Huntsmen Follow Call of the Hounds

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Huntsmen Follow Call of the Hounds

TRI-COUNTY AREA - 8/29/2008

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By Tenley Martin

As summer draws to a close, those driving through the countryside could well spot yellow-vested fox hunters galloping through the tri-county area.

The time honored sport of fox hunting is one of oldest

Tenley Martin grew up in St. Mary's County, graduated from St. Mary's College of Maryland and is an avid horse woman. She fox hunts, trains horses and completes in competitions. She poses here with a horse named Jack Benny.
social functions in Southern Maryland, beginning when the first English colonists arrived in the state. Today, the tradition persists as the De La Brooke Foxhounds W, a local hunt club that operates in St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles counties.

The club’s preseason activities begin in early September with hunts designed to re-accustom the hounds to the joy and discipline of the hunt. The official 2008-09 season will run from the first Saturday in November to the beginning of March. This season, De La Brooke’s will hold its first hunt at the historic Mount Victoria in Charles County As the season progresses, hunts will be held two to three times a week, usually Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, at various area locations.

Surprisingly, fox hunting originated in Southern Maryland. A wealthy land owner, Robert Brooke, arrived from England on June 30, 1650, with his family and the colony's first pack of fine English fox hunting hounds. Brooke settled on an 8,000-acre estate on the west bank of the Patuxent River in what is now northern St. Mary's County. He named his estate De La Brooke Manor.

Brooke quickly realized that the isolation of colonial farms and the collective hardships experienced by colonists muted the class-bound social structure he was accustomed to in British society. He and his fellow colonists organized fox hunts in order to provide a reason for convening with old friends and meeting new ones. The sport then became a way for local landowners to take turns hosting an event where they would demonstrate their hospitality, discuss their successes and debate the difficulties of farming in the New World.

The hunt club, De La Brooke Foxhounds W, began circa 1939 as the Charles County Hunt and was associated with the Hawthorne Hunt Club. The hunt club tabled its operations during World War II but reorganized after the conflict ended. By 1961, the HHC was known as the Wicomico Hunt Club. In 1973, the WHC, led by Master of the Hounds Dr. Eugene Guazzo, decided to register under the Master of Fox Hounds Association, a national hunt club registry. Learning there was another WHC on the Eastern Shore, the club changed its name to De La Brooke Foxhounds W in honor of Robert Brooke and the original Wicomico name.

Although nearly 350 years have passed since Robert Brooke and his hounds disembarked on this side of the Atlantic, the sport of fox hunting has remained relatively unchanged. Much of the dress, language use, and traditions in general are the same as they have been for ages.

For example, hunt members are adorned in traditional attire — a black velvet hunt cap, a black jacket, a canary-yellow vest over a white stock tie and white button-up "ratcatcher" shirt, leather gloves, tan or white breeches and knee-high black leather boots. Hunt members who have earned their "colours" by providing some sort of significant service to the club will wear the hunts colors and insignia on their jacket collars, and men will wear red jackets instead of black.

One of the more solemn and majestic traditions that has endured through the centuries is the annual Blessing of the Hounds, which is held prior to the season's opening hunt. With the members and their horses standing in full hunting regalia, a priest blesses the hounds, riders, foxes and land owners for a safe and successful hunt season.

There is an important distinction between modern fox hunting in Southern Maryland and historic hunt traditions. Fox hunting began as a necessary part of country living: to rid farmers of foxes that killed poultry and other small livestock. However, over the years, the sport has evolved and is no longer about the extermination of the fox.

Today, modern fox hunters enjoy friendly company, the melodious voices of the hounds and the natural beauty of the rural landscape. Staff and members of the hunt club do everything in their power to enjoy the chase but not actually catch the fox. Often times, the fox is never viewed by those in the hunt and is at least 10 minutes ahead of the hounds.

Local club members joke about one hunt where the fox was so far ahead that it outsmarted the field. As the pack of hounds gave chase with huntsmen galloping after them, a little gray fox trotted behind the huntsman. He had been so far ahead of the pack that he was able to circle around behind the hounds and cover his scent.

Without a doubt foxes prefer the modern rendition of the hunt, so no doubt so would you. If you are driving through the tri-county countryside and are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of huntsmen and hounds, take the time to stop and marvel at Southern Maryland’s 350-year-old legacy in action.



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