We have just finished the most amazing trip of our lives. Over the course of the season we traveled from the Atlantic to the Pacific. California to Canada. 15,000 miles with horses. Thirteen Hound Performance Trials. Fifteen more Friendship hunts along the way. Twenty-eight different locations. Twenty-eight unique experiences. Our overall mission was to “Wave the flag of foxhunting all across America.” What a great gig! We love this great sport! Representing the MFHA in so many locations was truly an honor and a privilege!
We are grateful to all our hosts for the outstanding hospitality and the incredible sport we enjoyed!
The journey east of the Mississippi was incredible. Wonderful sport and hospitality everywhere we went. Beautiful rolling hills and swift flowing rocky streams. Coops and rail fences everywhere. What was our favorite? All of them! Every place was something special.
The journey west of the Mississippi was magnificent---endless open plains ringed with distant snowy mountains, rolling sod covered prairies and sandy, sagebrush covered deserts. The enormity of all that space is breathtaking. It’s a very different world than our green grass and trees and streams in the East. But the enthusiasm of the foxhunters, the camaraderie, the joy of being outdoors and being with these beautiful hounds and horses, and yes, that scrawny coyote bounding ahead of it all, is the same. One is comforted, when one thinks of all the development in the urban East, that these Western spaces will always exist. And it’s fascinating to see the wonderful adaptations being made and experimented with to suit the sport to the quarry (always coyote, sometimes mountain lion, jack rabbit, bob cat or boar) and terrain, which ranges from dry flat sand to grassy steep hills to rock covered mountains to grass covered prairie.
We encourage everyone here in the East to go hunt with several hunts west of the Mississippi. The experience is totally different and fun! We promise, it will be a trip you’ll never forget, and there’ll always be a welcome.
What impressed us most?
Courage, determination, love of the sport, resourcefulness, ingenuity, cooperation. The courage of the leaders and other members at each hunt to meet any and every challenge to keep their hunts not just going, but truly going strong. Time and again we were inspired - by the people, the country, the hounds, the kennels and stables, the wonderful hospitality and the pure love of the sport.
The Spirit of Foxhunting is even stronger than we expected. Foxhunting in America is alive and well. Sure, we have our challenges. Some challenges are common among many hunts. Others are unique. But, every hunt we visited is meeting those challenges well.
Thanks again to the MFHA Board for allowing us the great honor to serve. And thanks to all the hunts who took such wonderful care of us all along the way.
Epp Wilson, Hark Forward Performance Trial Chair, and Jean Derrick, Hon Secretary.
Editor's Note: Jean Derrick of Belle Meade Hunt (GA) worked tirelessly through the past year as the Honorary Secretary of the Hark Forward Hound Performance Trials, which were chaired by Belle Meade Master Epp Wilson. Earlier this year, they and nearly a dozen friends set off from Georgia for a celebratory tour of Plains and Western hunts. Here are her reports from this remarkable hunting adventure.
Part One: "You Feel Like You Could Run Forever:" Hark Forward Finds the Prairie, Petroglyphs, and More
At this moment, I and two friends, with a fully loaded four-horse trailer, are speeding down arrow-straight roads over the prairie, caravanning with two other big rigs. We have 12 people and 18 horses in all. It’s snowing, and the ground is lightly dusted.
There are flakes blowing horizontally over the highway. But the biggest sensory event happening right now is the wind, making both the truck and trailer shudder with each gust. The thermometer says it’s 37 degrees, but I know with the wind chill, it probably feels like 10. This is the fifth day of our Hark Forward Western Tour, celebrating the 110th anniversary of the founding of the MFHA, and it’s our second travel day. We’re headed to New Mexico today - Santa Fe more precisely, to ride out with Caza Ladron.
Our travels began on March 15th, when we struck out from Thomson, Georgia at 5 a.m. for a 16-hour, 1000-mile trek to Paola, Kansas for the Mission Valley Hunt Club's Foxhound Performance Trial. We arrived about 8 p.m., slept soundly, and spent the next day straightening tack rooms and cleaning out trucks and trailers. The day concluded with a judges’ meeting and, of course, a party at the Mission Valley clubhouse.
Hounds competing at Mission Valley. Photo courtesy of Allison Howell Images.
Five hunts entered, including our host hunt, so over the two-day trial, we hunted with the best hounds from Mission Valley along with Fort Leavenworth Hunt (KS), North Hills Hunt (NE), Mill Creek Hunt (IL), and Bridlespur Hunt (MO). I must admit, it was an enjoyable party, and I might have been a tad bleary the next morning, but the 38-degree temperature, with a very brisk wind, shook me wide awake. I quickly abandoned the idea of wearing my splendid red coat and dug out of the corner of the trailer tack room a heavy, very warm and plain black melton coat. Dixie and I trotted and cantered briskly around the field of the meet, stopping every two circuits or so to snag a thimble full of port at the stirrup cup.
We moved off from the Mission Valley Clubhouse with 12 couple of hounds. Dramatically, immediately after they were cast, the pack opened in full cry, and we galloped for half an hour over the rolling piedmont of the prairie hills covered with thick sod. Surprisingly, there is no mud here - just rich black damp dirt. Very good footing, not slick at all, with occasional rocks. Jumps are “tiger trap” coops, with wide gaps between the boards, about 3’3”. After a good, classic coyote hunting day, the field returned to the clubhouse for a hot lunch of fresh turkey, ham and vegetables, with homemade desserts. That night, there was another entertainment in the rambling, massive home of a hunt member, with scattered islands of fresh, appetizing meats, cheese and pastries.
Day two was at the famous Flint Hills, the original prairie that has never been farmed. We drove two hours to the Mashed O Ranch, 14,000 acres of openness. When we pulled past the ranch house, a cowboy in his duster and hat, riding his bay quarter horse, joined the procession. He’s a range man, the real deal. This is open country. Nothing but endless rolling turf, ringed by blue hills. Despite the name, there was little rock in this area, and the footing was perfect. No mud, no holes, just the occasional erosion ditch which is easily jumped in a stride. When my mare got off the trailer, I swear she pulled herself up, took a deep breath, and sighed at the openness. You feel like you can run forever. The only barriers are the occasional barbed wire fences that enclose a square mile. The grass was still winter brown, but there are hints of spring green. The wind was ever present, but it was comfortable riding with a heavy coat.
The performance trials pack heads out into the inviting Kansas country. Photo courtesy of Allison Howell Images.
Our field master kept us to the hillsides, where the hounds snaked in a long line, in full cry early in the day. We cantered to keep alongside of the pack. While generally the going was smooth, there were occasionally eroded gullies which usually could be jumped easily. Descending a steep bank jutting about eight feet from the hillside, Rosie’s Irish blood showed as she jumped (down) the bank. The pack today was even more cohesive than the day before. Once, when the hounds took off over the corner of a pasture inaccessible to riders (no gate in sight, and none of these barbed wire fences were paneled), huntsman Angela Murray of Red Rock Hounds (NV) requested they be stopped. A whip shot once in the air, and the whole pack, as one, stopped, and turned back to the huntsman. These were really good hounds. After several hours of steady hunting, trailing and full cry, Belle Meade Master Epp Wilson called for his second horse, and one of our crew drove the big six-horse trailer out onto this trackless prairie to deliver the steed. It was surreal to see the that familiar Foxboro trailer, silhouetted against the skyline. This day ended after the allotted performance trial hunt time of three hours. My mare and I could have hunted happily another three hours. The hills were dreamlike and endless. To view results from this event, please click here.
The next day, our westward trek to Caza Ladron started at 5 a.m. and took 13 hours to reach Santa Fe, passing through Oklahoma. Tumbleweeds blew across the road and the only trees demark a homestead. We started out in a violent thunderstorm, and as we gained elevation and went further west, it changed to snow. It’s spring by the calendar, but the West is several months behind our Georgia home. We enjoyed exercising Caza Ladron's hounds the next day. Their kennel is at Hipico, a large equine facility, and surrounded by desert hills covered with scrub, sage, tall cacti, and small junipers. Our horses figured out the cactus really quick. The ground this time of year is dry and dusty, but the sky and surrounding mountains make for a beautiful view.
The next day was an easy drive to Albuquerque, where we hunted with Juan Tomas Hounds. The land was just beautiful, desert ringed by mountains. John Allen, our field master, said, “It’s like living in a painting.” The territory is shot through with arroyos, ravines of natural erosion. Little arroyos, two or three feet across and a foot deep, can be negotiated with a jump of a stride. Big arroyos are more challenging. They’re three or four feet deep, and of course have banks of corresponding size. As the field jumps, horse by horse, the sandy banks wear down, and you either pick another spot, or plough on through deep footing. There are no jumps, but the natural landscape is enough. It’s a lot like Ireland.
Hark Forward Performance Trials Hon. Secretary Jean Derrick on a run. Photo courtesy of Allison Howell Images.
I was interested in the techniques this hunt uses when the game gets up. The first run, I was paying attention to where Dixie was putting her feet, looking down. Then glancing up, I saw the coyote bounding and bouncing through the sage. I looped the reins, stood up in the stirrups, let my mare take care of us, and watched. The field master used the field to turn (or attempt to turn) the quarry, as well as compress the pack to put more pressure on the coyote. However, today scent was poor. On his last bounce of the run, the coyote just vanished. We chased three coyotes in this fashion, with our field master’s mare sending a steady stream of sand as she zipped along, jumping the arroyos. We jumped our single jump of the day, a stack of four pallets, resting vertically against the barbed wire fence. Master Adren Nance explained that the hunt had tried using traditional boards for coops, but those jumps disappeared, being converted into fencing (or firewood) for the locals, but these pallets seemed to stay in place.
On the way in, from stage left, we saw a herd of wild horses galloping toward our trailer encampment. The herd swerved at the last minute, passing by our trucks and trailers and galloping toward the only other artificial feature I could see in the landscape - a squatter’s encampment. There they watered at tin metal troughs. As we left after breakfast, they lined up by the road, curiously watching us pass. Nance had explained earlier that we literally were in no man’s land. No one has title to this property. There were squatters (this is where the series Breaking Bad was shot). He seriously asked the assembled riders who was packing heat, and there was a substantial show of hands. “Good," he said. “Don’t pick up any hitchhikers, and if a stranger drives up to our trailers, be sure you know where your gun is.” Now, I’m a lawyer, as is he, and I know the New Mexico legislature could pass a law clearing title to this property. But I don’t think they want to. These Westerners want some things to remain wild and unattainable.
The night before our hunt, we drove out into the wilderness to the Nance family''s Field Ranch, located on 40 square miles of desert bordered by a Navajo Reservation. In 1910, it was the Town of Field, and there remain three old stone and log beam buildings. Adren's father Jim was our host and showed us around, and I asked him how many acres comprised the ranch. Drawing himself up, he looked me straight in the eye, and said, “You’re from the East, so you don’t know any better in asking that question, so I’ll answer it, but around here, this question is like asking someone what the balance in their checking account is.” The answer is 25,000. At the ranch, their annual rainfall is 14” a year, as opposed to 8” in nearby Albuquerque, which is a huge difference. I saw cattle and horses grazing on green grass. Water is probably the most precious commodity here. And this is a place of strong people.
Lurchers work the high desert country outside Flagstaff. Photo courtesy of Allison Howell Images.
We headed next to Flagstaff, Arizona, home to Grand Canyon Hounds. We took a supposed day of rest after we drove to Flagstaff, but the members of the Grand Canyon made sure things stayed lively, inviting us to lurcher coursing. Lurchers are lovely mixed breed dogs, mostly like greyhounds, bred to hunt silently and efficiently by English poachers hunting the King’s land. Out West, they chase jack rabbits. Master Paul Delaney led our group from the heights of Flagstaff to the lower elevations of the high desert. We trekked out on foot into the sand, skirting the sagebrush, and jumping up rabbits that our five lurchers keyed in on like lightning. The score was rabbits 3, lurchers 0, after our four-mile excursion. Those jacks are fast.
Walking back to the trucks, our hosts told us they’d also like to show us a nearby site. Chevelon, a canyon of petroglyphs, lay next to where we’d parked the trucks. Estimated to be 1,200 years old, the petroglyphs show very recognizable deer, elk, horses, cattle, and men and women. We ate a picnic lunch and headed back to Flagstaff to freshen up and prepare for the kennel tour and welcome party. A few hours later, we drove 20 minutes from our hotel to the Grand Canyon Hounds Kennels and Clubhouse. I have never seen such a lovely location for a hunt headquarters. I have never seen such an impressive group of functional, architecturally attractive buildings housing a hunt. The colors are all shades of brown, which match the land. Grand Canyon’s home is on 85 acres of meadows, surrounded by mountains of federal parks. There are houses for staff, barns for horses, and the central building is the kennels, with heated concrete benches, artful ironwork, and windows with cathedral ceilings, braced by mellow colored fir beams. The sunlight warms and brightens the whole building. And the adjacent Clubhouse is above the biggest, prettiest, most inviting indoor area I’ve ever seen. That evening there was a running slide show of desert hunt scenes, building anticipation for the next day.
The 1,200-year-old petroglyphs of Chevelon Canyon. Photo courtesy of Allison Howell Images.
In the morning, Delaney led us to the meet, where we parked in a beautiful, seemingly endless level desert, covered with grass, surrounded by hills, with several snow-covered mountains in the background, the San Francisco Peaks. Huntsman Peter Wilson unboxed the hounds, who make up an interesting pack. Wilson and Tyce Mothershead, huntsman of Tejon Hounds (CA), are creating a Western Hound, which is a cross between a foxhound and a sight hound, usually a Saluki. A foxhound normally isn’t fast enough to catch a coyote, but a sight hound is. A sight hound normally doesn’t have the stamina or biddability to hunt in a pack, but a foxhound, of course, does. The cross has it all. As Delany says, “A hound to hunt foxes has been perfected. A hound to catch coyotes has not as yet been perfected, but we’re working on it.”
Grand Canyon has about 40 couple in the kennels, and half are foxhounds and half are Western Hounds. The pack drawn for today shows that proportion. As Delaney and I were quietly chatting, I looked up and saw the huntsman and his horse at a full gallop, with clumps of dust puffing, and the pack fanning out in front of him. He was up in his saddle, pointing forward with his cap. Looking further, I saw the coyote. It was time to ride. Delaney and I galloped forward furiously over the level desert. The soft sand had some grass, but no cactus and little rock. Then, almost as abruptly as I perceived the run had begun, it was over, pack and huntsman and field crowded around. Later I learned that this is calving season, and coyotes are a particular problem at his time. A whip had earlier seen a pack of eight coyotes crowding around a cow about to calve, and we had chased and caught one of them. Peter cast on, and soon again rose in this saddle and pointed forward, harking the hounds, who sped away. This time I stayed with the field, during the mad dash which lasted about two minutes. Another quarry taken with machine-like precision.
Steep hillsides of ancient volcanic rock are no problem for this handy mount and rider. Photo courtesy of Allison Howell Images.
The hounds were watered, and we cast again, toward the hills. I fanned out alongside Delaney, and we rode halfway up a hill, behind the huntsman and a whipper-in. Word came that there had been a view on the other side of the hill. I turned to ask the best way around. “Over the top,” he said, “but I’m going around. You can follow the huntsman, if you wish.” I turned Rosie, who cantered lightly to the crest of the hill, weaving around the clumps of scrub. From the top, there was the pack, and here was the coyote, framed against the soft colors of the Painted Desert. I followed huntsman and whip diagonally down the steep far side of the hill. This side was covered in pebbles of ancient volcanic rock, tough footing but the horses moved confidently down, and I enjoyed the view. Rosie and I were the first of the field to arrive as hounds swiftly accounted for this coyote. Getting the hang of this exhilarating pattern. The hounds were watered again, and we cast on, hunting back to the trailers. There was one more run, but with the rising heat of the morning, no luck. Back at the trailers, we enjoyed a breakfast of ham, biscuits, and fruit salad with mimosas against the stunning natural backdrop.
Part Two: "They Came in the Night:" Wild Horses and Wild Country
The wild horses came in the night, unseen and unexpected, and raided the barn where we had just left our horses at Red Rock Hounds in Reno, Nevada. They ate the hay stored outside the paddocks. They scoured the buckets by the gates. And I’m sure they were the subject of the intense interest of our hunt horses. This is, after all, BLM land in the high desert.
I closed my eyes and thought back over the last days. Earlier, after that great day with Grand Canyon, we had crossed from Arizona into California, and caravanned over to Tejon Hounds, whose breeding program of the Western Hounds parallels that of Grand Canyon. Huntsman Tyce Mothershead and his wife Hillary had greeted us with a delicious supper of grilled steak and salmon. Over the meal, they explained the complexity and simplicity of the publicly traded corporation which owns this historic, sprawling 270,000-acre ranch, 100,000 acres of which is prime coyote hunting property, with tall hills, and green, green native grasses in the sandy soil. Hardly a rock to be seen. The ranch has a multitude of profit making ventures, such as vineyards, orange groves, almond and pistachio orchards, and oil wells. And a registered coyote hunt, tasked with protecting the cattle that roam the hills. Other quarry are bobcat and wild boar. The hunt must pay for itself, to continue to justify its existence. After supper, we were led several miles down to the local town of Lebec, where the company owns a village of houses for employees and guests.
The next morning, we drove 15 minutes, through a locked gate Tyce opened, to a small stockyard, with brimming clean water troughs. Hounds were cast, and the show began. It’s a late Spring, and there are no flowers blooming yet. There’s also a pesky grass which produces a seed which is dangerous if inhaled by a hound, but this year that plant was also late in maturing, so we were fortunate to be able to hunt.
The overall, headline description of this land is gorgeous, green, rolling hills and valleys. The hounds ranged in front of Tyce, who methodically drew ditches of tumbleweeds. About half of this 12-couple pack are foxhounds mixed with sight hounds, known as the Western Hounds, and the remainder are traditional foxhounds. A lone whip ranges wide, scanning the hills for signs of coyotes. Periodically, we’d chase one, but the warmth of the day bothered the hounds, who were watered frequently at the troughs located throughout this area.
We climbed the high hills and looked out over unending waves of green. My ears popped with the altitude, a novel experience for me on a horse. We had several good runs. One was on the valley floor.
Tyce had spotted the coyote standing on the edge of a vineyard, and walked the pack quietly around, approaching him from the side. Shortly, the chase was on. The ground broke slightly under
our horses’ hooves, where squirrels had dug tunnels. Our horses adjusted quickly, and we rode them with loose reins, so they could balance themselves over the slightly uneven footing. But we galloped plenty fast. This coyote was faster, and reached a grove of almond trees, and slipped away.
Then, late in the morning, Tyce spotted a coyote about a mile ahead, and harked the hounds to it. Today there are five of us riding on this exquisite, private hunt, in this unbelievably gorgeous setting. The others, more distant, declined to follow, and headed for the nearby trailers. My Irish sport horse mare Rosie was game. I gently urged her forward, switch backing down the steep hillside. At the bottom, I judged our huntsman was a mile away, and Rosie headed out to make up our lost ground, galloping straight and purposefully. The whip was a little closer ahead of us, and we caught up with her, and galloped around to a gate, and headed up another hill. I was very pleased, at this 5,000-foot altitude, that my mare’s wind was just fine. Another mile, and we caught our huntsman, who was gathering the panting pack. This coyote had slipped away, to the steep heights above us.
Suddenly, there was a sharp, whirring sound. The whip urgently warned off the hounds, who were starting to show interest, “Rattlesnake, rattlesnake!!!” I held Tyce’s horse, and he pulled out a pistol from a holster on his saddle and approached the snake. The hounds all moved to stand around their huntsman’s horse. Rosie and I stayed way clear of this action, but just then a pickup truck driven by Hillary pulled up, and Allison Howell, our equestrian photographer jumped out and clambered up over a ditch, and up
the hill to get her picture. Tyce waited, and shortly took his one shot, burying the snake under a rock.
Rosie and I went 21 miles today. We returned to our parked trailers, and feasted on chicken salad, and some of the steak from dinner last night.
Then, we headed back to the equestrian center, loaded up the remaining horses, and went on to Temecula, California, home of the Santa Fe West Hills Hunt, where we stabled at Master and huntsman Terry Paine’s Kick On Ranch. California is green. It was a beautiful drive over.
The next morning we hunted on an Indian reservation. I asked, and was told, the tribe’s name, but it was unfamiliar to my Eastern ears. The land was hilly high desert, with the tallest scrub we had seen so far, and about eight different varieties of the ever-present sage. But there were also large areas of level, clear, grassy land, too, in small valleys between the hills.
Our field master was Master Don Parker, who with his wife Marty had hosted the night before a fine welcome party for us. We warmed up, cantering gently along in the sandy footing. Then, without a backward glance, (and no word of warning, or any invitation, like “Ya’ll come on now....”), Don darted into the trackless brush, at full gallop, following Terry. The hounds had found, and were off, although I could only hear, and not see, the action, due to the thick brush.
Today, I’m riding Queen Victoria, “Tory”, who at 16.1 hands is my nimble, low-to-the-ground, dirt bike horse. And unwittingly, I picked the right one to ride today. The first ten minutes of the run, I thought frequently that ‘today is the day I might very well just flat fall off.’ Tory and I once, and only once, straddled a stiff bush, when we failed to communicate which side to pass it by. After that, I loosened up, and she got the rhythm of the pace, changing direction slightly with each stride, to skirt the upcoming scrub. Don was on a huge 18 hand gray draft cross gelding, who was a perfect brush whacker, crashing through the undergrowth, splintering tough cedar branches, and opening up a path for us.
After a run of 20 minutes, we pulled up with Terry and the hounds. I was it for first field, and second was nowhere in sight. “Couldn’t you lose her, Don?” Terry asked. Don allowed as how he had tried and failed, with a twinkle in his eye. He kindly offered to have me ride beside him, but I declined. He and his big gray were a lot more useful to me opening up the path.
We hunted on, and midway through the morning, Don and I were standing halfway up a hillside, watching the hounds draw the adjoining hillside. Suddenly, a lankly light brown coyote popped out of the scrub and ran for the open valley below. “Let’s go turn him!!”, Don called to me, and we both raced top speed down the hill, after the coyote. Don slightly overshot him, and I, turning Tory quickly, attempted to head the coyote back towards the pack, but he easily did an end run ten feet behind me, escaping into the scrub of the next hill.
Throughout the day, Don was an enthusiastic fieldmaster, racing downhill and across the valleys, keeping me in and sometimes even ahead of the action.
On the way in, we jumped our single jump of the day, a stack of four pallets, resting vertically against the barbed wire fence. Master Terry explained that the hunt had tried using traditional boards for coops, but those jumps disappeared, being converted into fencing (or firewood) for the locals, but these pallets seemed to stay in place.
The next day, our team headed out to the Santa Ynez Valley Hounds, our western most point of travel. This is a unique pack of cross bred and French hounds, hunted by charming, stylish Claire Buchy-Anderson. Quarry is coyote, of course, but also jackrabbit and wild boar. These are large, black and white, quiet and focused hounds. They are always looking at their huntswoman. Even at rest, they face her.
Today is warm, but the pack constantly trails, starting on a jackrabbit, and then, when the coyote jumps up, switching to that. There are steep, high hills, covered in sage, interspersed with green pastures where cattle graze. You can see the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Stout, inviting coops panel the barbed wire fences. Scenting was difficult as the Spring day warmed.
Our field master lived in Santa Barbara and drove an hour and a half to hunt here. She led us over fragile footing, in areas where the ground squirrels had tunneled in the sandy soil. The pack was impressively biddable.
After several hours, we returned to the oasis of green grass and live oak tress where we’d parked the trailers, enjoying a homemade spread of grilled meats, salads, and
Next morning, we’re off for Reno, Nevada, home to the Red Rock Hounds, founded by Lynn lLoyd, and hunted by our Mission Valley Trial huntswoman, Angela Murray. Nevada is not green, like California, but it has good water. The kennels and clubhouse of the hunt are nestled in a desert valley which has plentiful springs, and this time of year, is also fed by snowmelt. The mountain ranges in all directions are still white topped, and we were amazed on our trip over to Reno to see that the Donner Pass still had drifts of snow head high.
There is a warm, loud, vocal welcome for us, and I and my little group of truck rider companions are housed on a hillside way high above the kennels. Our first night, I just sat and looked at the view of the valley below, lit by a full moon. That’s when the wild horses raided our barn.
We hunted at 9 a.m., trailering ten minutes over to the next valley. This pack is a lanky, black and white pack of American hounds, treeing and running Walkers. When I asked Lynn Lloyd why she’d choose these, she replied, “It’s the only breeding I could find that could go on and hunt ten hours in these dry conditions, with noses low enough to consistently find and trail.” Quarry are coyotes, bob cats, and mountain lion.
This day the pack struck a coyote early on, and ran over the high hill, across the mile-wide valley, and into the adjacent red draw. (This beautiful, rose colored earth is from the high iron content in the soil, a remnant of the volcanic activity that created this geography). Lynn was leading the field, and she wisely went high, and waited, to see where the hounds were headed next. There was a split, and huntswoman Angela Murray gathered up the portion of the pack still with her, to take them to water brought in by a road whip. The field also enjoyed refreshments. Then a whip radioed in that she’s spotted the remaining portion of the pack on a nearby hillside, and that something was probably denned up. We rode steadily up the hills, and finally, our tired horses hauled us up to a point where we could see about 3 couple of hounds, working. A few minutes later, we arrived at the site, and could hear at least two hounds underground in the den, baying. We waited for our huntswoman, who arrived and gave the quarry best, calling away her hounds, and blowing gone to ground. A fine end to a good day.
Next up, two days of travel to the foot stomping, end of the season gathering of Western hunts at Burwell, Nebraska.
Hark Forward Visits North Hills Hunt's 25th Anniversary and More
I admit it, I’m crazy. But how often do you get a chance to do something you’ve never done before, in the same month that you get your first Social Security payment? After two days of straight driving, through spectacular scenery of Nevada and Wyoming, we arrived at the tiny, all-American hamlet of Burwell, NE, where North Hills Hunt was celebrating their 25th anniversary. Through that time span, Burwell has been the end-of-season, blow it all out ‘til next year stop for a half-dozen Western hunts, that convene annually to hunt for a week, taking turns or pooling packs.
A special treat for a silver anniversary. Photo by Jenny Wheatley/Hunt Photography.
This year 120 foxhunters, representing 14 hunts, travelled to Burwell. And this year, with the silver anniversary of North Hills, joint Masters Luke Mantranga, Dave Keffler, and Monte Antisdel planned some extra features, like an early hunt on Tuesday. When our crew arrived in Burwell on Monday night, after two days of driving, an extra hunt seemed like the thing to do, and I raised my hand and committed. Kindly, Master Keffler and his friend Becca volunteered to give me and my mare Tory a ride to the Grable Farm in Comstock, a 4,000-acre fixture nestled in the Sand Hills, whose gentle contours reminded me of Kansas, with thick, good grass, and probably more trees. I noticed the trees didn’t stand on hilltops, but rather were at the base of the hills, sheltered in ravines and protected pockets on the hillsides. That should have been my first clue about the wind, but sometimes I’m oblivious.
There was a storm coming which had chased us east from Wyoming, with warnings of high winds. I’d never seen digital speed limit signs, but they have those in Wyoming, because weather conditions, including wind, frequently require an adjustment. One of our rigs was confined to 55 mph across most of the state, while my truck and trailer had sailed through at 75 mph. Those winds followed us to Nebraska, plus some snow. Okay, I thought, I’ve ridden in rain, some light east-of-the-Mississippi snow, and now I get to experience a midwest spring storm.
Tuesday morning, I and fellow crew members opened the door of our charming cottage, and saw a light dusting of snow, which I admit was somewhat of a surprise because the night before seemed mild. That wind was starting to pick up. My truck was iced up, so it took a few extra minutes to warm. But the temperature was a relatively mild 30 degrees. I tacked up and, as a precaution, because there didn’t seem to be a lot activity at the fairgrounds where our horses were stabled, called Becca to confirm the meet was still on go. “Absolutely,” she assured me. In the end, ten hardy fools went out to follow the sight hounds of the cobbled-together pack - an independent cowboy/farmer named Dolf had five lovely lurchers and an Irish Wolfhound, and North Hills huntsman David Kruger threw in some foxhounds.
Brit Vegas Gengenbach offers a warming beverage to visiting Master Steven Thomas from Fort Leavenworth. Photo by Jenny Wheatley/Hunt Photography.
We drove half an hour and parked in a small state park beside the broad and shallow Middle Loop River. Snow was falling steadily and the wind was blowing. Later, I learned through the two hours we were out that the temperature, while 26 degrees, had a real feel of 6 degrees with the 25 to 41 mph winds. I buttoned my Barbour coat collar up and mounted. We hunted the famous Sand Hills, rolling, endless acres of sizeable, steep hills which can be a challenge to maneuver, with their deep crevices. Tory liked the grass and sand footing, and quickly learned to maneuver the eroded shallow gullies on the hillsides.
To watch the pack, we kept mainly to the hilltops, seeing the sight hounds spread out in the coverts. Gamely galloping up to the crest, I urged Tory to stay straight and upright against the blast of the wind from our left. I’d never had to use leg aids because of the wind before! There were several short runs, but nothing sustained. The coyotes this day had better sense than to go out in this weather. However, I’m glad I went - it was a wild, exhilarating time outdoors. Not much finding, but a lot of hunting. We returned to the trailers and gratefully drove a short distance to Becca’s family’s farmhouse, where her grandmother fixed us all a hot, homemade lunch.
The next morning, the weather was totally different. No wind and 25 degrees warmer. We met at the Burwell fixture, just a ten minute drive out of the village. North Hills' fieldmaster had prepared a delicious stirrup cup. I was still cold from yesterday, and finally decided on wearing my long riding raincoat, which, sans coat, kept me very comfortable.
Hunting a combined pack at Burwell. Left to right, Maraina Robrahn, Red Rock Master and huntsman Angela Murray, North Hills huntsman David Kruger, Breanna Orsborn, Brit Vegas Gengenbach, and Fort Leavenworth Master and huntsman Steven Thomas following. Photo by Sophia Peranteau.
This day might have been my favorite hunt so far. The pack was a joint effort of North Hills and Red Rock from Nevada, and scent on this thick greening turf was good. Shortly after they were cast, the pack took off. I could see the staff and huntsmen scrambling to deploy and follow.
The field at first was able to keep them in sight, galloping up, over and down hills, and following through an equal mixture of wire gates and good coops. After about 45 minutes, the cry faded, and we stood on the hill tops listening and looking. Finally, resorting to the radio, our fieldmaster announced that the pack had run to the edge of (or out of) this big country, but the whips now had gathered up most of the pack, and they were now on their way back. Flask break.
At one point, as we hunted back, I looked up and saw the whole pack spread out across the hillside like a checkerboard, evenly covering the ground. No more big runs that day, but still lots of good hound work to watch.
Heading out for the Hark Forward Performance Trial at Arapahoe. Tanya Nelson photo.
Our caravan next set out for Denver, where the Arapahoe Hunt hosted the second foxhound performance trial of our trip. My traveling companions and I (and our horses) were guests of Master Mary Ewing, and we were entertained that evening in the home of field master Kevin Schmeit and his wife Becky. The following day was a rest day, and I caught up on office emails as well as setting up the performance trial computer program. Four hunts entered - Juan Tomas Hounds (NM), Grand Canyon Hounds (AZ), Tejon Hounds (CA) and Bijou Springs Hunt (CO). The site of both days' meets was the Arapahoe clubhouse and kennels, outside of Aurora.
The first day was warm and relatively still. Arapahoe huntsman Steve Currey, originally from Derbyshire and with a successful and substantial history as a professional staff at several hunts east of the Mississippi, admitted to being nervous at hunting a performance trial pack, but soon clearly relaxed and quietly began enjoying himself. After all, he’s hunting the best dogs from some of the best packs west of the Mississippi. In the season he’s been hunting the Arapahoe pack, filling the enormous shoes of now retired huntsman and Master Marvin Beeman, Steve has quickly adapted to the different techniques needed to successfully hunt in these dry conditions.
Master and former huntsman Dr. Marvin Beeman evaluates performance trial hounds. Tanya Nelson photo.
Today, with little wind, he ranged wide in his draws. A number of car followers saw as many as five coyotes, but the field didn’t view. Hounds ran in fairly short bursts. We jumped a lot of inviting coops and stacked logs, moving from draw to draw. Two years ago cattle were added to the territory, and this hunt has added almost 200 jumps since, to keep mobility over the new fencing.
In the third hour, a whip viewed and I watched the brown coyote scamper down the hill toward a stream, lined with fallen logs. There the hounds lost. No one viewed him across the creek. Just then a white, flatbed pickup roared up the road on the hillside across the creek and Amanda Wilson, wife of Grand Canyon huntsman Peter Wilson, jumped out, running and pointing her hunt cap down the road and up the hill. Staff and field galloped over, the hounds found, and we raced on another mile. There was a split, and huntsman Currey stopped the hounds the field was following, to regroup. However, that trail, in the warming temperatures, never revived. This day we ranged 21 miles. A decent day, with a lot of hunting and trailing scores, and a few full cry scores.
This first day was nostalgic and even emotional for me. I rode Dixie, the same PMU mare I rode here during Arapahoe's Centennial Performance Trial. That day we went 33 miles in the high desert, 6,500 feet above sea level. Later, she’d been named a Centennial Fieldhunter for the Southern District. Today, she’s 15, very fit, and I think she remembered this wide open place. She was lovely all day, jumping and galloping on.
The next day, a brisk steady wind blew, I slathered up on lotion, and prepared to grin and bear it. Surely scenting conditions were going to be difficult to impossible. Wrong. Steve started off drawing in the open, working to a lovely high desert valley, with a flowing shallow stream with good sandy footing. There were big trees spreading out 100 feet on either side of the creek. Lots of grass, and no cactus. There were ducks, cranes, killdeers and meadowlarks. And there were lots of coyotes. The field today viewed every one spotted by the whippers-in, who would holler, point his or her cap, and the race would be on.
Our field master was the affable Mike Jenner, who welcomed me at the front of first flight, and during lulls in the action, explained some finer points. Of course, watch out for the fairly frequent prairie dog holes. But there were also piles of barbed wire on the ground, and with the addition of cattle, new, knee-high hot wire strung in hard-to-see spots. I told him I’d stay behind him, even though he explained that the field often ranged on either side of him in the open high desert. Field masters and huntsmen are excellent leaders over unknown creeks and strange, deep grassy fields while galloping.
We had three long runs, and the field viewed a number of hunted coyotes for long periods, including a hunted pair. I could stand in my stirrups and point with my whip, letting Tory take care of avoiding the holes. Intermittently there would be jumps, and I tried to pull her up, and be sure she had her breath and was collected. This mare loves to hunt, and she impatiently let me rate her, then proceeded to jump lightly and smoothly, and gallop on.
At the end of the third run, probably the longest of the day, our fieldmaster’s horse was tiring, and that good gray Thoroughbred mare clipped the very top edge of a steep coop, splintering the top part of the first board into a 2’ fragment which stuck straight up in the middle of the coop. There was still plenty of room on either side to jump, and I told Tory to go left, at the angle Mike had taken. We flew over, and she caught up quickly. The hounds checked shortly afterwards, perhaps even putting that coyote to ground, but he could not be located. We hunted home quietly, covering 18 miles this day and concluding our fantastic odyssey on a memorable note.