The Goldens Bridge Hounds of North Salem, New York opened its eighty-ninth formal season on Saturday, October 5, 2013. By any measure, this was an opening day to remember.
As all sporting people know, Mother Nature may sometimes set a challenging stage. By New York standards, this early October morning could only be described as balmy. The humidity hovered at over 85%. The temperature exceeded 60 degrees at 7:30 a.m. and was quickly rising. To add to the challenge, the ground was bone dry since there had been virtually no rain for nearly two weeks.
Sixty-three riders, their families, friends and supporters met at 7:15 a.m. for this opening day. As is tradition, the Reverend provided her blessings, and Master Eugene Colley so eloquently welcomed a gathering of over 150 people. Huntsman Ciaran Murphy and 21½ couple of his finest Penn-Marydel foxhounds provided an additional backdrop reminiscent of a nineteenth-century English oil painting. By 8:10 a.m. the hounds moved off, followed by a flowing stream of scarlet and black, led by Master Eugene Colley. Master Colley was joined by joint Masters, Edward Kelly, Peter Kamenstein, Bruce Colley, Yolanda Knowlton and David Feureisen. Masters David Feureisen and Bruce Colley were assigned to lead the first flight, Master Yolanda Knowlton led a jumping second flight, and Master Edward Kelly led the third flight.
The Huntsman drew the usual coverts at this fixture, including the pond and the wooded sections to the south. While working a certain wooded section, it appeared that a group of veteran foxhounds were becoming excited. Although not on the move, they began to give voice while working through some heavy cover. To the field it appeared that this may be the beginning of a grand chase. However, things did not sound right to the Hunstman’s astute ear. He immediately called off his most aggressive hounds, but it was too late. His best hounds had been sprayed by a skunk, a direct hit. The stench immediately wafted through the air.
Did we need this additional challenge, especially on Opening Day? Many of us believed that the idea of chasing hounds this October morning had now come to an end. Indeed, just for entertainment, Master Bruce Colley and I led the first flight over several coops and a line of stone walls. Master Yolanda Knowlton and the second flight followed close behind. I asked Huntsman Murphy for his prognosis. He said that it would be tough going since many of his top veterans had been sprayed, but he had confidence that the pack could still do its job.
As it turned out, our desire to provide artificial entertainment to the field was misplaced. As Ciaran predicted, his pack was soon to provide all of the sport anybody could hope for.
Mr. Murphy immediately moved the hounds to the pond, helping them to relieve their distress with a quick swim. Recognizing that this fixture was no longer huntable (the smell wafted downwind at least a quarter of a mile), he moved quickly to an adjoining fixture. This fixture is one of our finest, always providing great sport, with fast runs and challenging fences.
The Huntsman cast his hounds, moving them quickly to the north. The first flight was running parallel to the pack, taking a substantial drop jump, then galloping down and up a steep hill we fondly call “the roller coaster”. Yolanda Knowlton and the second flight followed close behind. When we caught up to Mr. Murphy, several of his first-year entries were just starting to give voice. These youngsters had been spared the spray from the skunk. Although still reeking, the veterans honored these youngsters, and the chase was on. Ciaran got a glimpse of our quarry: a big, healthy, gray-and-brown coyote moving quickly south, in the direction from which we had just come.
All three flights were now facing in the wrong direction on a trail lined with thorny bushes which was no more than three feet wide. We called for a forward reverse. After substantial knee knocking, we were off to the races at a full gallop. Bruce Colley now led the field back over the same big drop jump, except we were now jumping it from the low side. The hounds continued south at breakneck speed, with the field in hot pursuit. As luck would have it, at the very southern end of this fixture, our pilot made a sharp turn to the north, and the hounds briefly checked. At the next intersection, a second coyote peered down the trail. For reasons only he could explain, he seemed to join in the chase for several minutes by trailing the pack. His colleague continued to move at a considerable pace, with the pack close behind. The forest was now lit up by a chorus of over 40 Penn-Marydels. Even though several of the hounds could barely use their sense of smell, they were nevertheless going to assist with their melodic voices.
David Feureisen was now leading the first flight at a full gallop. The first flight jumped every fence in its path, at this challenging fixture, including several stone walls, coops and a formidable triple log jump. Yolanda Knowlton and the second flight followed right behind. The entire chase continued for almost 1½ hours, with only two or three momentary checks along the way.
It was almost 11:30 a.m. Due to the heat and humidity, all of the participants began to slow down. The hunted coyote then turned east, moving parallel to and crossing a flowing stream. This tactical maneuver was just enough to momentarily break the line, causing a check. The clock was nearing noon, and the Huntsman and Masters decided to call it a day. This coyote certainly earned his keep. The hounds showed their mettle, overcoming one obstacle after another. There is no quit in this pack. The horses were lathered and heaving in the humid air, and everyone was relaxed with a terrific smile.
The staff, hounds and those remaining in the field hacked quietly back to the trailers, where an opening day banquet awaited. All reveled in the success of the day while enjoying abundant food and drink. It could not have been a better opening day!