Nearing the end of a very mild and highly hunted season, Old Man Winter finally decided to show his face the night before members of Middleburg Hunt were to travel for a joint meet with Keswick Hunt Club on February 11, 2012. There were a few inches of freshly fallen snow at home, but as we started on our trek, the accumulation seemed to deepen the farther south we drove. In a single moment right around Opel, all the snow vanished leaving a crisp blanket of frozen grass on which to have an amazing day hunting hounds.
Keswick kindly hosted us at Arnold Pent’s breathtaking Edgewood Farm in Orange, Virginia. Their territory of open, rolling fields boarded by a river is not unlike ours, however the sheer size of this one fixture compounded with the regal manor home, impeccable landscaping and miles of views left quite an impression on the guests so generously permitted to hunt there that day.
Middleburg huntsman Barry Magner came down with hounds and horses the night before and was kindly hosted by his longtime friend, fellow Irishman and Keswick’s professional huntsman, Tony Gammel and his wife Whitney. Middleburg’s professional whip Josh Warren as well as honorary whips Carey Schefte and Paul Thorpe arrived early to the meet the following morning. Middleburg Master Jeff Blue represented his hunt with fifteen members making up approximately one-third of the field that day.
Keswick Master Andy Lynn welcomed the field and introduced to Middleburg those that would be whipping in and leading fields. Jennifer Nesbit took the first field, Master Lynn took the second and Sally Lamb led the third field complete with a gaggle of junior foxhunters. Greg Fisher, Sandy Rives, Barclay Rives and Rory McClendon were paired with Middleburg whips to aid in the navigation of Keswick’s territory.
The day was not a terribly fast one on the greasy footing granted by this particularly warm and reasonably wet winter. The first field without doubt appreciated the straight-forward, yet sizable paneling welcoming us from field to field. The second field almost always seemed in front of the action due to their differing paths and impeccable leadership. The third field no doubt viewed each of the three fox that were put to ground that day.
After completing a lap around Edgwood, the Rapidan River acting as a barrier to keep us on the fixture, the first fox was put to ground on the northeast corner of the farm. Magner then drew the hounds back in the direction the river to the south. The first field followed them closely witnessing the work from behind. However, as soon as the hounds struck, Master Lynn reversed the second field and made a sharp turn to the right putting us in prime view of the next hunted fox. Though he was a bit mangy, a foxhunter never tires of seeing Charlie fleeing the music roaring behind him. He went into a cover and down a hole, soon to be followed by a nose to every treaded blade of grass by the Middleburg hounds. Magner flew over a coop with a rider into the field housing the cover, dismounted and began to praise his pack for a job well done.
Up to this point, the field had experienced brisk, February air warmed only by the bashful sun and the steam rising from their trusted hunters. Close to the third hour out, once again Magner drew and struck towards the unfriendly river that with its steep, sloped shoulders warned us to keep a distance. The first field once again followed the red drawn cloak as closely as possible, feeling each hoof print of a gallop and leaving no fence uncrossed. The second field again took a road less traveled and ended up at the river’s plane, by way of their own gallop, and witnessed the third fox bury himself into the earth that on this day, protected his life.
Once again un-mounted and praising the deserving pack, all eyes were on Magner and Gammel, excited and thankful for the fresh sport displayed by a group effort. It was at that very point St. Hubert felt we had enough chase for the day and like the wall of an iceberg, blizzard-like conditions pushed themselves off the river and onto our tired bodies.
My parents have a hunt print entitled “A Long Ride Home” hanging over one of their mantels of a lad coming back in from a hunt in these same conditions. His collar turned up, his shoulders shrugged and his back slightly rounded preventing the cold precipitation from sneaking down his frock. I thought of him as I mimicked his position and blindly followed my hunting peers. Flasks were being passed to warm up and our faithful horses, with splayed ears and wide eyes, marched us back towards the trailers.
Within distant view of the main house at Edgewood the battle between warmth and chill clashed in loud rumbles of thunder, the warmth taking the upper hand. Within steps of hearing the noise, the blizzard stopped, the sun blazed and Old Man Winter gave us all a coy grin, welcoming us back to our starting point. Sally Lamb, Terry Clore and Jerri Pitz threw an amazing breakfast nestled amid a shed of insulating round bales. It was the perfect setting to allow all us of time to regale personal accounts of what will certainly be an unforgettable day.