Noel Ryan has hunted hounds on three different continents, played a lot of polo and was even the 2009 VirginiaSteeplechase Association Foxhunter Timber Series champion. But in his current role as huntsman of Palm Beach Hounds, the native of County Limerick, Ireland encounters the most challenging and rewarding moments of his career.
e-Covertside: You have hunted hounds all over the world and you say that, without a doubt, South Florida offers the most difficult territory you’ve experienced. Tell us a bit about it.
Noel: The territory is seemingly endless, truly diverse and challenging day to day. The terrain at each fixture is completely different, and our smallest fixture is 12,000 acres. Our largest is roughly 20,000 acres. Florida is either the second or third largest cattle producing state in the US, so we have a lot of open cattle country, while other areas are dense palmetto, which is a palm-like plant, and hounds have to really work to get game out into the open. I’ve been on my hands and knees crawling through this stuff with them. Hounds must commit to the job and have the dedication to follow through in order to push game into the open country. Some days it is 30 to 45 minutes before we take it on, but when they do, hounds are screaming. The challenge and exhilaration here in Florida surpasses anything I’ve ever seen.
e-Covertside: Is PBH growing the seemingly endless territory?
Noel: Yes. We are continuously expanding through the enthusiasm of the landowners. A lot of farmers are delighted by our presence and we are grateful that they continue to welcome a pack of hounds on their properties.
e-Covertside: What game do you most commonly hunt?
Noel: We hunt bobcat and coyote. We do have to be wary of diamondback rattlers, water moccasins and alligators!
e-Covertside: This is your second season as huntsman for PBH. What are your goals for the pack?
Noel: Breeding is my top priority. We have a mixed bag of hounds—there is a strong Penn-Marydel influence as well as a Crossbred side with an English strain just peeking in. We have 20 ½ couple currently. Last season we drafted in some from Live Oak and from Tony Leahy’s packs.
I do have to say that I am pleasantly surprised with the attributes of the Penn-Marydel, which might make every Penn-Marydel man in the country mad, but their scenting ability, voice, and dedication to the line is superb. My hounds’ giddy up and go comes from the outcross of Crossbred and English. They love to hunt and love to please with the drive and speed to carry us across country. We have a dog from Genesee Valley who is the bee’s knees and a bitch from De La Brooke who is a hunting fool. Since I’m a one man operation down here, biddability is an important characteristic. I don’t need hounds who raise hell when I’m walking out on my own.
e-Covertside: How are the puppies faring so far this season?
Noel: My first litter is entering now. I wait longer before entering than most people, and I’ve been criticized for that, but puppies need time to mature. I also think it’s important to realize the individual mental attributes of each hound. At the end of the day, they need comforting, reassuring experience. I spend time teaching the pack. It is my duty to reaffirm that they are a pack.
e-Covertside: What sorts of things do you enjoy when you are not hunting?
Noel: Fishing and shooting. Another amazing thing about South Florida is that I’m a 25 minute drive from the ocean. I can spend a Sunday decompressing by throwing a line in the ocean and sitting there until 4 o’clock in the morning if I feel like it. There’s also a great deal of polo in the area, which I enjoy. This past season, Palm Beach Hounds paraded before the Nation’s Cup at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington.
e-Covertside: How would you summarize your time with PBH thus far?
Noel: To see the country my hounds cross, the drive they exhibit in such demanding conditions and to be all on when they account is such a thrill! I cannot adequately express the sense of pride I have for Palm Beach Hounds, the support from the mastership, the poop-eating grins on members’ faces at breakfast and the sense of awe and admiration from visiting guests. I'm one of the happiest huntsmen you could ever hope to meet.