“We were very, very lucky to be where we were and to be able to give those people those memories,” Jeanne Trexler Donahue Shippen fondly recalled.
She was remembering the days when she was district commissioner of the Redland Hunt Pony Club, between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., more than four decades ago.
“We were blessed with having the land and the hounds and the horses and the children. We were blessed to be able to enjoy watching the fox beguile those slow-witted hounds,” said Shippen, now 82.
She’s not the only one who cherishes tender memories of growing up in the Pony Club and following MFH Tom Mott’s Redland hounds across open fields and thick woodlands. But it’s Shippen who made those memories so special, say the people whom she taught and took hunting every week.
And the two were completely intertwined since hunting was the reason for the Redland Hunt Pony Club. Mott, a man with an unrestrained passion for the sport who brooked no nonsense, approached Shippen and her neighbor, Mary Austin, in the mid-’50s and asked them to form a club. Pony Club’s founders–Mrs. and Mrs. Dean Bedford, Alexander Mackay-Smith and Col. Howard Fair–were all dedicated foxhunters, and they established the group to further interest in and understanding of their sport among riders under 21. Mott hoped Shippen and Austin would do exactly that for his pack.
Redland became inactive in 1967 and then disbanded, ultimately the victim of Washington’s sprawling suburbanization, although its Pony Club remains vital today. The Goshen Hunt, founded in 1957 by former Redland followers, survives to the west, while neighboring Howard County merged with Iron Bridge 20 years ago to combine territory just southwest of Baltimore. The land that used to house the Howard County kennel is now a school.
Spurred by Mott, Shippen and Austin, who each had three children who rode, started getting their families and their neighbors’ families together. And, wham, they had a Pony Club. The Austin’s Quail Hill Farm became the Pony Club’s headquarters.
“And now we were faced with taking all these little monsters into the hunting field. I thought the only way to do that was with something that would appeal to them,” said Shippen.
In two nights, she created a 12-page booklet, with 10 commandments for foxhunting, ranging from admonitions on manners in the field, to proper horse care, to appreciating the work of hounds and the guile of foxes. Each commandment has its own special drawing to illustrate it.
Austin’s husband, Jim, then printed it on standard 81Â³2 by 11-inch paper, in one color. “So we had to hand-paint the red ribbon” on the page describing what color ribbon to tie in the tail of a horse who kicks, Shippen recalled.
They printed somewhere between 300 and 500 copies, Shippen believes. Dean Bedford ordered 75 for his field at Elkridge-Harford.
“We never thought it would go anywhere beyond our little group, and I’m always amused–and so pleased–when someone recognizes me in a store or somewhere else and tells me they still have it, often framed,” said Shippen.
One of those people is Jim Ligon, who served two terms as president of the U.S. Pony Clubs, in the late ’70s and late ’80s, and still lives in Sandy Spring, Md., where the hunt and his Pony Club were once based.
All the children in the Redland Hunt Pony Club hunted four decades ago, and if their parents didn’t hunt too, they hilltopped and repaired fences. The Pony Clubbers hacked across the countryside to the meets, to all their Pony Club activities, or just to go for a ride. Few families had horse trailers, because they didn’t need them.
“Going for a trail ride just wasn’t something un-usual. We didn’t even think about it. You just got on and went for a ride. We’d go out in the morning and ride all day. It gave us so much confidence,” said Ligon.
Ligon recalled that Shippen and Austin organized many paper chases, where someone pretends to be the fox and leaves notes to help the “hounds” to find them. And they’d go for group trail rides almost every Sunday. Everybody would bring a can of soup for supper, and they’d combine all the cans into one pot. “I suppose we had some unusual tastes and combinations, but I remember it as being pretty good,” said Ligon.
Shippen has a slightly different memory of those Sunday trail rides. The adults called them the “Brinklow bourbon hunt,” since they always met at the Pries family’s farm near the village of Brinklow, just west of Sandy Spring. After riding, the adults would send the children to take care of the horses and to play so they could enjoy a bit of libation.
Suzanne Pries Copenhagen, who well remembers those “bourbon hunts” at her family’s farm, now lives in Hillsboro, Ore. She recalled, “Redland was a great club from the beginning. All the parents hunted along with their kids, and all were involved in the Pony Club as well. Many remained friends for many decades. We just had an amazing amount of fun.”
After spending more than a decade in Ireland (where she said she wisely didn’t hunt) with her late husband, Shippen returned to the United States 25 years ago and lives in Sykesville, Md., about 20 miles north of Sandy Spring. She was astounded to find the hunting gone.
Sandy Spring lies in the middle of a triangle formed by the bustling towns of Wheaton, Gaithersburg and Columbia. And now people can’t believe Shippen when she tells them that she used to ride and hunt all over the community that’s today covered with single-family developments, malls, schools and athletic fields, and crisscrossed by roads teeming with cars, trucks and school buses.
“It was such a rolling, rolling, rolling countryside, and there was very little traffic, so we could ride very safely,” recalled Shippen. “The parcels of property were big–100 acres or more–and undeveloped, and to a large degree wooded, with trails all through them. So we never worried about the children riding from place to place.”
Of course, they also had the words and drawings from Shippen’s pamphlet to guide them.
The advice from “Pony Club Do’s And Don’ts” that Ligon remembers best “is probably the last line–‘And on your way home, you walk the last mile.’ I’d say that no matter what I’ve ever done with a horse, it makes such good sense.”