Fox Hunting in Old Virginia
After spending decades of imagining what following a fox hunt in America might be like, I finally realized my dream here in old Virginia; the past two Saturdays found me out with the Casanova Hunt near Warrenton, Virginia.
I'd been warned that those who ride to hounds in America are insufferable snobs. Perhaps that's true in some places, but I found nothing but charm and friendliness among the followers of the Casanova.
Huntsman Tommy Lee Jones, legendary in these parts after 41 years in hunt service with the Casanova, was among the most welcoming. After putting his fine pack into covert after covert, keenly watching for the elusive quarry, and calling his hounds back to him at the end of the day, Tommy still has a plenty of energy left to pull out a favorite gag or two. He has a talent for teasing the laughter out of even the most stodgy follower, sending everyone off grinning as they head for their horse boxes and the less glamourous part of the day.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. While visiting friends in Fauquier County, I read about the Blessing of the Hounds, a hunting tradition, down in Casanova and decided to grab my cameras (rusty from missing the last two hunting seasons in Wales) and head for that charming little railroad stop. There was a real air of excitement as the Masters of Foxhounds, whippers-in, huntsman and the mounted field of about 60 came down the tiny road from the kennels toward the green where a sizeable crowd had assembled to witness the ceremony. The hounds were gathered around Tommy Lee with the mounted field off to the side and the crowd closing in the circle. The kindly pastor of the local Episcopal Church (whom I met later at the breakfast) gave the blessing.
Following the blessing, the hounds and field came back down the little road and were off into their first covert. Being a stranger, I searched for someone who looked like they might actually follow the hounds on foot or in a vehicle (a "cartopper") and found three guys who were hanging around near the huntsman and hounds. My sense was spot-on as it turned out I'd chosen a retired professional huntsman and his huntsman friend from Kansas. Not bad for a first outing. Soon I was being introduced to whips and masters and feeling like a real part of things. Sadly, my new-found friends had to leave for a wedding so I was on my own. Off to the kennels I went to wait for the hounds, as I'd been told that they were headed that way and indeed had heard them speaking vociferously in a nearby covert. The closest thing I saw was a deer being pursued by some errant puppies (the deer surely lived to graze another night).
At the kennels hospitality was taking shape for the after-hunt breakfast and I had the opportunity to meet some local historians and while waiting for the hounds to return. I had a couple of short walks in the nearby woods and even came across a pack of beagles being put through their paces by their two young owners (I'd heard them in the wood and hesitated to go there and possibly turn a fox); soon I glimpsed them and realized they were beagles after rabbits.
Before long, in came Melvin the whip, a wonderful horseman and an interesting character, followed by Tommy and the hounds and the jolly field; soon all were socializing in a friendly sort of way, and I found myself meeting just about everyone there. It was a dream come true for me. And the next hunt was even better!