I grew up listening to my mother’s stories about foxhunting in New England. Back when I was falling off my pony regularly in an attempt to become a world class “equestrienne”, I studied black and white photos of her sailing over fences on her horse “Snapshot” while she sat side saddle and folded herself so elegantly so as not to impede his brilliant effort. She had mastered the art not for the sake of competing in horse shows so much, but more for the thrill of riding to hounds in the woods and fields of Groton, Massachusetts.
By the time I came along, she had stopped hunting with the Groton Hunt, but she soon had me enrolled in the Groton Pony Club, where I began my journey into the horse world. Later we moved to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia where, sadly, there was no foxhunting to be had. The beautiful countryside there lends itself to horses and hounds, but the farming life had evolved into large swaths of corn, oats and apple orchards, with relatively few horses. Of course not only was I signed up for the Annapolis Pony Club, but my mother became a very active District Commissioner and spent most of her time organizing events for the kids in the club.
One of the most brilliant events she organized for several years was the Annapolis Pony Club Mock Hunt. An adult was designated “the fox” and went out with me or my brother the day before the hunt and marked a trail with ribbons on trees. On the day of the hunt, horse trailers arrived from several nearby counties. Horses were braided and primped for the festivities and several of us pony clubbers on our zippy ponies were designated “Hounds”. “The Fox” would take off while the eager “Hounds” waited for the OK to go after him. Then off we’d go, searching for ribbons to tell us what direction to go. We’d “give tongue” (bark) and generally go nuts, and the Field (others on horses) followed the dignitaries: The Master, The Huntsman and the Whippers In. It was a blast! We always caught the fox in the end, but that usually took a couple of hours and miles of riding.
Then everyone would come back to our house and feast on a Hunt Breakfast which consisted of tables of decadently rich food and hot spiced cider. I have no idea how my mother got all of this done, but I think it was her way of filling the foxhunting void which she found herself in up there in Nova Scotia. In 1979 the Annapolis Valley Hunt was founded and I had the honor of going out with them. They only had a few hounds and a handful of members, but it was so glorious to be out there doing the real thing.
Now I have to ‘fess up something big. I don’t like the “idea” of foxhunting. I love foxes and I abhor hunting! When I was 14, I was so angry
with my brother for going out and shooting pheasants, that I vowed not to eat red meat. Ever again. (I know. Pheasants aren’t technically red meat, but hey, I was a dumb, impulsive teenager.) Since then to this day I have not knowingly eaten any beef, pork, lamb or other animal. So why do I wax poetic about “Riding to Hounds”? Well, it’s just that. I love dogs. I love horses. I love the countryside. People gathering to enjoy those things all together is wonderful. I don’t celebrate the “hunting” aspect, but my mother assures me that in the more than 200 times she went out with the Groton Hunt, they NEVER got a fox! And now, many hunts are “drag” hunts, where hounds go after a scent which has been laid (like ribbons on trees) to entice them along a specified trail.
So for now I am thoroughly enjoying painting scenes of foxhunts. I plan to visit as many as I can next year and get lots of fuel for my creative eye. I will paint the pageantry and the history of the sport, and if I find a good, quiet horse I might go out there with them!