Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

A Cowboy Takes The Horn

Seldom does a whipper-in have an opportunity to hunt the hounds that he follows in territory three times a week. But a recent injury to Bull Run Huntsman, Billy Frederick, provided just that chance to young whipper-in Spencer Allen.
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Seldom does a whipper-in have an opportunity to hunt the hounds that he follows in territory three times a week. But a recent injury to Bull Run Huntsman, Billy Frederick, provided just that chance to young whipper-in Spencer Allen.

Having spent many years working cattle ranches and riding rodeo broncs, Allen was only a second-year foxhunter in his rookie year of whipping-in. Since he’d expressed to Frederick an interest in becoming a professional huntsman, he’s received more of the huntsman’s wrath than all the other whippers-in combined. Frederick saw potential in Allen and wanted to make sure he learned hounds and hunting properly.

When Frederick broke his collarbone working in the kennels, riding was out of the question. So he handed the horn to Allen and told him to learn to blow it. Little did he know the neighbors would complain later of a sick cat noise coming from Allen’s barn at all hours of the day and night.

The day–March 9–came. Luckily the meet was scheduled for the kennels, but not so lucky were the conditions–70 degrees, dry, and a stiff wind from the south. That in mind, Frederick instructed Allen to draw behind the kennels near the swamp in hopes of finding some moist ground.

He cast along the stream and within a few hundred yards, hounds hit. The fox ran downwind toward the church and without warning crossed the stream and swung back toward the cornfield behind Dr. Gilbert’s, giving the second field a quick view before he turned perpendicular and ran across the field.

Hounds were but a few seconds behind, screaming on the line. They swung wide, had a short loss, and picked up the line again, crossing back over the stream and across the bean field to Cedar Mountain Dr.

“They’re crossing the road and going to the shooting range!” a whipper-in screamed on the radio. By this time hounds were headed toward a few acres of white pine trees just below Cedar Mountain, full of fox holes and coverts. Surely the fox would go to ground in the heat.

But no–he continued at full speed, with hounds roaring after it, through the pines and out the other side, traversing the low side of the mountain to the Otis Jump (named after the horse that once crashed through it). On the other side and just up the mountain, hounds shut off, having their first loss after a 35-minute run.

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Fancy A Swim?
Allen blew to gather the pack and head back to Cedar Mountain Dr., casting through the trees on the way down. Whips headed to the road to stop the trucks coming from Cedar Mountain Stone full of gravel. The drivers are accustomed to horses and hounds crossing the road and readily obliged.

This time, however, the road crossing proved to be more entertaining than usual, thanks to one of our whippers-in. As her horse jumped from the road to the bank, his back feet slipped on the pavement, causing him to land in the watery ditch below.

Out he crawled–covered past his stifles with brown mud. His rider, on the other hand, came out on two feet, unscathed and completely un-mudded. When her horse decided to catch up to the first field, it was a sight watching her trot after him down the road with a stirrup leather dangling from one hand, hunt whip dragging from the other. I doubt she was as amused as our local dump truck drivers.

Once everyone was mounted again, Allen cast the hounds in a large, wooded covert at the other end of the swamp where we’d started. One hound spoke, then another, then the whole pack joined in as they ran screaming past the swamp and into the Airplane Field.

Crossing Slaughter’s Mill Rd., they followed the fox to the back of Kim Allen’s farm, turned again and headed in the opposite direction to the Fox Hotel. But hounds had a loss in the open, dry field, the wind scattering the scent like loose leaves. The run lasted only about 15 minutes, but it put the pack in the right place at the right time for the next fox.

Allen headed to the Frazier Barn with the hounds, while whips scattered to cover Rapidan Rd. and the railroad tracks. Within minutes hounds spoke again and made a line across the fields toward Alloway Farm.

They stayed with it to the barn, where the fox turned and headed back out into the fields, past the round bales and back toward the swamp behind the kennels. Hounds were hot on him as he swung wide through the swamp and headed for Gordon Kincheloe’s farm. He was coming full circle, maybe to return home.

Gone To Ground, But Not Done
As the fox made his way along the stream, the second field waited with anticipation as they heard the hounds screaming toward them. Suddenly the fox exploded from the covert, ran across the Alloway field, and without warning darted into a hole. Seconds later, hounds loudly followed him to ground, furiously marking the earth.

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Allen appeared a minute later, sprinting on foot from across the other side of the field. When he reached the hounds he fell to his knees from exhaustion and made several breathless attempts to blow the horn.

Hounds spoke and cheered him on, all the while toppling over him in excitement while digging at the foxhole. (We learned later that there was no access from Allen’s side of the field, so he handed off his horse and ran several hundred yards through streams and over barbed wire to greet the hounds.)

Frederick drove up in his truck and congratulated Allen with a cold beer. With all the excitement, no one noticed how close a few hounds had gotten to digging out the fox. The whippers-in quickly called off the hounds from the hole. After all, that fox should be left for another day. It was quite warm and horses were getting tired, so Frederick recommended heading back to the kennels.

Allen led the pack over the coop behind Alloway, thinking the woods would be the coolest way to return home. Apparently much of the local wildlife had the same idea, including the 4 o’clock fox.

Hounds opened as soon as they entered the woods, screamed through the swamp, and followed it again to the open fields at Gordon Kincheloe’s. This particular route repeated itself over the next 40 minutes, and when the hounds returned to the swamp for the third time, Allen told the whips to stop them. His horse had had enough, and he still needed to get the hounds home.

Frederick, listening on the radio, instructed the truck staff to trailer out another horse to swap with Allen. About 10 minutes later the replacement arrived–good old Vicker, a lanky Thoroughbred that came from Ep Wilson at Belle Meade, served Joe Kincheloe for many years in the hunting and racing fields, and is now Frederick’s usual mount. The interim huntsman was quite happy to be greeted with a fresh horse, and his horse was happy to get on the trailer.

He gathered up the hounds and firmly instructed staff not to let hounds stray from the pack. It was time to go home. A celebration awaited huntsman Spencer Allen for a job well done.

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