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December 21, 2004

Gray Foxes And Virginia Hunt Week Kick Off Season

Middlebrook Hounds
1525 Dutch Hollow Rd.,
Middlebrook,
Virginia 24459.
Established 1930.
Recognized 1935.

Despite near record-high temperatures that baked the ground to a scent-eating dust, Middlebrook Hounds managed to find plenty of scent that resulted in short but lively runs for their Oct. 30 opening meet.

In fact, for one young gray fox, the meet resulted in some never-to-be-forgotten thrills for both the hunted and the hunters.

Middlebrook's MFH and huntsman, the Hon. Frederick Getty, first cast the 24 couple of hounds across Coffey's Hill and on Molly's Line, a rich hollow and hillside that generally yields strong scent. "They just couldn't find anything," Getty later commented. The field waited with dashed hopes in light of the poor scenting conditions.

But Middlebrook's country always has an ace up the scenting sleeve--Swanbeck's pines, a huge stand with long-needled greenery that traps moisture in its cool lanes. Getty next cast toward Bold Stream Spring. First Jacob, then Uncle and Ulysses, sounded on what held the promise of a very hot line. Soon other hounds honored, and the chase was on.

As the field of 45 riders slid around corners and bounded up and down the pine lanes, Mr. Gray Fox was having challenges of his own. Finding himself too hard-pressed by the intrepid pack of Penn-Marydel blue ticks, he scrambled up a tree. But his selection proved too small for good purchase, and he fell backward into the snarling hound pack.

By this time, whipper-in Freddy Getty and his Irish horse Dublin were on the scene and trying to get control of the frantic pack. The agile gray leaped forward to another, larger pine and scrambled to safety. Within minutes, the huntsman and field arrived on the scene.

About this time, Alex Sproul (on his Morgan, Nigel), cried "tally-ho" on another gray fox streaking toward Cushman's big field.

Quickly gathering hounds, Getty, on the Irish-bred Morpheus, sprang in hot pursuit with the field, led by Macy Fox and Captain, hot on their heels. Another 20-minute run took riders over a natural triple bar and into a rocky and brush-broken field edged by pine trees.

In a favorite small, circling move, the gray dashed through the thick brush of the fence line, back toward the pines. In their wider circle, the riders negotiated another new bar fence back into the same pines in an ensuing full-cry gallop down the pine lanes once again. Then it was over the small coop and down into Swanbeck's ravine, and up the other side where the trails converge to lead to Rt. 252 on the back side of the hunt country.

As the field crossed the clearcut, the hilltoppers, led by Jt.-MFH Margot Case and landowner Dan Gano, rejoined the field. With the quarry obviously safely to ground and the panting hounds at a loss in the warm wind, Getty decided to call it a day.

"The hound music was wonderful; those were both very hot runs," he said.

Remembering An Old Friend

This year's blessing of the hounds, conducted by The Rev. Kevin J. Fox, whipper-in and rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Hot Springs, included another event special to those who frequent the Middlebrook field.

When Getty's horse of 10 years, Rommel, died suddenly of an aneurysm while hunting last season, Middlebrook's members were saddened by the loss of the faithful Appa-loosa gelding. Landowner and member Brooks Cushman suggested that donations be solicited to purchase a monument for the horse's grave behind the kennels.

After presiding over the traditional blessing of the hounds, riders, horses and foxes, Rev. Fox reminded those present of the wonderful contributions Rommel, the "desert fox" of a horse, had made to the success of many Middlebrook seasons. The ceremonies moved to the horse's gravesite and the new monument for the occasion, and a memorial booklet written by hunt members was distributed for a keepsake.

The opening hunt festivities followed on a very successful cubbing season at Middlbrook, and a day of hosting the annual Virginia Hunt Week at Bold Stream Farm.

No Disappointment

About 45 of the 65 riders who signed up for the Virginia Hunt Week meet at Middlebrook on Oct. 25 braved the heavy fog in the mountains to make it for the 9 a.m. first cast. They weren't disappointed.

Hounds were cast up Dutch Hollow Rd. into the deep hollow at the edge of Callison's field. By the time the field had circled the hollow itself, Libby Ragland, one of Bedford's whips riding with a Middlebrook whip, spied a gray atop the hill.

At the "tally-ho," the field thundered off as the fox dove for the brush beyond Lilly's Path and toward the Water Meadow. He streaked by first-whip MaryAnn Getty. With hounds and field scrambling to keep up for 45 action-packed minutes, the fox found his earth in some impenetrable brush.

"This was a spectacular run with great, thunderous hound music," Getty pronounced.

Next, hounds were cast across McKemy Springs Rd. behind Cliff and Laura Hunt's home. Once hounds explored the covert as far as the clearcut, they'd worked out what became by the minute a hotter line. This fox circled twice and took off for Rt. 252, the Brownsburg Turnpike. When he flew past
Max von Arnswaldt's house, the landowner came out to see what all the commotion was about.

The intrepid fox, however, vanished like a puff of smoke in the warm winds toward the small stream at the foot of the hill. Only minutes had passed, during which hounds were called and collected, when MaryAnn Getty cried "tally-ho" on a coyote at the top of a nearby hill. Hounds were cast into this covert, but to no avail. Getty gave his panting hounds 15 or 20 minutes to search for fresh scent before calling them off and calling it a day.

But the Middlebrook varmints weren't about to call it quits. Making his way through the pine groves that lead back toward the kennels, a hunting bobcat was reminded the country isn't all his when seven of Middlebrook's fastest hounds surprised him about his business. After a frantic 15-minute chase around the pines, the bobcat took to a tree.

Finally, the day's hunting came to an end. Getty praised the pack as everyone headed for the clubhouse and a welcome catered dinner of steamship round and all the fixings. Guests swelled the attendance to about 100.
 
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