"Our Opening Meet is more than a hunt. It is a festival celebrating the sport of foxhunting!" Epp Wilson, MFH, summed up the celebratory atmosphere at the 50th Opening Meet of Belle Meade Hunt (GA) on November 14, 2015. Recognition of landowners, gratitude for the efforts of the hunt community, active involvement of the club's junior riders, and a festive flotilla of Tally Ho wagons all contributed to a glorious event.
One hound seeks a special benediction from the Master. Photo by Karen Krome.
A great deal of thoughtful planning went into the day's activities, which looked back at the club's history and forward to its future. Noting that "Our landowners don't just give us permission to use the land - they understand and support the hunt both in the field and the community," Wilson explained that the four original landowning families were invited to receive Saint Hubert medals at the start of the day. One of these initial supporters, Mrs. Lawrence "Pinkie" Knox, loved the hunt and in 1967 composed "The Belle Meade Toast," which was included in the MFHA's anniversary book, A Centennial View:
It's the grandest sport and the greatest thrill
to chase the fox from hill to hill.
Through countryside rolling o’er fields and streams
it’s the kind of a course that fulfills sportsmen’s dreams.
The hunters impatiently ride to and fro
but dash like the wind at the cry tally-ho!
The horses are lathered they too seem to sense
the joy and excitement of clearing a fence.
So here at the close of a wonderful day
of foxhunting and fellowship, may I tribute pay.
To the Master, his Staff and the keeper of hounds
our toasts and our praises to all know no bounds.
Tonight with the stirrup cup full and o’erflowing
we toast one and all who keep foxhunting going!
Who join in the chase though they may take a spill
and who keep coming back whether sunny or chill.
May the joy that results from this sporting event
Make us healthy and happy and always content!!
Bridging the generations, this lovely piece was recited at Opening Meet by junior members Neilly and Ruby Dozier, ages 9 and 6, from the speaker's platform, in front of the assembled 500 foxhunters and spectators.
The Blessing of the Hounds. Karen Krome photo.
The annual Blessing of the Hounds, a reverent moment, preceded an excellent sporting day out in what Wilson enthusiastically describes as "God's Most Wonderful Cathedral," the fields and forests surrounding the fixture.
Not to be left behind by the mounted field, a legion of Tally Ho wagon attendees filled several vehicles with merriment and camaraderie. Emphasizing the importance of providing an unmounted option for hunt followers, Wilson observed that "Many of the people on the Tally Ho wagons decide to take up foxhunting. Others become life-long supporters of the sport."
Belle Meade is fortunate to have a strong history of junior participation in the club. Capable young riders are invited to ride up, to whip in, and enjoy numerous special junior meets through the season. A new crop of young children is beginning to come out, too, so the next fifty years should be in good hands.