English blood is much sought after by many international packs with foreign foxhounds still hunting live quarry but looking to improve, finds Adrian Dangar
Foreign foxhounds still hunting live quarry across the world have more in common with our own hounds than we may think. The introduction of blood from English foxhounds has made many of these international packs what they are today.
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The influence of the English foxhound spread across the world in direct proportion to the expansion of the British Empire. In the United States, hunting with hounds can be traced back to 1650, when Robert Brooke arrived in Maryland with his family, servants and several English foxhounds. By the early 20th century, hunting with hounds was also flourishing in Australia, where the Adelaide hunt had been in existence since 1840, and just about every corner of the Empire was able to boast a mounted hunt of some description, although the quarry was often something more exotic than fox.
Enthusiasm for the blood of English foxhounds remains undiminished, although the modern athlete of foreign foxhounds is a very different animal to the heavier, old English stamp that formed the foundation of so many colonial lines. In Australia, foxes – descendants of those introduced in the 1840s – are pursued with enthusiasm and considerable success by 13 registered packs of foreign foxhounds, including Victoria’s Oakland Hunt, which dates from 1888. The hunt started with descendants of hounds imported into the Melbourne area 50 years earlier but has continued to strengthen its pack with regular injections of English blood. Joint Master Richard Cameron-Kennedy singles out Exmoor Blackberry ’93 as the best working hound to have undertaken the arduous journey from the other side of the world. “Blackberry was the ultimate star of the superb 1998 season when my mother hunted the hounds,” Cameron-Kennedy remembers. “I can still see Blackberry and her daughter, Blueberry ’97, running side by side at the head of the pack during a superb hunt across the best of our country – a sight I’ll never forget.”
Recent imports include Tynedale Barrister ’08, a gift from Frank Houghton-Brown whom Cameron-Kennedy had whipped-in to as an amateur during a winter visit to England. “He was a cracking dog in his work and possessed the most amazing personality. Last week we killed two brace on top during a busy morning’s cubhunting and his progeny were outstanding.” The Oakland have also benefited from hounds donated by the Duke of Beauforts and North Cotswold hunts. “We are grateful to the British Masters who have helped us,” says Cameron-Kennedy. “Their hounds have dramatically improved the conformation and hunting capabilities of our own pack, which would hold its own in the hunting field and on the flags anywhere in the world.”
Houghton-Brown’s hounds have also been sent to Trinidad, where I once joined the most unusual hunt of my life in 90-degree heat. Mr Bholan’s hunt met beside a dirt road at first light, where both foreign foxhounds and hunters – this was very much a foot pack – were smeared with ammonia from the knee down to discourage poisonous snakes. Before setting off into the jungle I was offered a cutlass and a miner’s lamp, and warned to avoid touching the Roseau palm, the stem of which is festooned with needle-sharp spines. During an extraordinary morning my companions communicated with each other by eerie screeches and horns that had been pilfered from the cabs of juggernauts. Lead by hounds from the Middleton hunt in North Yorkshire, the rejuvenated pack hunted with such tenacity and cry that a deer was bowled over in a garden following two hours’ hard pursuit. I was also taken to hunt agouti, wild hog and lappe, the latter an extraordinary, racoon-sized rodent that plunged headfirst into crystal clear rivers and swam strongly underwater to evade capture. My Indian host, Bob Severattan, told me the blood of his English imports would be the envy of nearly all the 13,000 licensed hunters that keep hounds for hunting in Trinidad.
FOREIGN FOXHOUNDS: LINKS BETWEEN THE USA AND BRITAIN
Links between the USA and British hunts are strong. Several lines from the Live Oak hunt in Florida go back to the College Valley, which, according to their Joint Master, Marty Wood, have imparted drive, cry and biddability in pursuit of the native coyote – the latter virtue being reference to the fact that English hounds are considered to be more responsive and easier to handle than other strains around the world. A fortuitous meeting with Captain Wallace in the 1980s lead to an invitation to watch his hounds at work on Exmoor and the subsequent gift of two unentered bitches. Dabble ’87 was duly mated with Wood’s favourite doghound to produce Live Oak Drummer ’89, the progeny of which are valued so highly that the traffic has since flowed back across the Atlantic to the advantage of many packs in the UK, although Captain Wallace had brought the celebrated Old Dominion Gorgeous across to the Heythrop back in 1969. Valued for low scenting abilities, her blood flourishes in British kennels today, as does that of other American lines introduced more recently by hunts including the Cattistock and Bicester with Whaddon Chase.
The Live Oak has continued to accept hounds from the Heythrop, College Valley and North Cotswold in its Master’s relentless quest for perfection. “I wanted a pack of foreign foxhounds that could run and catch coyotes in all weather conditions with style and panache,” he says. “They must be steady to riot, have good voices and be able to hunt unassisted when necessary. I wanted good scenting hounds, biddable hounds that would run with one thought in mind – to catch their quarry.” Exmoor Landseer ’86 nailed the Live Oak’s first coyote as a second-season dog and, according to Wood, his imports have achieved everything he desired and more.
“English blood provided the qualities I was after and elevated our pack’s confirmation to the highest standard. This resulted in hounds that could run up together and apply real pressure – that’s what the game is all about.”
Wood also praises the fell blood of Blencathra Glider ’76; he is not alone in this choice. Their talismanic huntsman, Barry Todhunter, recalls a visit to judge the Virginia Hound Show, where the secretary of the American MFHA pointed out that Glider’s blood was coursing through the veins of more than 100 American packs. “Fell blood seems to adapt very well to different hunting conditions around the world,” says Todhunter, whose Blencathra foot pack is famous for showing wonderful sport in the Lake District. “We gave Tally ’07 to the Toronto and North York hunt in Canada and she produced 13 pups soon afterwards. That season she was one of seven hounds in at the death when they caught a coyote after a long hunt. I’m still hunting her sisters over here in their tenth season.”
FOREIGN FOXHOUNDS: PACKS ACROSS THE WORLD
Blencathra hounds have also been drafted to hunt jackal across the South Africa veld, roe deer in France and foxes in Finland. “The Finns value fell blood for its independence and drive amongst the huge, inaccessible forests close to the Russian border,” says Todhunter. “A husband and wife drove all the way from Finland to collect two hounds, which were fitted with tracker devices when hunting. Apparently, there are a few wolves out there that hounds sometimes hunt in preference to foxes. One sad day they located the collars surrounded by blood but the bodies of their wearers had disappeared.” Thankfully, that fate did not befall Middleton drafts sent to Norway. Their former Master eventually received a grainy photo of beaming Norwegian hunters standing waist deep in snow brandishing a fox with the hounds beside them.
Todhunter has also given hounds to French hunts, who appreciate their predominantly black-and-white markings, which are similar to those of traditional French hounds used to hunt stag, roe, wild boar and hare. “Last year I met Pierre de Roüalle, Président de la Société de Vènerie,” says Todhunter. “He has his own pack of buckhounds so when it came to hounds and hunting we spoke the same language.” Todhunter is unable to accommodate every huntsman. “I have to be selective,” he says. “If I gave foreign foxhounds away to everyone that asked I wouldn’t have any left.” His preference is to send out a bitch in whelp for breeding purposes or unentered hounds that can be encouraged to hunt local quarry from their first day. Hounds that are prone to riot also make suitable drafts, especially if joining a pack that pursues hitherto forbidden but tempting game.
FOREIGN FOXHOUNDS: DELIGHT
Wynnstay Joint Master and huntsman Richard Tyacke was once asked to take foreign foxhounds to Portugal for the Equipagem de Santo Huberto. “They hunt the fox in a lovely open country of cork woodland near Lisbon,” Tyacke recalls. “We couldn’t go hunting as it was high summer but it was a pleasure to accompany them on exercise. I later heard the Portuguese were delighted with our hounds’ performance in the field.” A gift of 2½ couple of old English Wynnstay hounds to the privately owned Vautrait du Perche in Normandy lead to an invitation to hunt wild boar the following spring. “Despite very hot conditions hounds ran for 25 miles and made a nine-mile point running through two enormous forests,” Tyacke says. “When the boar stood at bay we were first on the scene. Thankfully a foot follower appeared and dispatched him with a dagger. The French said our hounds were seriously tough but thought their voices a bit squeaky.”
In 2012 the Tyackes visited the Vautrait de Bannassat in the province of Bourbonnais to watch Darcy ’10, another gift from the Wynnstay, at work during a fine three-hour hunt with the right conclusion. The pack of around 300 foreign foxhounds is privately owned and maintained at purpose-built kennels by Rene “Babou” Kleboth, who expects to kill upwards of 50 wild boar a season. “I got the very clear message that they were delighted with the courageous Darcy,” says Tyacke.
Delight and satisfaction were recurring themes with everyone I contacted for this article, which has addressed only a handful of the many hunts around the world that still pursue a live quarry. They all testified to a dramatic improvement in their own pack’s performance and confirmation following the introduction of blood from English foxhounds.