The Online Magazine FOR and ABOUT Southside Virginia
Blessing of the Hounds
In the Olde Tradition
Few sports are as steeped in tradition as Fox Hunting.
According to lore, the Blessing of the Hounds dates back to the seventh or eighth century, when Saint Hubert [Hubert of Liege (656-727)] apparently a bit of a rascal, and devoted hunter, had a spiritual awakening on the morning of a hunt. As a result of this experience, he dedicated his life to God and the Church and the Blessing of the Hounds became part of the tradition of the Hunt.
Depending on the tradition of the individual hunt, the Blessing of the Hounds is typically, celebrated either at the opening hunt or on Thanksgiving Day.
Through an encounter with the husband of a hunt member, we were put in contact with Elizabeth "Lili" Wykle who is MFH (Master of Fox Hounds) and Huntsman for Stonewall Hounds based in Forest, VA. As with most everyone I have ever met associated with Fox Hunting, Lili was very gracious and generous about extending an invitation to attend this year's Blessing of the Hounds and follow the hunt.
Although Fox Hunting was a part of my youth, I had not been to, or followed a hunt in years. So when offered a chance to attend a Blessing of the Hounds this fall, I planned to make a day of it.
The Stonewall Hounds event was held on October 17th 2009, at the beautiful home of Anne and Richard Robinson of Pamplin, VA.
We left before sunrise for the drive up and arrived in time to grab some gas and a quick breakfast at a little cafe inside the Exxon in Pamplin. While at the Exxon, we experienced small town southern hospitality in a fine way. When asking for confirmation on our directions, we were welcomed by some locals who were able to tell us exactly where the Robinson farm was, and the shortest way to get there. Above and beyond the directions, the woman who was working in the cafe even went out to her car and brought in a map of the area, which she gave us for future exploration of the area. No one would accept anything for the information or the map, except our thanks and a promise to "C'mon back and see us."
In addition to a tasty country breakfast, good directions and great local information, we had an offer for a farm tour to see some prize Herefords. We hope to get back up to Pamplin to take these folks up on the offer.
Just a few miles down 460, we found our turn off to the Robinson farm. Once there we met Lili Wykle, who in turn introduced us to the Robinsons, and a few members of the hunt as they began to arrive. In her dual role as Master of Fox Hounds and Huntsman, Lili seemed to be everywhere and still found time to answer all our questions.
The Stonewall Hounds' pack for the day consisted of 19 hounds or "nine and a half couples." The Stonewall Hounds are American and American Crossbred hounds.
After getting the hounds collared and recorded, it was time for Lili to check in with the staff, ready her horse and get dressed in the traditional attire of the hunt. For most Fox Hunts the staff wears "Pink Coats" which are red or scarlet and have collars trimmed with the club colors. Regular members typically wear black jackets and for all but the most casual of hunts, one will find all members neatly and formally clothed.
After other duties were taken care of, it was time to get the hounds out and let them run and stretch a bit after their trip over in the hound truck.
With hounds and riders in place it was time for the blessing. The Officiant for the blessing was the Rev. Jeunée Cunningham of St Anne’s Episcopal Church in Appomattox. The Reverend started the blessing with an opening prayer and continued with a scripture reading with the Officiant leading and the people responding. After the opening prayer and reading, the blessing was said. Conveying much of the sentiment of Fox Hunting, the Blessing of the Hounds goes beyond the hounds themselves, giving thanks for the beauty of the land, and asking that all who participate may be good stewards of the land and animals entrusted to their care. The blessing even extends to the quarry, asking not only that he may be cunning and give good sport, but that he may escape to run another day. The text of this moving blessing is below and is worth reading and following.
One has to be impressed by the discipline of these hounds. These are animals who are born to run and to hunt.
With the blessing completed, it was time for the hunt to begin. Depending on the terrain, and other factors such as jumps, the hunt may be broken into groups. Some of the riders will follow the hounds directly and some will take a route, which has fewer obstacles. This would be suitable for less experienced riders or horses, or those who choose a less strenuous ride for other reasons. The Fieldmaster or Fieldmasters would lead these groups. The other staff members are Whippers-In or Whips. The Whips ride to the outside of the field and help keep track of the hounds and their safety.
As the hunt moved off casting about for scent of a fox in an area where the Robinsons said they had seen signs, those of us following by car or on foot followed at a distance. When "car following" the hunt, one follows by road or drivable trail as close to the hunt area as possible while stopping often to listen for sounds of the hounds or Huntsman's horn.
Contrary to what many would think, the goal of the hunt is more to run a fox than catch him. On this day the hounds caught scent of a fox which one member later viewed, and worked the trail cross-country. The hounds and horses could go where cars could not, so those of us driving had to back track to the road and go a long loop around to where the hunt was expected to come out of the woods again.
On the backside of the hunt territory, we caught up with Earl Miller and Diane Burroughs in the follow truck. Diane is a friend of the hunt and helps Lili with the hounds at the kennels. It is obvious the hounds know her and like her. While we waited for the field to come through, some of the hounds began to appear. Some of the hounds had gotten separated from the pack and where caught up and put in the follow truck, their hunt over for the day. This is where Diane was great as the hounds know her and respond well to her call. Other hounds were determined to rejoin the pack and ran on. As the hounds were collected, they were identified by their collars and checked off the list.
Shortly behind the first hounds, the field emerged from the woods with the remaining hounds.
After one good run and eventual loss of the trail, it became obvious they were calling the hounds back in and planned to head back, so we got in our cars and drove back around to the meet field to wait for the hunt to return. Once the majority of the hounds and riders got back in, it was time for another Fox Hunting tradition, the "Hunt Breakfast." It is called a breakfast regardless of what time of day it may be. In this case it was about lunchtime and consisted of potluck dishes of all sorts, along with some welcome hot coffee.
As the Breakfast was winding down, the winners of the silent auction were announced.
After the auction, good-byes were said and plans made for future hunts. With hounds back in the truck for the journey home to be fed and cared for, and gear and horses back aboard trailers, the fellowship of the hunt could still be felt. It was a great day and one we will long remember. The land had been honored, the riders and hounds had returned safely, and the fox had been sly and escaped to run another day. The blessing had come true.
Discover Southside wishes to thank the members and staff of Stonewall Hounds, for the opportunity to be part of this event, the Robinsons for their true southern hospitality and Rev. Jeunée Cunningham for a wonderful Blessing of the Hounds.
Stonewall Hounds Staff
MFH (Master of Foxhounds) & Huntsman:
THE BLESSING (Excerpt)
GRACIOUS GOD, You have brought us together today to share the fellowship of this sport we love.
ALMIGHTY GOD, we know that You do not dwell in temples or buildings made with human hands, for even creation itself - the beautiful fields, hills, and valleys all around us, cannot contain your splendor, majesty, and glory.
BLESS THE HORSES AND THE RIDERS who have gathered here and protect them from all danger to life and limb. May each person finish this hunt with good health, an appreciation for Your creation, and gratitude to You for the bounty and sport they have enjoyed.
BLESS THOSE OVER WHOSE LAND we ride and hunt - and may we cause them no hurt or trouble by something we say, do or forget.
BLESS THESE HOUNDS that bring us much joy. They, too, are creatures of Your creation and You have entrusted them to us for our use and pleasure. May their run be swift, their scent be keen, and may they bring glory to You even as You have created them.
BLESS THE FOX WHO GIVES US SPORT. May he be swift and sly as You have created him, so that he may escape to run yet another day. Help us all to understand the worth of all Your creatures and in doing so understand Your worth as well.
HEAVENLY FATHER, may we be sanctified by Your Word that we have read and honored today. May each person that has gathered here share in a spirit of sportsmanship, respect, and mutual care.
For more information about the Stonewall Hounds or Fox Hunting in general, here are some
Links & Additional Reading
Stonewall Hounds - Website
Other Clubs With Hunt Country in or Near Southside Virginia
The Sedgefield Hunt
Red Mountain Hounds
Articles & FAQs about Fox Hunting
Foxhunting in Virginia
Masters of Foxhounds Association
About Fox Hunting / History
Code of Ethics
PO Box 1061
South Boston, VA 24592
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