Thursday, July 29, 2010

You Might Be A Foxhunter If...

If you own a home that is mobile and five cars that aren’t, you might be a redneck.

Jeff Foxworthy

As promised, we take a break from Snarkytown this week and instead toss up some quips likely to cause fewer, if indeed any, ruffled feathers. And possibly a few more chuckles as well. It’s been said that a “highbrow” is someone who can listen to Rossini’s William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger. In the hunting world, that might be said of anyone who’s never heard of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might Be A Redneck” jokes. But, then, it’s likely that anyone who has attained that level of sophistication probably isn’t reading this blog anyway. (Or isn’t even using a computer for that matter.) For the rest of us, this week’s posting consists of some foxhunter variations on the “You Might Be…” theme.

Several of these were inspired by helpful suggestions from fellow hunters (although I was only attentive enough to record one such, from Harry Kuniansky, for a credit citation). But I’m sure there are plenty of creative juices flowing out there that can expand on this concept. So if you feel inspired, please add a comment or email me your suggestions ( and we’ll keep adding to the list.

And speaking of suggestions, a helpful (albeit regrettably anonymous) follower recently added a comment under the Nouveau Gentry typology suggesting another category: The Sponge. It’s highly insightful, well written, and will soon appear as the newest addition to the Typology of Foxhunters, most likely next week (with a bit of expansion and elaboration that this contribution deserves).

Now, here are some…

You Might Be A Foxhunter If…

1. You’ve ever been charged with riding while intoxicated.

2. You’ve ever been pulled over on your way to the hunt ball and been asked if the circus is in town.

3. You’ve ever mucked out a stall wearing a tuxedo or an evening gown.

4. You’ve ever peed in a stall while wearing a tuxedo or an evening gown.

5. You have your orthopedist’s private number on speed dial.

6. You can legally claim your vet as a dependent on your income tax forms.

7. You drive a $2000 car and ride a $20,000 horse.

8. The only religious service you regularly attend is Blessing of the Hounds.

9. You think it makes perfect sense that a heavy, dinner-style meal served in late afternoon is referred to as “breakfast.”

10. Your sporting attire is all custom made and the rest of your wardrobe comes from Tractor Supply.

11. You can recite the bloodlines of every hound in your club’s kennels but frequently forget the names of your own children.

12. Gentlemen: You’d rather read Practical Horseman than Playboy.

13. Ladies: You’d rather read Covertside than Cosmo.

14. Your house has a mudroom that’s actually full of mud.

15. You’ve ever been busted for possession of a controlled substance and it turned out to be Ace.

16. You’ve ever run out of Tylenol and used Bute instead.

17. You’ve ever found out that your spouse was having an affair with the huntsman and decided it would be easier to replace the spouse than to find a new huntsman. (Submitted by Harry Kuniansky)

18. You’re only willing to accept a job that allows you to take off at least one weekday from September through March.

19. You can walk through airport security naked and still set off the metal detector.

20. You’ve ever told a paramedic, “If you even think about cutting off my custom-made boots, I will get up off this stretcher and kick your ass!” (To personalize this one, feel free to replace “custom-made boots” with “leather breeches,” “scarlet coat,” or any other garment a thoughtless EMT was approaching with scissors in hand.)

© 2010, J. Harris Anderson

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 5: Saddle Tramps

“There never was a horse that couldn’t be rode;

Never was a cowboy who couldn’t be throwed.”

Cowboy Proverb

This week we reach the halfway point in the Typology of Foxhunters with a consideration of Saddle Tramps. We have here an homage to the hardworking, too often unsung professionals who make up a critical segment of the foxhunting community. God bless ‘em, raise a toast, and pass the liniment!

So far in this exercise we’ve considered Nouveau Gentry, Juice Junkies, Falstaffs, and False Staffs. Still to come are Strivers, Posers, Hodads, Hunters Emeriti, and Chasers. Next week, though, we’ll take a little break with some excerpts from another piece in the Foxhunters Guide collection, “You Might Be a Foxhunter If…”

See the previous postings for my standard poetically worded Caveat Lector (Reader Beware!). And a nod to the wonderful artist Jean Abernethy whose “Fergus” provides this week’s pictorial embellishment.

Saddle Tramps

A few of those out hunting on any given day are professional horse people: jockeys, trainers, dealers, or grooms, as well as most huntsmen and some whippers-in.

The chasm between a pro and the average recreational foxhunter is akin to the gap between a cardiac surgeon and a Boy Scout who just earned his CPR badge. If someone’s paying you to take a horse out hunting, it’s because of one or a combination of several possible reasons.

  • The horse is a rank greenie that’s never seen a pack of hounds and when asked to remain calm in the face of an apparent attack by three dozen howling canines may strongly object.
  • The horse is fresh off the racetrack, not accustomed to going at a controlled pace behind several other horses, and when asked to do so may strongly object.
  • The horse is known to have bad habits, such as kicking or biting, and when reprimanded for such misbehavior may strongly object.
  • The horse refuses to cross streams, is unreliable at jumps, won’t stand at checks, won’t load onto a trailer, won’t unload off a trailer, bolts off a trailer like it was shot from a cannon, won’t stand when being mounted, bucks, crow-hops, or rears and when asked, no matter how politely, to refrain from such antics, strongly objects.

Should you ever be asked to work with a horse like this, even if offered a princely sum to do so, I have but one piece of counsel: Strongly object.

It is not hard to spot the pros in the hunt field. They will be the best riders and the most shabbily dressed. No one’s ever gotten rich riding and training other people’s horses. A pro’s clothing takes a severe beating and the pockets of those tattered breeches aren’t stuffed with wads of folding cash to buy new gear.

The pros ride in the back of the field, the traditional position for “servants.” However, while this might seem like they are being relegated to a subservient position, the foxhunting equivalent of the back of the bus, it is usually the safest place to be; not because the horses they're riding are dangerous, but because many of the non-professionals riding in front of them are. You're always better off staying behind those unable to control their horses. And the show can provide a nice bit of entertainment as well.

But despite the sheer enjoyment offered to the pros bringing up the rear, they often retire from the action early. This is likely because:

  • The horses they ride aren’t in good enough condition to hunt for several hours at a stretch.
  • The horses expend so much energy through their exuberant antics that even supremely fit animals soon reach a point of exhaustion.
  • The owner stipulated that he’d like the horse ridden for at least two hours and at the one hundred and twentieth minute the rider punches the clock and calls it quits.
  • There’s a string of eight other horses still to be worked back at the farm and daylight’s a-wasting.

There are two horse-related career options under the Saddle Tramps heading: exercise grooms and dealers with horses for sale.

Grooms are paid to take other people's horses out hunting for conditioning and to keep them settled in to the routine. This assures that when the owner goes hunting whatever horse he or she rides is ready to go and will provide a good day’s sport with minimal effort. (What services the groom provides to keep the employer properly conditioned is the subject for another article, possibly by another author.)

The remaining category of professionals consists of dealers – those with horses for sale, either their own or consignments. Used car salesmen have it easy compared to horse dealers. There’s no Kelley Blue Book with generally accepted prices. Take two horses with identical specs and one may be priced two or three times higher – maybe even more – than the other. Cars sitting on the lot don’t have to be fed, don’t require vet services, don’t need shoeing, don’t have to be trained or exercised, and don’t have to be taken out by prospective buyers under conditions where a wheel could fall off, the car could flip over for no apparent reason, or any number of similar disasters could occur, thus not only squashing the deal but lowering the object’s value. Many months and much further expense may be required to restore the asset to saleable condition. Worse still, the asset may be damaged beyond repair.

Some dealers tend to be the prickly type, easily riled by the slightest negative remark about a horse he has for sale. There’s no such thing as enjoying a relaxing day in the hunt field. Every outing is about making contacts and moving product. Horses aren’t the dealer’s buddies, they’re his business. Given that, some prickliness is understandable.

Those of us who lack the talent, athleticism, and courage required to be a professional rider are truly grateful for those willing to take our money and smooth out the rough edges of our beloved mounts. But I will offer up this word of advice to anyone with a desk job who might be tempted to consider entering the world of professional riding: No matter how romantically appealing their life may look, like the carefree cowboys of yore, envy not the path of the Saddle Tramp. Give your cubicle a big kiss and be thankful you can earn a living from the safety of a comfortable chair and not on the back of an explosive bundle of ill-tempered horse flesh.

© 2010, J. Harris Anderson

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 4: False Staffs

“If you can’t say something nice, then sit next to me.”

Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Liz Williams, long-serving whipper-in for Snickersville Hounds, gets the credit for suggesting False Staffs, this week’s excerpt from A Typology of Foxhunters. In case you missed the previous postings, these musings result from my observation of several clearly definable archetypes that make up the community of fellow foxhunters. So far we’ve considered Nouveau Gentry, Juice Junkies and Falstaffs. Still to come are Saddle Tramps, Strivers, Posers, Hodads, Hunters Emeriti, and Chasers.

See the previous postings for my standard poetically worded Caveat Lector (Reader Beware!).

False Staffs

In the old days, especially in England, there was no glory in being “staff.” The whippers-in were the hired help. The pay was lousy, the work was hard, conditions harsh. On the upside, you could develop an extensive vocabulary of abusive language thanks to constant beratings from your esteemed huntsman. If you survived long enough, and learned a thing or two about hunting, you might one day become a huntsman yourself. Then you could be the one berating the next generation of under-skilled kids with severely limited career options.

Now, though, there’s no better way to impress at a hunt country cocktail party then to casually remark, “I whip-in to Leroy Liptschitz at Skunk Hollow Hounds.” A few hunts have perhaps one professional whip serving their huntsman. But the great majority of those filling this role today are “honorary” (i.e., volunteers who do it strictly for the love of the sport).

And if you believe that parenthetical comment, you’re probably wondering why that promised million dollar check from the Bank of Nigeria hasn’t arrived yet.

For many, perhaps most, the motives are pure. But this isn’t about them, the ones who can actually ride well enough, have a sufficient understanding of hound work, know the country, and are willing to put in the countless, and thankless, hours of work at kennels and in the field to make it all come together on hunting days. These are the rare folks who don’t care about titles, accolades, or attention.

Now, in the spirit of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, let’s talk about some others, those who fall into two subcategories: whipper-wannabes and whipper-shouldn’t-bes.

The wannabe dearly covets the status that goes with the office of a whip. She’d love to be seen discussing the day’s first draw with the huntsman, keeping the hounds packed up at the meet, then riding off to her appointed position as the day’s sport begins, preferably doing so by sailing effortlessly over a four foot fence in full view of the entire field. How she yearns to call out, “Staff, please!” and watch as those of less talent obediently move to let her pass, bowing to her superior skills and with the humble knowledge that but for her they would not be enjoying such a fine time of hunting. She longs for the day when, having stopped a split pack through her uncanny ability to put herself in just the right place at the right time, she then leads the errant hounds back to the grateful huntsman, no less than eight couple dutifully following at her horse’s heels. She dreams of being cited by the master in a public forum – and only a huge gathering of members and guests will do – as “an essential member of our hunt staff.” And, of course, there is that sublime self-satisfaction that comes from gazing demurely over one’s mint julep and blushing with the purest humility when a respected member of the hunt says, “We’re so blessed to have you as part of the Skunk Hollow staff, Esmeralda. I just don’t know how we could get along without you.”

Well, dream on, Esmie darling. You’re missing a couple of key ingredients for such visions to ever become reality. Maybe more than a couple. You see, the whipper-wannabe is at best a mediocre rider. She may be unable to get reliably over all the jumps even when led by the master and several others ahead of her. A big, scary fence on her own? Not a chance. What she knows about hounds she learned mostly from Disney cartoons. Ride out into rough country on days when the wind is up, temperatures are dropping, and the sky is threatening to deliver a deluge of rain, snow, or even sleet? You gotta be kidding. Blaze your way through trail-less terrain when hounds are on the scent, ignoring the slicing brambles, smacking branches, and clinging vines that could pull you from the saddle? Um, maybe not. Demonstrate the skill and composure required to send your horse wherever necessary, including such fun schooling opportunities as into an ice-covered stream, past a monstrous piece of farm machinery spewing out smoke and crop debris, calmly walk alongside a paddock filled with high-strung horses, bleating goats, squawking guinea fowl, or – most fun of all – spitting llamas? Well, we came in sixth in the judged pleasure ride, didn’t we? Exhibit the balance to ride with your whip in one hand, pistol in the other, radio tucked under your chin, and the reins in your teeth? Who knew whipping-in could be so complicated? Stay out hours after everyone else is sopping up the last morsels of tailgate fare while you’re still wandering through woods and fields looking for that one damn hound that wandered off? No way. Throw caution and good sense aside when hounds are at risk, running hard toward that dreaded highway, leaping over fences that others wouldn’t even think about jumping so you can head them off before disaster strikes? Gee, maybe whipping-in is a bit more than dear Esmie bargained for.

A few manage to find ways to steal at least a part of their dearly desired “staff appeal.” They may bid at the silent auction on the opportunity to ride with a staff member. If the huntsman is especially shorthanded, he might even be forced to call on the wannabe for some help, assigning her a relatively safe role so one of his real whips can be freed up for more significant duty. In such instances, Esmie will manage to expand that brief role into a full career in her own mind. It’s like the girl who gets randomly plucked from the front row at a Springsteen concert to come up on stage and dance with The Boss for all of two minutes and, forever after, makes it sound like she was part of the tour.

One good thing about the whipper-wannabe: it’s unlikely her unfulfilled longings will ever cause any detriment to the sport. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the whipper-shouldn’t-be. This is the guy to whom the hunt is indebted in some way. He may be a major landowner or a patron without whose support the club would suffer (or dues would have to be substantially increased). He might underwrite the hunt’s races or allow the kennels to operate on his land. Or he may simply be a crony of the master, a good old buddy for whom the master would do anything (read: he knows where all the masters’ skeletons are buried and will either get his way or start blabbing).

Whatever the source of his mighty leverage, the result is that if he wants to be a whipper-in, he’ll bloody well be one. The fact that he has little or no real skill for that office doesn’t count for as much as a hound’s toenail.

The poor huntsman, then, is forced to use him as part of the staff and make the best of it. With any luck, the shouldn’t-be will only want to ride out once in awhile, typically when conditions are pleasant, and might even manage to avoid messing up the sport too badly. Even the best staffers make occasional mistakes, so there’s no reason to expect perfection from a shouldn’t-be. Perhaps he’ll at least attempt to follow the huntsman’s instructions and, if nothing else, ride along the periphery and not try to pretend he’s truly part of the action.

Yeah, right. Can you spell “chutzpah?” If the shouldn’t-be had that much humility and self-awareness, he wouldn’t be a shouldn’t-be in the first place. He’d be happily riding with the field, enjoying the sport, and letting the real staff do their job. The fact that he has no compunction about using his considerable influence, whatever the source, to get what he wants suggests that he’s not about to acquiesce to the huntsman and assume a subservient role. Nope, this guy’s going to insist on being right in the thick of things, the presumed first whip, a hair’s breadth away from taking over the huntsman’s role himself. He’ll think nothing of running right through the pack, taking his own line and turning the fox, halloaing every moving critter he sees without the slightest concern as to whether or not it’s the hunted quarry.

The huntsman may hope that, given the shouldn’t-be’s penchant for hot air, he’ll run out of gas after an hour or two, especially if the sport is brisk. But he didn’t amass all that clout by being a namby-pamby. Nope, he’s out there for the duration, fatigue be damned. He’ll show them he’s as tough a hunter as anyone. Although these guys do seem to have the most amazing bad luck when it comes to horseshoes. Seems like one or more comes off, almost without fail, around the one or two hour mark. Damn, he’d like to stay out and “help” the rest of the day, but his horse can’t continue on without a shoe. So he’d better head in, perhaps let the real staffer who got stuck riding with the field come up and take his spot. He has to get back to the meet, and make sure no one finds that nail puller.

© 2010, J. Harris Anderson

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 3: Falstaffs

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!"

To A Louse
Robert Burns

This week’s excerpt from A Typology of Foxhunters addresses Falstaffs. In case you missed the previous postings, these musings result from my observation of several clearly definable archetypes that make up the community of fellow foxhunters. So far we’ve considered Nouveau Gentry and Juice Junkies. Still to come after Falstaffs are False Staffs, Saddle Tramps, Strivers, Posers, Hodads, Hunters Emeriti, and Chasers.

And although Falstaffs is one of the less inflammatory typologies, I still offer my Burns-like caveat by way of disclaimer:

I pray no power the giftie gie them

To see themselves as I do see them.

May readers sing the praise that’s due me,

But none get pissed and try to sue me.


Foxhunting is a social sport and for some the emphasis falls on social rather than sport. Falstaff is a hail-fellow-well-met type, a gregarious chap who thrives on friendly interaction. He has an encyclopedic wealth of jokes and amusing tales (in which he’s often the butt of the story). He brings no personal agenda to the hunt field but simply enjoys his time riding around the countryside in the company of pleasant, like-minded folks. His flask is oversized and always at the ready, filled with his own blend of intoxicants, carefully adjusted to suit the season: light and refreshing for the warm days of early fall, heavier on the kick as the chills of winter arrive.

Some Falstaffs fit the physical mold of Prince Hal’s companion, their appetites clearly revealed by their girth. Others more closely resemble Ichabod Crane, all gangly appendages and bobbing Adam’s apple. Whether endo- or ectomorph, they all ride with the same casual style. Their form would send any riding instructor into a frazzled fit. Their feet stick straight out, their hands are held chest high, their shoulders are hunched as if fixed in a permanent convulsion of laughter. Yet they rarely fall and when they do the chance of injury is slight. They are like the intoxicated driver who can walk away unscathed from a six car wreck.

Falstaff seeks no privileged office nor does he desire responsibility. He may agree to sit on the club’s board for an occasional term but you won’t see him slaving away at the kennels, whipping-in, or leading the field – activities all too strenuous and unsociable. He may appear for some trail clearing days, but only if the weather’s nice and he’s sure there will be beer and sandwiches provided afterward. You can count on him showing up for every hunt breakfast and tailgate. He’ll be at the railside on racing days and out on the dance floor at the hunt ball, showing off his scarlet tails, dancing with every lady available.

Falstaff is unlikely to be married. He may have tried it a time or two but found that he was much better at courtship than commitment.

Unlike the gender neutrality of masters and huntsmen, there are no female Falstaffs. Every lady foxhunter, regardless of her relational status, wants to be taken seriously. If unattached she would like to find a suitable companion (other than her obligatory Jack Russell terrier). There are no exceptions to this.

© 2010, J. Harris Anderson

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 2: Juice Junkies

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!"

To A Louse
Robert Burns

For our second entry from A Typology of Foxhunters, we consider Juice Junkies. In case you missed the previous posting, these musings result from my observation of several clearly definable archetypes that make up the community of fellow foxhunters. Last week featured Nouveau Gentry. Still to come are Falstaffs, False Staffs, Saddle Tramps, Strivers, Posers, Hodads, Hunters Emeriti, and Chasers.

And, as was cited last week, I again borrow a theme from Burns in the way of a caveat:

I pray no power the giftie gie them

To see themselves as I do see them.

May readers sing the praise that’s due me,

But none get pissed and try to sue me.

Juice Junkies

The adrenaline rush – some folks just gotta have it. And nothing gets those adrenal glands pumping out high octane juice like straddling a half ton of muscle and bone as it rockets across rolling fields, zips down twisting wooded trails, and soars over fences built of unforgiving timber and stone. Skydiving may come close, especially when the chute fails to open.

Juice Junkies need that fix; the hard cores need it at least twice a week, three times or more for the worst addicts. Everyday life is too sedate, increasingly devoid of risks, total dullsville. Seat belts, airbags, security checkpoints, gun laws, food packages with all the ingredients and nutritional value listed, product safety warnings (“Do not use hair dryer while in the bathtub.”) – where’s the excitement? What’s the modern person to do for a little thrill now and then?

You could stand in a bathtub full of water and dangle a plugged-in hair dryer around your knees. Or you could go foxhunting. (In the opinion of many, the choices are about equal on the Idiot-O-Meter.)

If you choose the latter to satisfy your adrenaline cravings, you’d best select a hunt club led by a master with a hefty touch of Superman Complex, the kind who thinks he’s bulletproof and will brook no babysitting. It’s keep up or go home, full bore, balls to the wall all the way. A four foot fence with a five foot drop on the landing side? Screw it, hounds are running. Close your mouth and squeeze your legs. This type of field master starts the day with 30 to 40 followers. Five hours later, when the last fox has been put to ground, he may have two or three left. Those are the Juice Junkies.

Remember the guys in high school who were the natural jocks, who never bothered with training or workouts but could step onto the playing field and win the big game anyway? The ones who got the hottest girls? The handsome wise-asses the women teachers coddled and the men teachers hated? The guys whose voices changed when they were ten, started shaving at twelve, and lost their virginity at thirteen? They couldn’t spell a word like “Renaissance” if given a dozen chances nor name one member of the US Supreme Court (living or dead). They’ve made their way in life on charm, chutzpah, and a stratospheric tolerance for risk, fueled by their belief that fortune shines on them above all others. They chose a career path where success depended more on balls then brains, where they prospered handsomely from their ability to sell cow shit to cattle ranchers.

They differ from Strivers, who we’ll consider in a future posting, in that the Striver has something to prove, some feeling of inadequacy to overcome by amassing wealth and power. Juice Junkies have no sense of inadequacy – indeed, they consider themselves vastly more adequate than all others – and thus are more at peace with the world.

But they still need to feed that craving for danger, the urge to put it all out there on the line, to saunter up to the God of Fate, chuck the old bugger on the chin, and say, “Catch me if you can.” Five hours later the Juice Junky is draining the last dregs of someone else’s flask as the few survivors of the day’s final chase are heading back to the trailers. Everyone else, including the God of Fate, packed it in two hours earlier and is already home nursing sore muscles in the hot tub.

Juice Junkies are skewed toward a male demographic but not exclusively so. There are plenty of gals (“ladies” may be an inappropriate appellation here) with an equal need for the sensual thrill of sitting astride a writhing mass of sinew for a bone rattling, teeth jarring, out of control, rollicking roll. And the longer it lasts the better.

© 2010, J. Harris Anderson