On November 14, George Washington's Mount Vernon hosted a day-long event celebrating our first president's love of horses, hounds and hunting. Caroline Hunt (VA) gave a series of demonstrations on the vast grounds of the estate, before a crowd of 3,000 visitors. This successful promotion of our sport at a landmark site was the culmination of two years of work between Robert Ferrer, MFH, and staff at Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon, owned and maintained by a private charitable organization, comprises 500 acres, the mansion house, many outbuildings, livestock areas, and stunning views from the bluffs above the Potomac River where Washington lived. Here he pursued his passions of riding and foxhunting; as one author noted in 1897: "Since the Virginians were excellent horsemen, it was but natural that they should enjoy hunting. No sport was more dear than chasing the fox. Washington's extreme delight in riding to his hounds is well known; he kept it up until his sixty-third year, when a slight injury to his back made such exercise uncomfortable. Washington was a true Virginian in his love for his dogs..." (John Fiske, Old Virginia and Her Neighbours).
To celebrate Washington's pastime, Mount Vernon scheduled a full day of activities for all ages. These included cavalry maneuvers, opportunities to meet different breeds of animals on the farm, facility tours, and in-depth presentations of historic items from the estate's collection. Three separate foxhunting demonstrations by Caroline Hunt were the highlight of the program. Each demonstration was narrated for the audience's education, and was followed by an opportunity for the spectators to meet hounds, pet horses, and ask questions. Robert Ferrer, MFH, Elizabeth Ferrer, MFH, Stuart Sanders, whipper-in, and a hearty ground crew helped manage hounds throughout the day.
The event was a terrific success, with attendees reporting memorable hands-on experiences with the animals. Caroline Hunt graciously represented foxhunting well and patiently, answering queries and interacting with the crowd, especially many children who enjoyed meeting hounds. Robert Ferrer, MFH, noted: "The staff and director [at Mount Vernon] were very complimentary of the demonstrations and have indicated that it was extremely well received by all the visitors. Mount Vernon also had the demonstrations filmed as part of their program to show Washington, the sportsman." Local media also picked up the positive story.
While it was a long day for hunt staff, leaving kennels at 3 a.m. and returning home at 9 p.m., the effort was rewarded with the opportunity to bring Washington's favorite avocation to life for a new audience. As MFH Ferrer concluded, "Parents and kids went away loving foxhunting that day."