The foxhunting community brings together people with different interests and experiences, and the 2018 Biennial Seminar offered something for all of us. Set in the historic neighborhood of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and featuring public and private events at nearby Mount Vernon, the weekend's presentations, social events, and live conformation clinic educated and entertained attendees from across the continent. The events reaffirmed our sport's connection to the founding of the United States, and also looked ahead to meet the challenges of land and leadership into the future. 

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The Washingtons welcomed guests to the Ford Orientation Center for Friday's dinner.

A Spectacular Setting

A highlight of the three-day seminar was our access to George Washington's Mount Vernon, just a few minutes down the parkway from our hotel. The 500-acre National Historic Landmark - including the mansion house, the gardens and grounds, Washington's Tomb, and more - was a unique and educational setting. Friday evening, we arrived at the spectacular Ford Orientation Center for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in the spacious display hall, surrounded by quotations from and artwork depicting the first president. Exclusive after-hours tours of Washington's home, offering breathtaking views across the broad Potomac River, were a special opportunity that many appreciated when we saw the length of the tour lines the next day. A juvenile bald eagle made a well-timed appearance for two tour groups, who were delighted to watch his flight above the river banks. The atmosphere was energetic and festive as friends from different regions, and even locals who hadn't seen one another since closing meet, reconnected.

Following dinner, attendees heard from organizer Penny Denegre, MFH Middleburg Hunt (VA), who thoughtfully and tirelessly coordinated myriad details to create the exciting schedule. She thanked the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association - the organization which owns and maintains Mount Vernon - for its cooperation in bringing foxhunters and hounds back to Washington's home. Denegre also introduced the first speaker, Mount Vernon President and CEO Douglas Bradburn, Ph.D., who described ongoing strategies to preserve the property and to interpret its significance today. He remarked that just as many hunt countries face pressure from development, Mount Vernon, too, is threatened by neighbors' proposals to alter the natural viewshed across the river - the same shoreline vista Washington would have enjoyed from his portico.

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Mount Vernon President and CEO Douglas Bradburn, left, and author Philip Smucker.

Denegre then welcomed the keynote speaker, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Philip Smucker. Drawing from his book, Riding with George: Sportsmanship and Chivalry and the Making of America’s First President, he examined how Washington's foxhunting experiences shaped his roles as a military, political, and cultural leader. Watch for an excerpt from this book in the Fall issue of Covertside magazine. Smucker noted that Washington was neither a favored eldest son nor formally educated, yet compensated for these deficits by excelling as a horseman. Smucker, who jokingly commented that former MFHA Executive Director Dennis Foster had taken him on his first foxhunt and returned him unscathed, attended several seminar sessions and attendees enjoyed speaking with him informally about his family and writing adventures throughout the weekend.

Saturday's seminars included a morning panel on opening new country, moderated by Ginny Perrin, MFH Deep Run Hunt (VA) - see related article here, and the popular foxhound conformation clinic on the Twelve Acre Field just beyond the Mount Vernon mansion, moderated by Marty Wood, MFH Live Oak Hounds (FL) - see related article here.

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Past MFHA Presidents Daphne Wood, Marty Wood, Marvin Beeman, and President Tony Leahy prepare to lay a wreath at Washington's tomb.

Honoring the General

Prior to the conformation clinic, Masters Level sponsors of the seminar weekend and MFHA presidents participated in a wreath laying ceremony at Washington's tomb. Denegre, Tim Harmon, MFH Middleburg, and Mary Ewing, MFH Arapahoe Hunt (CO), joined past MFHA Presidents Marty and Daphne Wood, joint MFHs Live Oak, Marvin Beeman, MFH Arapahoe, with his wife, Eunice, along with current President Tony Leahy, MFH Fox River Valley and Massbach Hounds (IL) and Executive Director David Twiggs. The docent explained in detail the sacrifices made by Washington, his wife Martha, and their family throughout his military and political service to the young nation. Following Ewing’s recitation of Washington’s prayer, Marty Wood and Marvin Beeman carried the wreath into the historic family mausoleum before all recited the pledge of allegiance, along with many tourists also visiting the site.

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Twiggs, Denegre, Daphne and Marty Wood, Ewing, Beeman, Harmon, and Leahy pay their respects.

After an evening free to explore walkable Old Town Alexandria, participants chose between two important seminars Sunday morning. Neil Robert Morris, MFH Orange County, moderated a panel on “Retooling the Thoroughbred Racehorse - Using the Almost Unlimited Source of Prospective Foxhunters.” Joining him in reviewing resources available to help develop these second- or third-career mounts were Christine F. Clagett, MFH Marlborough Hunt (MD), and trainers Molly White and Charles Fenwick, Jr. Materials from the Retired Racehorse Project were distributed and a lively question and answer session helped share the speakers’ experiences with the audience.

The other session, “Masters’ Responsibilities: The Buck Stops Here,” was moderated by Lt. Col. Robert N. Ferrer, Jr., MFH the Caroline Hunt (VA), and featured Jeffrey Blue, MFH Middleburg, Jack Ferguson, ex-MFH Princess Anne Hunt (VA), and W. Patrick Butterfield, MFH Farmington Hunt (VA). While each Master's experiences were different, all concurred on central priorities such as civility, accessibility, communicating with staff, attending social events, and spending time with landowners. They emphasized the importance of being present and available, both to identify problems before they start and to receive concerns or complaints from staff, members, landowners, or the public.

Remarks from David Twiggs and Tony Leahy about the status of the recently signed construction contract on our new headquarters concluded the schedule. The MFHA extends its thanks to our leaders who worked to make the weekend such a success and to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association for their gracious cooperation.

To learn more about visiting Mount Vernon, click here.

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