I was so eager to get out of snowy Maryland for my California foxhunting weekend, that I forgot to take all the whipper-in ratshot bullets out of my hacking jacket, which I was wearing on the plane to save suitcase weight. So, as you can imagine, there was a minor incident after I went through security at BWI. Embarrassed and a little worried, my hound training explanation was me with blank stares. Luckily, a nice agent told me to go back, throw them out and come back! I happily complied! After missing our connection in Salt Lake City, we finally made it to Los Angeles via Las Vegas and found my daughter, Sarah. It was so warm and lovely it was hard to believe we were on the same planet as the frozen East Coast.
On Friday, Lynn Lloyd of Red Rock Hounds hunted her Walker hounds at Kick-On Ranch, a 3,200 acre cattle ranch and vineyard owned by Santa Ynez Valley‘s MFH Steve Lyons. The hunt has access to another 7,500 acres of adjacent property in easements. We followed dirt paths up and down big hills, through scrub oak groves, and along canyon or arroyo edges.
I had leased a horse from Tracy Ward of SYVH, a sure-footed Thoroughbred/Appaloosa cross named Peanut Butter. About 15.3 hands, he was strong, muscled and went up and down the stony hills with great confidence. There were three fields and I noted that they became very spread out, taking different trails to follow the huntsman and hounds. First flight stayed right with the huntsman, and horses needed to be very fit. The hills were one after the other, up and down, and blowing horses caught their breath at the top briefly before charging off again. We would look back from the top of a ridge to see second and third flight, either far below or several ridges away.
Following Lynn Lloyd is always a treat. She has excellent hounds, even on a difficult scenting day. Sending hounds out to search, she encourages them without fuss and gathers them to move on when the scent is too old. At several checks she calls them in and we wait atop a ridge for the ones who disappeared over a distant hill. I am reminded of Ireland where one is, often, on one side of a great valley, watching hounds work across many distant emerald fields. Here it was definitely brown and dusty but the hounds still easily got way ahead. We finally moved off, heading in. Later, I asked Lynn about the couple of hounds still out. She said, “I may not be worried but that does not mean I am unconcerned.”
The next morning she told me a call in the night took her to a nearby oil rig, where some workers had the two hounds. She appreciates the help of strangers and says she has met some great people collecting hounds and has done some important, positive public relations for the sport. It was a pleasure to hunt with her.
There was a lovely breakfast after the hunt under the oaks at Kick-On Ranch. We were able to reconnect with old friends and make some terrific new acquaintances over food, a favorite part of foxhunting. I was pleased to run into Peter and Amanda Wilson from Grand Canyon Hounds. We had last whipped together when he was huntsman at De La Brooke Hounds in Maryland. Now he is a confirmed Westerner!
That evening we were invited to a party at High Star Farm, where many had stabled their horses. It is a beautiful ranch, owned and operated by Gerry Brown, complete with racetrack and many other amenities, and home to some champion Arabian horses. Driving to this party we watched the low coastal fog drifting up the valleys and bringing a little moisture. I was told that this fog is one of the reasons it is such a fine area for vineyards. We did stop to sample the wine, which was good, and thought about crashing a local star-studded event but better judgment prevailed and we stayed in the bar, swapping tall tales with friends.
We were to hunt the next day from the Chamberlin Ranch, another vast cattle ranch, which surrounds the Firestone winery on three sides and is owned by the Chamberlin family. Sarah Chamberlin and her husband, Benjamin Bottoms, were both welcoming hosts for the day and excellent fieldmasters to the third flight and first flight, respectively.
We met on Saturday to follow SYVH’s huntsman Claire Buchy-Anderson and their hounds. Claire has introduced some of her native French hounds blood into this pack and the distinctive large black and white hounds were an obvious break from the usual tri-color or black and tan packs back East. Claire hunts with a French horn and wears the longer French hunting coat, complete with some gold braid. She has excellent control of her hounds, which obviously adore her. I was very impressed with her management of this lovely pack, who quickly responded to her spoken commands (in French) to leave the lines of viewed boar and deer. One of these boars was the size of a small cow and some of the hounds had chased it down a canyon. But first flight had viewed a coyote crossing behind us and she quickly blew to put the hounds on the line. We were away, and again, the galloping up and down the great hills reduced the first flight to four riders in about 15 minutes. Peanut Butter was blowing but as I looked around, so were the others and he seemed to be able to catch his breath and never wavered from his determined gallop up front. He took very good care of this rider!
Several more coyote were viewed that day and many miles were covered. The scenting was again difficult due to the dryness and sometimes the viewed coyote must have had a partner, because the hounds flew off in the opposite direction. I heard the whipper–in had to gallop beside this last coyote to stop hounds from reaching the road. Apparently, it is a well-known coyote trick to lure the hounds close to the road. The occasional deer was spotted as well as other wild pigs. Even the hilltoppers had a coyote cross not 12 feet from them.
The terrain varied from the hills to oak groves, and once, we rode through some fragrant wild sage bushes. I reached out and crushed some sprigs in my fingers to release the lovely scent. After over three hours, I was hot, happy and very thirsty. I learned that most riders here have an ingenious leather sling attached to the saddle for a water bottle as well as the normal flask, and I understand the need. The hounds and horses all avail themselves of the occasional cattle water trough here, as do the hounds back east drink from every stream.
Another delicious lunch was provided and we enjoyed retelling the day’s hunt and meeting some new friends. Saturday night we were invited to party with the area’s landowners and ranching community at the Elks Lodge. The hunt supports the local Cattleman’s Association, in fact, one of the MFHs serve as a Director, and we all attended the annual Cattleman’s Ball. A denim and cowboy boots affair, the belt buckles and Stetsons were proudly on display. Paul McEnroe, MFH of SYVH, showed us his 2013 Cattleman of The Year buckle with a big smile. Dinner was wonderful, aged steaks and all the sides you could eat. Nobody left hungry.
I returned to Los Angeles the next morning, but I heard that Sunday’s hunt with the combined packs was terrific and everyone had a great final day. My memory of SYVH will be the big, beautiful country and the very big hearts of the foxhunting community that welcomed this Easterner with open arms and gave her the opportunity to experience Western hunting at its finest.