chest: "This is very typical of a really good, classical English foxhound....you want to see the keel [bottom of chest] come down even with the point of the elbow." Looking at the females, Wood added comments on the importance of good feet and a well-sprung but not round ribcage to allow room for the heart and lungs.
He concluded, "Good conformation will allow a foxhound to go farther, faster, with less stress, than bad conformation. It will allow a pack of hounds, if you've got very level conformation inside the pack of hounds, which is what you breed for, it will allow that pack to run up together. That allows the pack to put pressure with a capital P on its quarry. Now, I cannot judge their sense of smell. I cannot judge their hearing or their eyesight, or what I like to call courage or their heart. All I can do is look at the outside of the hound. And for me it's like looking at the outside of a horse - it's very good for the inside of this man."
To watch a video of Wood's comments, please click here.
Skip Crawford on American Foxhounds
Skip Crawford, MFH Potomac Hunt (MD), addressed the features displayed by the Orange County's American hounds. Reg Spreadborough, huntsman, with whipper-in Josh Warren, included multiple show champion Kermit '15 in his two couples, and Crawford noted that Kermit's sire, Potomac Kadillac '12, is still in their kennels. "That's what's fun about the pedigrees, you can look back and see the great hounds from the past," he said, adding that there are six different sub-types within the American hounds, each suited to a particular type of hunting or country. In general, their size has increased over the last several decades, making them more substantial but still durable.
American hounds are noted for their voice and their low scenting ability: "A hound can't run faster than its nose." Looking at Kermit and his packmates, Crawford praised their well-set necks, "great undercarriage and strength - they'll be able to go all day." He noted American hounds' qualities of kind expression, being easy to get along with, their desire to please the huntsman, and great cry. He recalled hunting with Jim Atkins, then huntsman at Old Dominion, at a joint meet with 42 1/2 couples. The sound of the pack caused somebody to exclaim, "What is that noise coming down the Valley?" Crawford said he replied, "That's 42 1/2 couples screaming on the fox just as he ducked into covert! It was some sound."
To watch a video of Crawford's comments, please click here.
Tony Leahy on Crossbred Foxhounds
MFHA President Tony Leahy spoke about Crossbreds, exemplified by a well-matched quartet from Elkridge-Harford accompanied by their huntsman, Geoffrey Hyde, and Brady Hoffman. Leahy began by observing that some breeders had begun with a 50-50 cross between English and American hounds, and gone back to either pure breed to correct perceived weaknesses. He said that the Crossbred "for me, gives you the right balance.... A mix of that low scenting ability, but they don't get stuck, they have that drive to go forward."
Leahy affirmed that many of Wood's comments on conformation apply to all breeds. He spoke in detail about the importance of free-moving shoulder, a powerful hind end, and a low-set hock to provide power and leverage in motion. He said, "An overall quality animal is always balanced. Quality is quality, you can see it in an athlete, whether a horse or a hound, the point is that it's an overall balanced animal." Leahy noted that conformation is critical for foxhounds because so few animals in the world work as hard as they do - those with flaws drop out of the breeding program due to attrition because they do not hold up through many seasons' hunting.
He asked Hyde to move a hound out so the spectators could watch her turn and push off to come back to the huntsman. He used words like fluidity, spring, and power to describe what to look for in a hound's way of going.
To watch a video of Leahy's comments, please click here.
Daphne Wood and Cameron Sadler on Penn-Marydel Foxhounds
Marty Wood had explained in his introduction that the Penn-Marydels, such as Marlborough Hunt's two couples with huntsman Jason Cole and whipper-in Greg Bush, are probably closest to the type of hounds Washington would have hunted, with their longer ears, low scenting ability, and deep, booming voices. His wife and joint Master, Daphne Wood, said she first took note of the breed when former MFHA Executive Director told her they were the fastest-growing entries in the studbook, and she commented on the terrific improvements in the breed over the last decade and a half. In particular, the feet have tightened up - she mentioned the introduction of Dumfrieshire blood as a source of quality.
She described the vaunted cry of the Penn-Marydels as "unbelievable," and added that after Cheshire (PA) introduced their blood to the pack, the hunting was incredible. "The Penn-Marydel brings a lot to the party."
Daphne Wood said one reliable way to predict the type of hunting at a given pack is to look at type and fitness level of the staff horses. If they are all lean Thoroughbreds, for example, it's probably a faster moving hunt. She distributed a picture of a cheetah, "Since we're all talking about an animal that can cover the ground," and referred to its angles and strength.
Cameron Sadler, MFH Moore County Hounds (NC), then commented on her experiences hunting a Penn-Marydel pack. The sandy soil, wooded country, and fast-running coyote made the low scenting ability, tremendous voice, and dogged hunting technique of the Penn-Marydel very appealing. She added that their temperaments make them terrific ambassadors. "At opening meet, we have over 500 people on foot from town. After the hunt, we let them come in and pet the hounds, and they love it. I don't think you could do that with every kind of hound, but we do."
To watch a video of Daphne Wood's comments, please click here.
To watch a video of Sadler's comments, please click here.
Following the formal presentations, seminar attendees and Mount Vernon tourists were invited to come onto the field and meet hounds. Despite the heat and humidity, all of the hounds were genial and patient with their admirers, including many children. This friendly interaction with the general public, at one of the most important sites in both US and foxhunting history, was wonderful outreach. Many thanks not only to the speakers, but to all hunt staff who braved the hot sun to help share our sport's heart - our hounds.