Friday, May. 24, 2024

Reflections Of A Whipper-In

What's it like to be a whip and why do you do it? This is probably the most asked question I get from people who ride in the field or just know about foxhunting.

The answer is complex because it involves a range of emotions from awful to wonderful. When it's good, there's a magic involved that touches the soul, which is hard to put into words. My most precious memories are when I've been alone with the hounds, far from the field or huntsman, on a hard scent running in full cry.
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What’s it like to be a whip and why do you do it? This is probably the most asked question I get from people who ride in the field or just know about foxhunting.

The answer is complex because it involves a range of emotions from awful to wonderful. When it’s good, there’s a magic involved that touches the soul, which is hard to put into words. My most precious memories are when I’ve been alone with the hounds, far from the field or huntsman, on a hard scent running in full cry.

It may be easier to say that being a whipper-in, also known as a whip, isn’t materially rewarding or externally fulfilling. Most whips are volunteers who spend their precious free time with the hounds in the kennel or on horseback. You’re also more likely to have your hide verbally removed for not being in the right place at the right time.

It’s not social since a good whip rarely has time to chat with the field or finish in time to attend the breakfasts. It’s not an ego stroke because the days in the cold rain when hounds are still out requires the whip to be gathering and bringing in when everyone else has headed home to a warm fire.

The relationship a whip has to hunting is first with the hounds, followed only incrementally with the huntsman. This relationship has to be one of trust, respect and loyalty that flows both ways. Hounds that do not trust or respect a whip will not respond when needed.

Hounds fascinate me. Their behavior in the kennels are like loving puppies, all licks and jumps for attention. But put them where they can hunt and they become all business. If you can show them good hunting, they’ll respond with loyalty and obedience. Allowing them to have good hunting is the ultimate reward you could possibly provide, and they reciprocate it.


A Supporting Role
A huntsman must have confidence in his whips in order to focus on hunting. The whip is a supporting part of a team where the star players are the hounds directed or choreographed by the huntsman. Whips are much like a groomsman or bridesmaid at a wedding–essential but not the primary focus by any means.

The whip’s ultimate role is to assist in providing good sport for the field. Actions and decisions are directed to this goal. There’s always the unsettled anticipation of what you’ll encounter that day, be it fox, coyote or deer. You try to remember prior hunts and where game was found or run. The whip must concentrate on the pack to make sure they don’t cast any earlier than the huntsman intends. At the meet there’s constant watching to make sure no hounds sneak off and draw others.

At the first cast, the butterflies in the stomach usually leave and you take position, which you hope puts you in the right place at the right time. There’s a tremendous joyful feeling in watching the hounds work that adds significant value to the hunting experience. It’s a mental involvement that the field rarely gets to experience due to their distance from the pack and lack of time with the hounds.

I always take a moment to sniff the cold air, feel the horse beneath me and notice the surroundings. There’s a nostalgia knowing that time could travel back hundreds of years and you would be dressed pretty much the same, riding similar horses, hunting similar hounds and experiencing the same excitement of George Washington, J.E.B. Stuart and others.

The magic begins when the hounds hit a scent and run at full cry. The emotions sweep across your body–excitement, anticipation and adrenalin kicking in. It requires immediate reaction to ride at speed to where you anticipate the game and hounds to be going in order to accomplish what the whip is there to do.

You need to think as you ride, listening to the hounds to pick up change of speed, or direction or of lead hounds. These sounds may signal your choice was wrong, or it may signal you are spot-on. Your horsemanship has to be secondary. I think the mental challenge of this is a huge part of the internal reward a whip gets when you can end up where you’re supposed to be.

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A whip is to be in the right place at the right time and know what to do when he gets there. I receive partial credit most of the time and probably accomplish it 100 percent maybe twice a season. Making the wrong choice usually results in chastisement from the huntsman since you’ve let down the team and affected the sport. Making the wrong choice too often can return you to the field.

It’s a sinking feeling when you pull up at your intended spot and you can’t hear anything, no hounds, no horn, nothing–with no idea where they went or what they’re doing.


An All-Out Effort
The days unfold as they do, some with great runs, others with wind or rain or bad scenting. You learn to dress for the weather because there’s no such thing as going in.

At checks your job is to help reorganize the pack with endless counting of hounds to see how many are present. Try counting children running all over a play yard and you’ll see how challenging it is. Counting becomes automatic at every check, along with figuring out which hound may be missing. Is it a lead hound out on a scent or a trailing puppy?

I’m told a whip rides three to five times the distance the field may ride in order to be in position. I think this is true, and the less experienced the whip the longer the distance.

I jump only when necessary to preserve the horse for what unknowns may come later. And you should never, ever, leave the saddle because you may not have time to remount if hounds take off.

The tools of the trade include: a whip with a thong long enough to “reach out and touch” if needed and with a real cracker; a pistol with rat shot to rate errant hounds; wire cutters kept on your body; and whatever wraps, tape, string or medicines you can hold in your pockets. Your belt is a used stirrup leather in case someone needs one. Over a season I will use it all when aiding members of the field. Radios are used if you rank enough to get one. If not, you do it the old-fashioned way.

Hacking back from the last cast or from the meet is a quiet time when you gauge your fatigue, that of your horse and the hounds. You count again to make sure you know how many hounds you have. It’s music to the huntsman to hear “all on” as he blows the long horn signaling the end of the day.

This is a wonderful time to reflect on the day. You can smell the dried horse sweat and feel the ache in your bones as your muscles barely keep you on. At the kennels, after putting up the hounds, there’s, at most, a nod from the huntsman indicating a job well done. The smallest things can be most satisfying.

Caring for your horse is the next task. There’s a bond between a whip and his horse that’s more than being in a saddle–a whip must ask the horse to go places others have not or will not go. There’s no lead horse, and sometimes there’s no ability to go back. The horse has to jump where needed, not necessarily where the fences are forgiving.

A good whip’s horse will learn how to hear hounds and will begin to move before given the signal when the hounds give tongue.

Often I rely on my horse’s ability to hear hounds and head wherever he has his ears pointed when I can hear nothing. The horse must be quiet at the checks and not mind hounds around his feet.

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Whipping is an all-out mental and physical challenge that’s never the same twice. It’s a team sport where your reward is seeing the team succeed due in some part to your actions. It’s the thrill of the chase and the peace of the team coming home whole.


Jim Baker



Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds

P.O. Box 528,

Unionville, Pennsylvania

19375-0528.

Established 1912.

Recognized 1913.


Just One More Fox
A large field of more than 100 met on the kennel lawn in Unionville, Pa., on Saturday, Dec. 16. Our huntsman, Ivan Dowling, ably assisted by Sam Clifton, Niall Molloy and Paddy Neilson, took the hounds to the Plantation Field to the first draw.

Surprisingly, the quarry was blank, but that would be the only disappointment in what was to prove to be one of the best days of any season.

The next draw just north of the Plantation produced a fox that first made a short loop around the pond before heading north across Apple Grove Road to cross Hilltop View Road and into Dr. Elinor Jenny’s. There, hounds ran into the Rubicam Hill covert, just touching the bottom before heading south and to ground on the edge of the covert. This was a very fast hunt of 40 minutes without much of a check.

Hounds were then hacked back through the Plantation Field, crossing Route 82. The Pinkerton’s proved blank, but the best-running fox of the day was waiting in the Upland covert.

With most of the field still out, this fox ran at top speed across Newark Road, staying south of Brooklawn. He raced through Mrs. Misenheimer’s, then turned west through Mr. duPont’s. Crossing West Road at breakneck speed, Charlie led these hounds and hard-galloping horses across the open fields to Wilson Road.

Still at a racing pace, he went up Ryan Road to where it joins Hicks Road. These hounds, with great cry, raced into North Club Hill, flying down the hill to Thouron Road, there they turned northwest and went along to the closed portion of Greenlawn Road past Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hendriks’ then right handed into Jones’ Swamp.

Still without checking, our pilot turned east to again cross Thouron Road and up the steep bank into Mr. John Geewax’s, across the bottom of Winterwood and finally this marvelous pack marked him in the Osage orange hedgerow near Mr. Geewax’s house. Thus ended a very, very fast hunt of 55 minutes without a real check!

This was a 43�4 mile point and 6 miles as hounds ran. After marking him in, it was decided to draw on the way home. A very depleted field followed these remarkable hounds and staff as we made our way eastward toward the kennels.

Tired riders, and their horses as well, were already reminiscing about this wonderful hunt when hounds found another fox in Mrs. Michael Matz’s field above West Road. This fox gave us a nice hunt across West Road into and through the Brooklawn covert, through Taylor’s, and marked him in between Taylor’s and Newark Road. The field that witnessed this had been whittled down to a handful of people and spent horses.

The Cheshire countryside has a reputation of being a challenge to cross, but the only casualty of the day was one of our faithful car followers, so intent on the hounds he drove into a stream and had to be towed out!

Riding home in the lengthening shadows of the winter solstice everyone was so thankful that hunting like this can still happen in the 21st century in Chester County. The Cheshire staff is to be highly commended for the excellent job they all have done to show the field such continuing brilliant sport.


Lucy Glitters

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