My first trip out west 10 years ago was memorable, to say the least, for this born-and-raised Tennessean. The airlines lost my luggage before I met up with my foxhunting friends from Reno-based Red Rock Hounds to hunt in the high desert mountains in a ghost town in nowhere-Nevada. So, after living in other people’s clothes (and interesting underwear) for five days, I got my first article published: “The Naked Foxhunter’s Wild Nevada Adventure.”
After unwittingly pinning myself with such a dignified nom de plume, I would like to say that my first adventure out west was the last time I ended up in other people’s clothes. Alas, that has not been the case. I am a serial perpetrator of poor packing, even when my luggage resides in the same state as me.
Well, this time I am driving out west to join the Masters of Foxhounds Association’s Hark Forward Western Tour (a continent-wide event over the 2017-2018 season to raise money for the new MFHA headquarters). We will be gone for 30 days and will make it all the way California, and we will hunt 14 days that include two hound trials.
We left Georgia with 12 people and 20 horses on March 15 at 4 a.m. and drove 1,000 miles in 16 hours to Mission Valley Hunt Club in Kansas. Epp Wilson, MFH and huntsman for Belle Meade Hunt in Georgia, said we had enough people, equipment and horses to take over a third-world country. And he was not wrong!
I had the back seat of Jean Derrick’s brand new diesel truck. And by back seat I mean that I had enough area for my seat bones, but not necessarily my entire butt. My backside is now a permanent square shape from all the stuff we had crammed in the back seat with me.
Siri, in her infinite wisdom, told us to get off the interstate two hours from our destination, so we toured the back roads of Missouri to our great entertainment. There was one little town that had unicorns painted all over a building. Tall, fat, rearing, sleeping, etc., unicorns in all rainbow colors. It was a little surreal since we had basically only been seeing empty fields for the previous two hours. Then as Tanya Nelson was driving with Jean in the passenger seat, the road disappeared out from underneath us as we went over a little creek bridge, and the other side wasn’t graded well. So, the truck’s tires went airborne, and I levitated in the back seat. The looks on Tanya’s and Jean’s faces when we came back to earth was priceless. No damage and all four horses were fine, but we were all laughing so hard we were crying. This is the definition of being punch drunk on a road trip. And it was only the first day!
Our horses were kept in three different places provided so kindly by the members of Mission Valley. My horse, Phillip, was with Jean’s three mares at the McDowells’ barn. We arrived just at dusk and went into the barn apartment to get to the stalls behind. Oh, wow. Mr. McDowell is a big game hunter, and the barn apartment was full of trophies that he had shot with a bow. A brown bear. A cougar. A buffalo. A zebra rug. Multiple racks from various animals.
But the crown jewel of this trophy collection was in the barn area by the stalls. It was… a baboon. Yes, there was a stuffed baboon snarling and staring at the stalls. Everyone stayed at member’s homes that had lots of steer heads and such as décor, but the Baboon Barn trumped all.
We hunted from the Mission Valley kennels on St Patrick’s Day. Five hunts competed with a total of 12 couple of hounds: Mission Valley Hunt Club, Mill Creek Hunt, Bridlespur Hunt, North Hills Hunt and Fort Leavenworth Hunt. Angela Murray, MFH and huntsman for Red Rock Hounds, flew in to hunt the combined pack for the weekend. It was a cold and overcast day with a cutting wind. But the hounds jumped a coyote right away for a fun run. They lost him and found another for a short run. There were several judges from each hunt and outside hunts that kept up with the scoring for each hound (with individual numbers painted on their sides) using a voice recorder as they rode. The hounds were judged over a two-day period, with ribbons given out at the end for the top hound, top pack and a few other categories.
The next day we went to their Flint Hills fixture in the middle of a prairie on the Mashed O Ranch, which was only 14,000 acres. The rangeman (not cowboy, but rangeman), who was the field’s guide, described the prairie as looking like “if the moon grew grass.” And it totally made sense.
It was bitter cold with a very strong wind, so coats were waived. I rode with Grosvenor Merle-Smith, who was judging from his electric Polaris ATV. I was able to get great shots because Gro was right up with the pack, and the Polaris could go as fast as the galloping judges went. We were flying! Right up until Gro hit a ditch. I was in the back of the Polaris, but when we went down into that ditch I almost ended up on the roof. I thought I was done for, as I have no idea how in the hell I stayed inside that Polaris. The field went about 12 miles that day, galloping after the pack hot on a coyote. It was an epic day for the field members, as many came back with stories of surviving the prairie’s ditches at top speed. Bridlespur Hunt won for best pack and a Fort Leavenworth hound, Tracker, won best hound.
The Mission Valley hosts were amazing. We had a party every night, and all of us with our horses were hosted by hunt members. They even gave us gifts and thank-you notes for coming. Southern hospitality has the reputation for being the best, but those Kansas folks gave the South a run for its money. But I must say it will be those creepy unicorns and that damn baboon that will feature large in my memory of Kansas.
So, the Monday after two great days of hunting, we loaded up again and drove west. Another 1,000 miles or so to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 12 hours. We went from flat, flat, flat prairie to the mountains around Santa Fe. This next week we will have a hound walk with Caza Ladron in Santa Fe and a hunt with Juan Tomas Hounds in Albuquerque. Then on to Grand Canyon Hounds in Flagstaff, Arizona. I’m already exhausted, but we are having a ball and making great friends along the way.
Gretchen Pelham has joined the MFHA’s Hark Forward Western Tour for a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the western United States, traveling to Mission Valley Hunt Club in Kansas; Caza Ladron and Juan Tomas Hounds in New Mexico; Grand Canyon Hounds in Arizona; then the Santa Fe West Hills Hunt, Tejon Hounds and Santa Ynez Valley Hounds all in California; on to Red Rock Hounds in Nevada; North Hills Hunt in Nebraska; Arapahoe Hunt in Colorado; and finally, Bridlespur Hunt in Missouri. The Hark Forward initiative consists of friendly competitions and events nationwide to connect foxhunters and to celebrate all aspects of the sport to raise funds for the renovations of the new National Headquarters in Middleburg, Virginia.