Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2024

MFHA Centennial Closing Left Many Moments To Remember

The MFHA Centennial closing ceremony, held on the grounds of the Museum of Hunting and Hounds in Leesburg, Va., was filled with memories and laced with symbolic gestures. It capped a weekend of Centennial celebration festivities, May 25-27.

The ceremony was the official end of a year of events designed to draw foxhunters from across North America together and to raise money to protect the course of the sport in the future.
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The MFHA Centennial closing ceremony, held on the grounds of the Museum of Hunting and Hounds in Leesburg, Va., was filled with memories and laced with symbolic gestures. It capped a weekend of Centennial celebration festivities, May 25-27.

The ceremony was the official end of a year of events designed to draw foxhunters from across North America together and to raise money to protect the course of the sport in the future.

“The most pleasant result has been a tremendous sense of unity and commitment in the foxhunting world,” Masters of Foxhounds Association president Mason Lampton said, “We are one. We are not just little packs—we are a cadre of people participating in the sport. That was not the artic-ulated mission of the centennial but was the most lasting and rewarding result.”

Marty Wood, MFH of Live Oak Hunt (Fla.) viewed the Centennial weekend festivities as an enormous success. “The camaraderie and enthusiasm—if you could have bottled it and sent it to England, this whole sport might turn around. It was just a wonderful experience, and I can only sing the praises of everyone who worked so hard to put it on,” he said.

A Packed Calendar
The finale followed a raft of related activities that ran the course of the weekend. There was an artists reception, a party preceding the venerable Virginia Hound Show—a highlight of which is the annual horn blowing contest (won this year by Live Oak’s huntsman Charles Montgomery)—the hound show, a Centennial dinner party, the performance hounds conformation test, the selection of grand champion Centennial hounds, field hunter finals and a grand luncheon feting almost 3,000 people, if one is to believe the reports of parking lot attendants counting passengers exiting cars and shuttle buses. It was the marking of an era and the passing of the torch to another generation. It was quite simply, historic.

The works of many artists were displayed in the Winmill Carriage Museum on the grounds of Morven Park. According to Greg Ladd of Crossgate Gallery in Lexington, Ky., who organized the traveling exhibit, there are still 22 more shows scheduled throughout the year and Lampton has requested another show at the 2008 hunt ball. “There are more than 140 artists participating using all mediums—oil, pastel, watercolor, drawing, enameling, sculpture,” Ladd said. “The exhibit has been through seven states to date, mostly three-day shows. But, it is scheduled to be in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for two weeks during the racing season and the Thoroughbred sales from July 27-Aug. 9,” he continued.

“We have sold between 125 to 150 items with gross sales of over $400,000. We have 15 more shows between now and the end of the year. The best is yet to come.”

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The dinner party attended by 450 foxhunters was held at the Lansdowne Resort on Saturday following the Virginia Hound Show. A hound dog theme was designed to let people relax and mingle. The original painting Rush Hour by Booth Malone was auctioned off and fetched $15,000. Several hunting appointments were offered through a silent auction.

The Grande Finale
The closing ceremony on Sunday began following the judging of the field hunters, the performance hounds and the Centennial hound show. It started with a parade led by a color guard composed of three young riders.

The girls, Denya Leake, 12, aboard Happy Mouse, Letitia Johnston, 11, on Little Bits and Georgie Wilkins, 10, riding Landmark Crackerjack, are members of the Blue Ridge Pony Club (Va.).

They carried the Canadian, State of Virginia and the United States flags and led the field of horses, hounds and huntsmen in the centennial parade. The Canadian anthem was played followed by the Star Spangled Banner.

A heartfelt blessing was delivered by Father Ed Frank, who hunted with Belle Meade (Ga.) from 1966 until he turned 70, then he traded in his spurs for a Ford pick-up to follow hounds. The blessing was part of the ceremony and included everyone—people, horses and hounds.

“This is like minting glory, bringing together everyone, blessing them, presenting medals,” said Epp Wilson, MFH of Belle Meade Hunt, who organized the performance trials and coordinated the recognition of juniors.

“You can’t do too much when it comes to juniors. We involve them in every aspect of hunting to make them feel validated and to feel good,” he said. Each junior received a certificate with the MFHA Centennial seal and either a picture of the St. Hubert’s medal or a non-denominational version with the MFHA emblem.

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The certificate represents the symbolic “passing of the torch” and was presented with the Centennial medal on a ribbon following the blessing. Hunts also were encouraged to take the certificates home to juniors that
participated in the local shows.

Looking Ahead
There was much recognition and many sentimental speeches. One early in the day paid special tribute to the equestrian team from Virginia Tech. The coach brought the members of the team to honor Emily Jane Hilscher, their teammate who fell victim to the April 16 massacre there.

Hilscher was from Rappahannock County, Va., and hunted with the Warrenton Hunt. She had ridden in pony races at the Virginia Gold Cup and planned to be a veterinarian before her life was cut short. Ironically, it was another Virginia Tech student, Stuart Sanders, who won the field hunter championship (see p. 8), allowing triumph to momentarily replace tragedy.

“The performance trials and hunter competitions brought something to each district that subscribing members embraced. This gave a sense of community to the Centennial,” Lampton said.

“The [MFHA] ball in New York was over the top in quality, and the closing ceremony was confirmation of the events. The good will created and the money raised [$2.5 million] is an awakening that we are one.”

The party may be over, but there is still much to be done. “Sadly, [as we look to the future], we are in need of money to fight the tough battle to sell our sport. What we need to do now is come out and embrace our sport and show people what we do, be proactive and promote and draw people to us. People need to think good things of us. We must be the standard bearer for countryside and protect country so we will all have a great future. Creating habitat and keeping development away—we need to stand up for it,” Lampton said.

Donna Ross

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