Foxhunting tradtion lives on
September. The oppressive heat of summer finally begins to wane, fueling a rise in energy for man and beast as excitement grows with the change of seasons. It is time for the woods and fields to hearken to the lyrics of foxhounds in chase.
Journalist and author Salley McAden McInerney describes the scene thusly:
“The huntsman sounds her slim brass horn. The 30-some foxhounds lead the charge into the woods, scouring the territory, searching for scent, signaling to one another what they have found, ‘honoring’ the discovery of a senior hound whose nose knows best.
“The chase is on.”
Horseback foxhunting is a chase that’s been going on for centuries, McInerney wrote in her paean to the historic sport in an essay in Sporting Classics Daily, the on-line adjunct to the magazine, Sporting Classics. “Around the world. Here in America. In the tall pines of Camden.”
Especially in the tall pines of Camden for McInerney, The horses, the hounds, the chase proved therapeutic in her recent recovery from the ordeal of fighting cancer.
“I told my oncologist in Columbia and my surgeon at MUSC in Charleston that I had one goal in the aftermath of it all; I wanted to return to whipping in, which is exactly what I did.”
Camden Hunt is in 95th year
A half dozen years ago, with college, family and career achieved, McInerney came back to the sport she enjoyed as a young horseback hunter growing up in Columbia, S.C., and to The Camden Hunt. She is one of half a dozen or so “whippers-in,” riders who roam the edges of the hunt to urge errant hounds back into the pack and alert the Master of Foxhounds if she spots a fox (or coyote) with a hearty “Tallyho!”
Horseback foxhunting has been a sport in the United States since well before the American Revolution and has a long history in the Carolinas. Now in its 95th year, The Camden Hunt’s pack of foxhounds is one of the oldest packs registered by the Masters of Foxhounds Association.
“We keep our own stud book,” said Melissa Rice, Master of Foxhounds for The Camden Hunt. “The MFHA recognizes three breeds of foxhounds – English Foxhounds from dogs originally imported from England; American Foxhounds, which go back to the English hounds imported by George Washington and also contain a lot of Walker Hound blood; and the Penn-Marydel line, bred specifically in the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware area.”
English Foxhounds, she said, tend to be more independent and run with more speed while the American Foxhound has been bred over the last several hundred years to suit conditions in the United States.
“Scenting conditions are not as good in the United States, especially here in South Carolina in the sand,” she said. “They bred lines that were particularly good in low scent conditions, cold-nosed dogs that could smell the scent when conditions are less than ideal. Those hounds tend to have lower set and longer ears. When they put their heads down and move back and forth, the ears flap and fan the scent up off the ground.”
The Penn-Marydel hounds, she said, have low set ears, a super cold nose in low scenting conditons and booming voices.
“At The Camden Hunt we currently have mostly American Foxhounds with some Penn-Marydel and some English in them,” she said. “Some 50 hounds, including puppies, are kenneled, separated by gender.”
Turned out to exercise regularly during the off-season, the tempo picks up as hunting season nears. A few weeks before hunting season starts, the hounds are exercised by riders on horseback, a practice called “roading.”
Whippers-in must know the hounds, know what they look like and what their scenting is like. A great whipper-in is able to know a hound by it’s voice, McInerney said.
“I know a lot of them by sight, but I’m good with sound for one,” she said. “His name is Eightball. The other hounds honor him. If they hear Eightball they will come to him because they know he is onto something.”
For McInerney, horseback foxhunting is more than just riding across the countryside following a pack of barking hounds.
“Working with the hounds is an honor. They are highly intelligent animals with a love for work and they are also some of the sweetest dogs you will ever meet,” she said.