Thursday, November 30, 2006
Oak Grove Hunt begins 60th season of foxhunting
Note: Reprinted with permission from Mid-South Horse Review
By NANCY BRANNON
At its annual opening meet November 11, Oak Grove Hunt Club celebrated the “blessing of the hounds” for the 60th year running, marking a long-standing tradition of foxhunting in the Memphis area.
The opening meet was held at Peggy and Paul Hart’s Misty Meadows Farm, named for the “morning mist that rises in the pastures,” said hostess and first Whipper-in Peggy Hart. Nearly a hundred people turned out for the ceremony, with about half being riders and the rest spectators, who filled three hay wagons for a tour of the hunt and view from the hilltops.
The sport of foxhunting, a tradition brought to the U.S. from Britain in colonial days, has adapted to the particulars of wildlife and terrain in the U.S., particularly in west Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Foxes are the traditional quarry to be pursued, but when coyotes displaced local foxes during the 1980s, foxhunters soon found that coyotes play the game well and give good sport.
Oak Grove Hunt Club had its origins in Germantown, Tenn., in the early 1940s when a group of riders called the Oak Grove Saddle Club met every Sunday afternoon for a weekly ride. Bart Mueller, a foxhunter from Minnesota via Maryland, moved to the area and interested local folks in starting a foxhunting club. He had been a kennel man and huntsman at a hunt in Maryland, so he knew a lot about the sport, including breeding and training hounds. A core group of riders from the Oak Grove Saddle Club decided that was a good idea, so Oak Grove Hunt Club became the first registered foxhunt in the area in 1946, a member club with the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America.
The “blessing of the hounds” is an annual ceremony that begins the formal hunting season. The purpose is to invoke blessings and prayers for the safety of all those participating on this day and during the rest of the season. The blessing also includes those over whose land the hunt traverses. The hunt club members are especially grateful to those landowners in west Tennessee and Marshall County who graciously accommodate the sport.
At the beginning of the ceremony, riders enjoy and toast one another with a “stirrup cup,” a wine concoction to warm the body and fortify the soul. “Foxy” Walker is renowned for her delicious recipes, and for not giving out her trade secrets. Whatever the ingredients, the brew will “cure what ails ye.
Rev. Matthew McGrew of Longtown United Methodist Church in Senatobia was the officiant of the service, the text of which follows. At the end of the ceremony, riders are awarded St. Hubert medals, the Patron Saint of Hunting, for further protection from harm and as a reminder of the saint who watches over and protects animals and humans alike.
The weather for the meet was a decidedly bone-chilling overcast day, brought in by a cold front and rain the night before. The scenting conditions should have been just right, damp ground and cold temperatures to hold the scent low, but a steady north wind cut like a knife through even several layers of clothing, making it difficult for hounds to keep scent in the open. Deer were abundant, too, and kept popping up in front of hounds, further complicating the task of keeping scent for a good run.
Still, according to alternate huntsman Amanda McGee, “The hounds did a great job working under not so great conditions. They carried the scent very well in the woods, but due to the winds could not hold out long in the open. They behaved very well, and as you could see from the blessing, were delighted to be there and be the center of attention.”
All human participants enjoyed just being out for the occasion, too, and savored a “hunt breakfast,” with a great abundance and variety of food, after the hunt.
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