Junior hunters often find their way to the field through family members or friends who hunt, but 12-year-old Henry Nylen paved his own way. He is a staple with the New-Market Middletown Valley Hounds in Maryland, and with two years of hunting behind him, young Henry looks to a future career with hounds.
“I love everything about the sport,” Henry said. “I like the speed and I like observing the hounds. I like seeing what the hounds are doing, which hound is speaking the loudest and what kind of voice the hound has.”
Henry started taking riding lessons at age 4 and had progressed to cantering and jumping when his instructor suggested he might enjoy hunting. His parents got information about the local hunt and after a season of cubbing Henry decided this was the sport for him.
Keen to become more involved, Henry has spent this summer working at the kennels and walking out hounds.
“He turns up at the crack of dawn with a smile on his face and a bounce in his step. The hounds love him and he enjoys spending time with them,” said NMMV Huntsman Alisdair Storer. “He has a natural affinity for animals, for horses and hounds.”
At the beginning of the summer Alisdair gave Henry a hound list and instructed him to learn it. Henry took the task seriously and now knows 90% of the hounds by name, Alisdair said.
Henry’s mom Jo never could have guessed foxhunting would become her son’s passion, but she and her husband have supported him every step of the way and have even become members of the Middletown Valley Beagle club, with which Henry is a junior whip.
“It was overwhelming and amazing to me to see the hounds working together alongside the horses and the staff. It was just a really wonderful experience visually,” Jo said of her first experience with the hunt. “Watching them go off and especially watching your child go off is such a powerful thing to see.”
It can be nervewracking as a mother, of course. Just a few hours before this interview Henry took a “good ol’ digger” during a lesson. His Arabian/Welsh pony Cassie is foot-perfect on a hunt but can be mischievous in the ring.
“If he’s not telling her exactly what she should be doing, she’s telling him what to do. They’ve learned from each other in that way and aged me a few more years!” Jo laughed. “He’s not like a typical boy clueless about danger. He’s very aware of his surroundings and gets nervous every time he tries to take the next step. Once he’s done that and sees he’s thankful for doing it, he learns from it and moves on.”
Henry added, “You just break down the barrier of fear.”
Not many young boys choose to spend their summer days getting up early to clean kennels and follow hounds through the woods, but Henry appreciates the responsibility that comes with his involvement with the hunt. He wants to be a hunstman one day, and the studying he is doing now will help him achieve that goal.
“As long he’s not taking my job!” Alisdair joked. Henry has the willingness to learn and listen, he continued, and besides being very useful at the kennels, Henry is not afraid to introduce himself to others and build relationships.
“He can be a typical boy sometimes, but other times it’s almost like he’s an old soul. He loves talking to people who have got more experience than he has,” Jo said. “It’s good to see him go out there and he comes back all aglow with a million stories. He loves it.”
Alisdair hopes to get Henry out running more this year and continue his education in the field. “He’s a good, willing lad. He puts 100% effort forward and is a positive attribute to the hunt.”