As the world navigates through uncertain times, hunt clubs across the country are dealing with the logistical and financial repercussions from the pandemic.
Some hunts had just wrapped up their seasons when crowd restrictions were first announced, but many were forced to end a few weeks early. State-mandated social distancing rules prevented dozens of clubs from continuing with their regularly scheduled spring activities. Hound shows and performance trials were unable to run, but perhaps most detrimental to the clubs were the cancellations of their fundraising events such as hunt balls, point-to-points, and spring horse shows.
Managing the daily needs of the hounds, while also practicing social distancing, created an added burden for many clubs, especially those that rely on honorary staff and volunteers. But in true foxhunting spirit, members are banding together to come up with creative solutions and stay positive.
Many clubs have worked out a system to keep things running as smoothly as possible back at their kennels.
“We have honorary staff and volunteer members who come six days a week to walk hounds – two to three people are scheduled at a time. Everyone picks a day, including long-time member Crofton Held, who was 80 years young this spring,” said Med Long, MFH, of Bedford County Hunt in Virginia. “Nobody is in the office or kennel except the huntsman, so social distancing is easy…and the exercise is therapeutic!”
“If someone wants to come walk, they are welcome, but they must wear a mask and practice social distancing. Only a few have come,” added Sandy Dixon, MFH and huntsman for the Texas-based Brazos Valley Hounds.
Some hunts are preferring to keep things simple and lower the risk of contact with fewer people involved. “No one is coming and going from the kennels anymore,” says Jody Michel, whose husband, Tim, is the huntsman at Bull Run Hunt in Virginia. “It’s just Tim and myself and the kids walking out every day and doing the horse and hound work.”
For many hunts, the cancellations of all of their upcoming fundraising events were devastating. Point-to-points, hunter paces, spring and summer horse shows, hunt balls, and puppy auctions are more than just social events—they bring in much-needed revenue to help sustain hunt clubs. Losing those was a huge blow.
“I think it will hurt a lot of clubs,” says Michel. “Many of the big clubs lost huge amounts of money on their point-to-points not running. It’s really unfortunate. We also missed out on our March Madness, a week-long event put on by Bull Run Hunt. That was a lot of lost revenue.”
The cancellations also affected trainers and hunt barns, as well as the clubs’ communities. “March Madness was cancelled, which was a big impact on the local business,” says Heather Heider, who runs a foxhunting barn in northern Virginia. “I had 16 friends and clients planning to go with their horses. The cancellation impacted not only the hunt’s revenue stream, but the local bed-and-breakfasts and the stabling businesses, which was thousands of dollars. And we were only one group coming in! But they were smart to have cancelled and to be sensitive to the needs of our community.”
Spring horse shows, another source of revenue for clubs, were also called off. Keswick Hunt cancelled their 117th Keswick Horse Show scheduled for mid-May. The popular event was a fundraiser for the club, but also donated thousands of dollars to local charities.
Many clubs are using online resources and social media to come up with creative solutions for fundraisers. Some clubs, such as Oak Ridge Hunt Club and Palm Beach Hounds, hosted online auctions to help raise funds. Goshen Hounds is doing their puppy naming event on Zoom.
When possible, clubs (such as Bull Run) have rescheduled their hunt balls for later in the year. Others, like Kimberton Hunt which was gearing up to host their 75th annual horse show, have found new dates for their shows.
For many hunts, however, now that their seasons are over, the daily activities at the kennels remain largely unchanged, with the hounds transitioning to their typical spring schedule. “Life at the kennels goes on,” says Andy Bozdan, huntsman for Carmargo Hunt in Ohio. “Hounds need feeding, cleaning out, and walking out every day. Hounds and new entry need training. Now our whole emphasis is on the start of the coming season and hoping we can start on time. If we can’t, then everything will have to move back a month.”
While hunt clubs work to overcome the loss of revenue from the cancelled events, many of the staff and members are doing their best to remain optimistic for the future. “Tim ended his first year as huntsman on a good note, even if it was abrupt,” says Michel. And like most hunt members across the country, “He’s just counting down the days until hound exercise starts in late summer, hopefully.”