Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 9: Posers

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!"

To A Louse
Robert Burns

As threatened…er…promised we get to the subject of Posers in this week’s posting. It’s been awhile since I included the Burns quote (above) to underscore the theme and tone of these Typologies. I thought it was time to revisit that quip, portrayed here in the original Burnsian dialect. To get the full effect, try to think of Mel Gibson in Braveheart reciting these lines. (Of course, there might be a few folks who, after reading some of these postings, have been sounding more like the Gibson of late, now known more for his incendiary rants than for his onscreen action.) I’ve also included my Caveat Lector (Reader Beware) variation on the Burns lines. For the best effect here, to most closely replicate my own sonorous tones, I’d recommend Richard Burton’s voice, preferably from his Hamlet period. Alternatively, you could go with Kermit the Frog.

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.

That said, we present…


The Poser loves the idea of foxhunting a thousand times more than the act itself. She is enthralled by the glamour and pageantry of the sport, enraptured by the exquisite attire and overjoyed to see a photo of herself in top hat and shadbelly coat, elegantly turned out for Opening Meet.

As soon as the toe of her highly shined dress boot slips into the stirrup iron, it all goes to hell. She prays that the hunt is slow-paced with few, if any, jumps. The thought of galloping, especially downhill or over rough terrain, causes apoplectic panic. She will often use the excuse that her horse is tired, has a loose shoe, or is just coming back from an injury to justify retiring early. This usually occurs just as hounds are opening at the start of a blazing run.

One riding instructor described the typical Poser as a “Too Rider." When unable to execute the instructor’s commands, it is always because she worked too late the night before, had to get up too early that morning, her horse is too out of shape, the ground’s too hard (or too soft), the temperature’s too high (or too low), the air’s too moist (or too dry), she’s too sore from her most recent hunting day (even though it was a week and a half ago and she was only out for 20 minutes, having packed it in when the field picked up a canter down a gentle incline which she describes as the side of a cliff).

If she hunts once a week, averaging three hours per hunt, and goes out 20 times per season (enough to say she hunts “regularly”), that’s 60 hours in the field per year. 58 of those hours are likely to be at least uncomfortable and at times filled with shear, nerve-wracking terror. From the master’s opening command “Let’s go hunting!” to the plaintive strains of the huntsman’s horn signaling the end of the day, she just wishes it was over. Why, then, does she subject herself to this torture? Because of the other 8,700 hours in the year during which she can impress her friends, relatives, coworkers, and business clients by subtly dropping references to the fact that she rides to hounds.

To the uninformed she can paint a picture of herself as a bold, accomplished hunter. What the hell, they’ll never actually see her in the hunt field. She knows enough about the terminology and how the sport should be conducted to talk a good show.

There is a clear distinction between the Poser and the hunting lady who knows her limitations. The former suffers from the gnawing disparity between the reality of her ability compared to how she craves to be seen by her fellow hunters. She may be able to fool all of her non-hunting acquaintances, but those who ride with her know the truth. Still, though, she cannot refrain from continuously embarrassing herself by seeking the spotlight and then failing to perform. It must be a most unpleasant way to go through life and one wishes the Poser would experience an epiphany of self-realization. Unlikely, though, that such will ever occur and one can only pity the poor darling for the turmoil she must suffer.

By contrast, the humble hunting lady is happy with any moments of sport she is blessed to enjoy. She does not try to portray herself as anything more than she is: a rider of modest ability, one who does not seek out undue risk, understands the essentials of the sport, and if she is not capable of being among the half dozen mud-splattered Juice Junkies who come straggling in after a four hour hunt, she’ll still be at the tailgate to pleasantly serve them up some much-needed nourishment. She is grateful to be a part of our rarified world and at peace with herself. And for that she ain’t no Poser.

There are no male Posers. Men are too egotistical and insecure. If a man can’t do something well enough to look good at it – if only in his own self-deluded estimation – he won’t do it. That’s why so many men refuse to dance.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 8: Grande Dames

When the Foxhunters Guide blog was launched two months ago, I had not intended for it to become a participatory endeavor. It was, you see, supposed to be all about me, a platform through which I could impress readers with my deft wordcrafting and sage insights. As it turns out, and to my immense surprise, I am not the sole custodian of such talents. Nor am I alone in my inclination to classify our fellow foxhunters according to identifiable typologies. Suggestions continue to come along at a steady pace, some simply one word leads (e.g., “Thrusters”), others fully developed compositions.

We’ve already seen the result of Liz Williams’ tip on “False Staffs,” the nicely done lead-in piece on “The Sponge” from our (still) anonymous contributor, and Harry Kuniansky’s addition to “You might be a foxhunter…” Now comes another complete typology, Gary Mantello’s touching take on that daunting personage many of us have known all too well, the Grande Dame.

Suggestions and contributions are certainly welcome, even if it means the spotlight is not always on your humble blogger. But for a worthy submission, especially one as well-written as Gary’s, I will gladly share the cyber stage so that you may enjoy reading about…

Grande Dames

By Gary Mantello

May I humbly suggest that you cover the most terrifying member of the foxhunting bestiary, The Grande Dame. Grande Dames are a subset of that much-discussed group, the Fashion Police, but they are far more fearsome to the new foxhunter. These formidable women know their place exactly in the social hierarchy of the hunting world. Although they will toady to those few they feel to be grander than themselves, they will never fail to let their inferiors know that despite their best efforts they will never be skilled/fashionable/acceptable enough to be considered true foxhunters – or human beings. Although some Grande Dames are brilliant horsewomen, others are merely competent; all Grande Dames, however, are mounted on perfectly made and mannered (sometimes with the help of about 5ccs of Ace Promazine) equines that are the envy of all. The said equines appear to have an almost preternatural understanding that they will end up on a Frenchman's dinner table should they dump milady in the mud during a hunt. Grande Dame mothers have usually frightened at least one of their progeny into becoming a perfect and perfectly correct rider, an embryo Grande Dame, as it were.

GDs tend to exhibit their recondite social skills in all areas of social life, not just foxhunting. If one proudly tells a GD that young George has just been admitted to Princeton, one will be congratulated before the GD says how sad it is that the school is not what it once was. GDs always get a particular look on their faces when talking to a personage whose last name ends in a vowel.

You get the picture; anything that makes another person feel small provides a frisson of pleasure for this – not to put too fine a point on it – harpy. In short, imagine Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, the fearsomely haughty matriarch in The Importance of Being Ernest, crossed with a werewolf. A werewolf, mind you, descended from werewolves that came over on the Mayflower.

There is no male equivalent to the Grande Dame. (Grande Monsieurs? I'm grasping for a term here.) If there were, they would get their respective/collective blocks knocked off unless they had won their house boxing championships at Eton.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 7: Strivers

We continue with another excerpt from the Foxhunter Typologies. This week’s posting addresses Strivers, without whom there would be no foxhunting. Ours is not a sport for namby-pambies. Leadership requires an ability to herd cats, act decisively, and show absolute confidence in any situation. Having demonstrated those abilities in less significant arenas (e.g., industry, governance, space exploration, etc.), the Striver sets his sights on the most challenging undertaking of all – leading a group of unruly foxhunters. Those of us not so constructed, we who are content to simply ride among the ranks, are thankful for our dearly beloved Strivers. Which is not to say, however, that we’re above making the occasional comment regarding those whose backsides we have spent many hours observing. And so we present…


The Striver is an A personality type writ large. He is supremely self-confident and certain that God has put him on this earth to be a leader of men. The job opportunities for cavalry officers are slim these days but serving as a hunt master is the next best thing. His need for dominance extends beyond the hunting field to include all aspects of club management. He can be the most gracious, charming, delightful person you have ever met, a man you would willing follow anywhere and whose biding you would do without question or hesitation. Or he can be the most overbearing, rude, self-focused, nasty, and dictatorial SOB you’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. These opposing traits are often embodied in the same person.

A lifetime of striving has brought him wealth, property, and position (along with multiple mistresses and at least one trophy wife). His land makes up a substantial portion of the hunt’s territory and without his generous support the club would suffer immensely. He may have even started the club himself and owns the kennels, hounds, and staff residence outright.

Many Strivers are not content to simply lead the field while the hired help hunts the hounds. Instead, they take over this role as well, fully convinced that not one person in the entire world can do the job as expertly as they can. Not only must all people bow to the Striver’s will but so must hounds and horses. The one creature capable of foiling the Striver’s quest for total dominance over all that moves is the fox himself. The need to bring this wily opponent into submission fuels the Striver’s passion for the chase. It may be that the Striver considers the fox alone to be his equal for wits, drive, boldness, and supreme self-confidence in the face of overwhelming odds. In a contest of three dozen foxhounds versus one fox, the Striver will always identify with the fox.

Not every master is a Striver. But every Striver is either a master or is steadily working his way toward obtaining that office. If the current hunt doesn’t offer sufficient opportunity, he’ll either switch to another club more likely to need his redoubtable leadership skills or break away and start his own, appointing himself master and huntsman.

Other than a few lingering old fashioned customs of dress and speech, foxhunting is, for the most part, a gender-neutral sport. The use of the masculine pronoun in the paragraphs above notwithstanding, a woman is just as likely to be a master as is a man. And she is equally likely to fit the Striver profile. Some are even rumored to have testicles. Or wish they did.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 6: The Sponge

"Mr. Sponge declares himself." (John Leech, 1817-1864)

As we’re roughly at the mid-point of the Foxhunter Typologies, I thought it appropriate to note that I am hardly alone in my observations of “types” within the foxhunting world. Virtually all of the typologies consist of a hefty portion of input from acquaintances that have, over the years, remarked on one type of character or another whom they have had the pleasure, amusement, or annoyance to encounter. This process has also led to a composite result. There is no one person who solely represents any of the typologies. If anyone thinks he or she is the single example on which any typology is based, that person is mistaken. Eliminate any individual who may see some aspects of himself or herself in a given type, and there would still be ample resources available to have crafted the exact same depiction.

My involvement in a recent project commemorating the anniversary of a certain sporting association provided me with the unique opportunity to work with every recognized foxhunting club in North America, all 165 of them. Over the three years spent on this project, the resources for typology profiles expanded considerably. While my own hunting experience is limited to a few clubs in the Mid-Atlantic region, I have been gratified to learn that readers from Georgia to Texas to California have echoed the same sentiments about their fellow fox chasers.

As was noted when one typology was posted – False Staffs – the inspiration was not my own, but was suggested by a long-serving whip with far more experience than I have on this topic. In that same vein, a suggestion to embellish the Nouveau Gentry typology has come in the form of a comment submitted by a reader who chose to remain anonymous. And a shame that is because the succinct profile he or she crafted shows an insight and eloquence for which the writer deserves credit. Of course, “succinct” is not my forte so I could not resist taking the germ of the idea and expanding on it. Herewith is the result:

The Sponge

A Subspecies of Nouveau Gentry

From an Anonymous Reader:

“Another more common variety of the Fox Hunting Nouveau Gentry wannabe is a species affectionately known as the ‘Sponge’. The Sponge is a person of little innate ability, limited education, and considerably low motivation to succeed in the adult business world. This person’s sole existence is for the pleasure of the sport and the thrill of the chase – both the two- and four-legged variety. The Sponge knows when opportunity knocks and how to strike. They carefully seek out the recently separated, divorced or widow of the deceased with the means to keep him in the lifestyle for which he believes he deserves. The Sponge cherishes and embraces the material possessions of the former spouse and is more than willing to step into the breach to become the surrogate spouse. He does not wait for the pajamas or the bed to get cold – he moves swiftly and deliberately to occupy the persona of the Nouveau Gentry.”

My Elaboration:

In an effort to help conceal his pedestrian roots, the cunning Sponge attempts to pass himself off as a member of the shabby aristocracy. His hunting kit appears to have been handed down from the time of his great-grandfather, although it was actually bought at the consignment shop. A touch of unkempt hair and laconic drawl add to the illusion that his direct ancestors rode to hounds with General Washington and Billy Lee. This fa├žade facilitates his move from a nameless suburbia to the heart of hunt country, courtesy of the newly unattached recipient of his affections. The masquerade that he is, as our anonymous contributor noted, in his own estimation deserving of the foxhunting gentry lifestyle is further enhanced with well-timed references to how it was in “the old days” (by which he means the latter part of the second Bush Administration).

To further the subterfuge he steers his new paramour toward the formation of fresh friendships with those less familiar with his past. Perish forbid anyone of position in the hunting community should see his actual CV wherein his limited education and spotty employment record are revealed. If at all possible, his highest achievement would be to switch allegiance to another hunting club where a clean slate would allow him to write his own story.

The Sponge’s lexicon gradually progresses in the use of the personal pronoun from “hers” (house, barn, truck, tractor, horses, land, etc.) to “ours” to “mine.”

Yet for all that posturing and obfuscation, it can be argued that The Sponge provides a public service. The foxhunting world is long on unattached women and miserably short on available men. The single man who hunts purely for his own pleasure is a rare commodity indeed. The line-up of ladies more than eager to enter into a partnership is legion. Many of these ladies are already self-sufficient, for one reason or another, and not in need of a provider. What they seek is a companion. And without the demands imposed on those who would be titans of industry, The Sponge has ample time for the quotidian chores of daily farm life as well as adventures afield for foxhunting and other pleasures.

Perhaps the greatest risk faced by the target of The Sponge’s affections is that she will incur the ire of her single friends over her good fortune while they remain alone, still awaiting the arrival of their Sponge Charming. The availability of so many companion-less ladies in the hunting world suggests potential for a new, specially focused matching service. Sponges R Us? Or, to borrow a bit of inspiration from a local racing syndicate, how about Pelvic Venture?

As our contributor pointed out, the passing of a spouse is one possibility for the vacancy The Sponge now fills. But our astute observer lists separation and divorce ahead of widowhood. This, then, would indicate that someone chose to leave that bed, those pajamas, all those possessions, and the partner herself so that he might pursue options more to his own pleasures. The Sponge is then the grateful recipient of what The Spouse has left behind through his own philandering and malfeasance.

To be sure, the arrival of a Sponge into hunting territory and his immediate posturing as “Gentry” (whether Nouveau or Vieux) is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Some gentlemen who have achieved their positions and possessions strictly through their own hard work and well-applied talents may look askance at this interloper. They see in him the old fable of the carefree grasshopper who has fiddled away the summer of his life while the industrious ant prepared for winter. But unlike the lesson of the fable, now that winter approaches the blasted grasshopper keeps on fiddling while the poor ant continues to struggle onward. It’s just not fair.