Banbury Cross, March 20th, 10:00 a.m.–This meet was a joint special occasion, to host nearly a score of folks up from Belle Meade, Va., and a make-up for the snowed out Junior’s Day. It turned out to be one of the best days of the year. I arrived at the meet with five horses on–two for guests (one who rode sidesaddle), one for our kennelman and sometimes whipper, my horse Beau and my young daughter’s pony, Hanna.
After handing out horses to all, I began to strap on all the various tools I needed for the day: radio, horn, electric collar control, pistol, and, of course, a pocket flask for our visitors. Next, get electric collars on puppies in the hound trailer. We had emptied the kennel for the meet, plus one house hound, for 17 1/2 couple. A brief word to the staff, Sheila, Robyn, and Christine, and out came the hounds. We gathered them up while Master Gregg Ryan and the field lined up in front of the stable; Nelson and Wendi had some photographers on hand to capture the moment. When the hounds were settled enough to keep together, we brought them in by the fountain for some additional photos. A few words from Gregg and Nelson and we were off.
I called Barbara Lee, 1st whipper-in from Belle Meade, up to ride with me. She was of great value throughout the day and had a grin on a mile wide by the end. Junior Conner Poe rode out as a whipper with Christine, he told me later he only slightly dislocated his shoulder during the day and it was nothing to worry about. His sister, Casey, would lead the second field. One of the guests said they never ran so much before in a second field! Heading south we came into the heavily wooded Black Swamp. Here hounds opened but started back the way we came from, thinking this could be heel, and after a little check we moved them back south where they first opened. Here they picked and worked a little in that direction, but farther on I heard, then saw, several hounds moving out into the field a couple hundred yards ahead of us. Calling whippers to push the pack up we went forward to the lead hounds, which were now crossing the field from the ballpark into the Mount Airy islands a little to the west.
Here they checked by the run between fields. I saw Buca and Saddle start running, heads down, on the other side of the run going south. Not speaking yet, I knew they were on. I growled, “Come on, open!”, knowing this would bring the rest of the pack on hard. Then they did and the pack flew to them. All now speaking, down through the woods into the Mount Airy ravine, they headed southwest. Down the path and up and around, then over the rail jump into the field behind the old house. Sheila had viewed a fox going back east but it wasn’t the one they were on, as the hounds were flying across the fields west to Sam Fred Road. With Robyn ahead and Barbara behind me, we flew across the field towards what used to be Stoney’s house.
At the crest of the hill I glanced to see the pack a field ahead at the fence along Sam Fred Road. Down the steep hill we went at full speed. There was no slowing Beau down now, the little TB brain had taken over. Taking my chances rather than fighting it, I let him go. At the bottom of the hill he leaped the run to the one dry spot, bounced off it to leap the next puddle…at 30 mph! Pleased to still be on but not sure how we managed that, up the hill at full speed to Sam Fred where the pack was now running north on each side of the road and crossing over to the west.
Still galloping, turning slightly right, we headed over the stone wall into the meet field. Here Robyn turned left to cross the road. We continued straight parallel with the road across the field to catch them further ahead. Turning left at the next crossing, Sheila was in the road as we crossed. The hounds had turned sharply west across the gallop field. Coming across, Robyn reports they’d gone to ground. Coming in with the tail hounds, we found the pack in the copse of trees by the burn pile on the den. Robyn had been running on the edge of the woods that line the road with the pack when she viewed the fox as he made an abrupt left hand turn, came out and across the field west. He went down and around the copse and up into the hole. While blowing to ground, the fields and car followers all met at the den for a little cheer. That’s one.
Asking Sheila where she actually viewed that other fox, we headed for it. Into and around the old Mount Airy house we cast. Picking up a little, some low scenting and speaking, circling several times we just couldn’t get it going. Already pleasantly surprised, considering the full moon the night before and open sky that day, I expected conditions would be difficult but with one good flat out run to start, we went off to find a hotter fox. North and west, back across the road, we headed for the Hog Lot and Ball Hill. Pressing west down the run towards the Hog Lot we had a little speaking but it seemed to be old line. Into Ball Hill we went with the hounds picking up the pace.
As we bushwhacked up through the boulders of the hill Christine, with Conner, on the south side of the wooded hill began to tally-ho foxes as they came out. One, no a brace; wait one more, all heading south along the Wacopin except for the last who upon seeing her turned and crossed the creek. She was afraid we’d have a split, I told her to pick a line and keep them on one or the other. She responded with some doubt if that would be possible! Trying to catch up with the screaming hounds, we came into the Colt Field on the south side above where the pack was about to emerge. Some of the less experienced new entries started to go heel back into the woods but quickly turned around as the main pack burst out heading south across the field. Over the panel jump and into the rock pile we went. Here the veterans held up until the over exuberant puppies continued past and drew all forward. As the voice shut down they circled back to the rock pile and marked it. Two.
Not wanting to lose any time I picked them up and headed to where Christine saw the third fox turn. Barbara, at my request, pushed the hounds off the hole and up to me. I cast them west at the base of the Colt Field and immediately they opened up! Crossing the creek, out across the Long Field the leaders went full speed. Again, Barbara pitched in, and stopped long enough to push some tail hounds out of the trees and get them running to catch up. We all flew across the Long Field as the lead hounds hit the next run and brush. I turned west to the Wheatlands Field but they turned south.
Sending Robyn to Polecat Hill Road, we turned to catch the field heading south across a little run after the hounds. Up and over, then through the Island Field they headed into Homewood. For lack of a jump, Sheila and the field had gone to open the gate into Homewood while we watched to see what the hounds did. They had checked in the woods and then gone on. Down to the gate and through it we went. Now running behind the field going east, out into the field I went when I saw Christine coming through the east gate with Sheila meeting her. The field all had gone that way, so I thought the hounds must be that way until I heard speaking behind me and off to my right behind.
With a sweeping right turn, I ran to the hounds that were heading south to Middleburg. They checked in the old fence line and cast about. With no way in for us, they now started to push towards Foxcroft Road. Not good. Calling for Robyn to run down the road and cut them off, I saw her in the distance going over a hill just about to a point ahead of them. They again checked in the field, and I started calling them back. Sheila had even dismounted and started across the field on foot when they started coming back. I wasn’t sure if that fox had gone that way or not, as they hadn’t been as hot. Blue had thought the fox turned east. Earlier when Sheila came up, Blue had come out into a cornfield and started east only she had cut him off and stopped him. Either way, we were way close to Middleburg and cut off from getting to them so as they began to come back it was a relief.
I circled back just west of the line we came in on. If the fox had circled that way, we’d pick it up. If not, we get back into our country. After a slight delay, as the staff let them go back to the old line, we moved northwest across the old cornfield heading for Polecat. Moving along the marshy defile we came to a brushy dead woodpile. Sanction stopped, then opened. Just then Christine, 10 yards from me on the other side, started screaming tally-ho as the fox burst out of the cover opposite Sanction, running back south in full view of both fields. The tail hounds who had been on that side were hot on his …tail! The rest of the pack came pouring around with a huge voice. I went galloping full tilt at the field when I realized no one was moving and it was quiet. Everyone was looking across to the west where the hounds were stopped. The fox had run to the next little clump of trees where he had a very nice den! Whether this had been the fox who had given us the dodge previous or not, this one had gone to ground here after a short little sight chase. Three.
From here we continued north on Polecat turning west into the Glenwood fields prior to the barns. Up to the copse of trees we went, where just the week before a fox had burst out of. Again the hounds exploded with voice and down towards the stable to a culvert, the same one he had run into last week! Not much of a run but it counts. Four.
Next, north past the stables, across Polecat into the woods along the road we drew. About half way between Wheatlands and Whitehall they opened up. Across the road going west they went to the woods behind the grandstand. Here they checked, a den is here but they really weren’t marking it and hadn’t come to it screaming, so maybe just a cold line. Picking them up, we went back down the way they came from and across the field near the White Hall springhouse. Here they opened again going northeast. Had that fox gone downhill and not up? Had the puppies carried us heel again?
Here my memory fails me a little as we had a couple of runs that started here. I can’t remember if this is the one where we went north through the sage grass then circled back to Ball Hill or if this was the one where they continued down across the Wacopin and into Ball Hill. Either way, they weren’t going anywhere fast. They started up into the rocks of Ball Hill going east with very little speaking as they picked their way through. Over the crest and into the Hog Lot we continued, when in the thick brush near the northeast corner Flora opened hard and started back the way we had come. Now I really thought this was just some cold line as we had just been there. Surely if a fox was in there, he would have come out the east end, but they continued west and more hounds honored so we started back to Ball Hill. I thought, could he have just circled around us in the brush? Maybe. Whippers had been on that east and north side and he might not have wanted to come out.
Anyway, we were going back into Ball Hill and up into the rocks, again. The pack was picking up speed. Now, one of the whippers tallyhoed the fox coming out of the southside with the pack coming on hard. Now, Barbara and I had to get out of those rocks and run for the stonewall into the horse field. Over that, then a hard right, down and up across the field and over the next wall into the Colt Field. Galloping down the hill and over the coop, splashing through the Wacopin, and up into the Long Field we ran, and we did some hard running as the pack was already running south into the Lilac Hill fields. Down the old farm lane, across the little stony bridge over the run, and past the gate to Sunnybank we flew. Ahead of me, Robyn was flying on little Spencer, who I was not gaining on until I angled across the field going for the wall into Lilac Hill field!!
Crossing that field I saw the pack go hard into those woods, we moved towards the west side of them in time to see Blue take the pack over the wall and out into the Lilac horse field. Here they went silent and circled back to the wall where Frenchie came over and immediately spoke and ran right at us. It gave one the chills as the pack came by in full cry not yards from us! Into the Island Field and across going west into the Homewood cornfield. Some more hazardous riding for us as we galloped down and across a mucky wash by the pond and up and out the other side over a narrow little coop with a sharp right. Now we were right behind the hounds as they ran along the fence line, then they stopped at the fence. There was a clear crossing and game path. Some started to slip under and speak a little. When we went around to the other side, the hounds had checked and were working and picking all around but not going anywhere with it.
After several attempts to pick this line up, and circling around to every angle with no success, we crossed back over the fence into the cornfield. Coming up and back into the cornfield I saw a fresh den some 30 feet into the field. Could this fox have darted in there? Could the wind have blown it off and the young entries, being fast but still a little dumb, took the pack past it? I just don’t know. I just can’t count this as number five for the day, but maybe. It had been a long run and we were into our fourth hour, so here I began to gather the hounds and waited as some of the old hounds caught up.
We had the usual great breakfast waiting at Nelson’s and once the hounds came in we started for it. All hounds in and all horses and riders tired. A good way to end the season at Sunnybank.