The foxhounds move together in a pack, noses to the ground, and they start to gain speed as one suddenly barks! The others chime in and off they go at lightening speed in pursuit of something imperceptible to our inferior human noses. The rhythmic sound of hoofbeats follow the pack as the horses and riders try to keep the hounds in sight. The fox hunt begins!
On this beautiful fall morning in mid October, I’m following along with the Long Lake Hounds and photographing their drag hunt through elegant estates, wide open pasture land and colorful forests in Medina, Minnesota. What a beautiful day! It is a perfect 60 degree, sunny, fall morning. Trees are glowing with autumn colors and the blue sky gives no hint to the snow about to arrive in a few days!
I’m happy to discover there is no live fox used for this hunt. Instead, it’s called a drag hunt because the scent is dragged for the foxhounds to follow. A sock soaked in fox urine and glycerin is balled up and tied with a rope and dragged through the fields. Instant fox!
One of the volunteers runs with the soaked sock, dragging it on the ground, or dragging it from a gator (a small off road vehicle) simulating the path a fox would likely run. They zig zag through fields, pastures, and forests laying the scent the foxhounds will follow- the huntsmen and riders trailing close behind. I’m riding with the members in charge of this important task and ask if they’ve ever been caught by the foxhounds before they finished laying the trail. “Yep!”, they say. “They’re really fast. That’s why we have to be quick and we also pick up the sock every 10 feet or so which makes the hounds work to find the scent and that slows them down”. So we bounce our fox-urine-sock around a field, through a forest and then to the first checkpoint.
Today’s hunt covers 9 miles and these checkpoints occur about every 2 miles to allow the horses and hounds a rest while the riders regroup and the Second Field can reunite with the Huntsman and First Field. Spectators also gather at the checkpoints to view the hunt, offer water to the hounds and horses (as well as some love) and have a chance to view this exciting event.
It takes a lot of people to pull off a successful hunt and Long Lake Hounds makes it possible for many to enjoy being a part of the day. Whether you’re a landowner donating your pasture for the ride, a member laying the scent or helping to maintain the trails, a rider or a spectator, all ages and abilities can enjoy the sport!
And for some it’s a family affair. On this hunt, Jim Van de Ven is the Whipper-In. His wife, Deb, drives our gator so we can take pictures and she stops traffic so the hunt can safely cross roads. Their 9 year old son, Ben, (soon to be 10) loves the sport too and joins the hunt wearing a big smile! Ben started riding when he was 3 and hunted for the first time last year. He still says, “It was the best day ever!”, according to his mom.
Ben’s father, Jim, as Whipper-In, has the important job of assisting the Huntsman and keeping the pack together. Here you can see the pack is tight as it crosses the road with the Hunstman and the Whipper-In on either side followed closely by the First Field Master, Lisa Foster.
There is a lot of training and organization involved in making the hunt safe and successful. The Huntsman uses his voice to send the hounds out. He’ll also use a horn to encourage the hounds when they find the scent or to call them back. The Whipper-In and Huntsman are first to follow the hounds. The horses doing their best to keep them in sight.
The First Field Master follows with members and guests who make up the First Field. Depending on the rider’s ability and the horse’s level of experience, riders have the choice of riding with the First Field or Second Field, which moves at a slower pace. This is a great option when training a green horse or gaining confidence riding in a hunt. All meet up at the checkpoints allowing for an enjoyable hunt for many level of riders.
Both the terrain and beautiful landscape change with every turn.
During the hunt riders can jump over or go around many obstacles but as the hunt nears the end many are quite happy to cool down and go around the jumps. Not everyone takes the easy route though! One of the hounds still has some energy and flies over this jump after 9 miles of running!
I’m hooked and love fox hunting! Now I have the goal of getting my horse (and me!) “fox hunt ready” for the next season.
Thank you to Long Lake Hounds for letting me tag along for the day!
Here is a gallery of more images from the hunt: https://jillbrammerphotography.pixieset.com/longlakehounds2020/
And below is an exciting video of a hunt from the perspective of Jim Van de Van, Whipper-In, as he rides.
Check out Long Lake Hounds at their website here and on their Facebook page: