The frost was on the pumpkin last Saturday morning when Potomac Hunt members tacked up for Opening Hunt Meet.
Traditionally a spit-and-polish occasion, horses and hunters turned out in sartorial splendor to honor the formal recognition of a new hunting season.
Huntsman Larry Pitts, in his twenty-third year with Potomac Hunt, brought his pack of American fox hounds up the hill on the club grounds where the “stirrup cup” — sherry, cider and cookies — was served to guests on foot and astride.
“I’ve seen many changes in the past years, mostly in the farming areas and open land,” he said.
The eager hounds were also groomed for the occasion, and their annual blessing was administered by the Rev. George B. Reid of St. Mary’s Church. Reid has officiated at the event as long as Larry Pitts has been huntsman.
Following the benediction of horses, hounds, riders and the fox, Father Reid jokingly remarked, “All hounds who have said your prayers this morning please stand up.” Radiant, as if on cue, stood on her hind legs.
The late Tommy Dowd was Master of Fox Hounds (1979-‘86) when Pitts first arrived on the scene from his position as a professional whipper-in at the Eglington Hunt, near Toronto. Today, there are four jtMFHs to handle what the late Judge Richmond Keech (MFH, 1955-57) described as “the most thankless job in the world.”
Irvin “Skip” Crawford, his wife Vicki Crawford, Peter Hitchen and Beverly Bosselmann are presently jtMFHs of Potomac Hunt, sharing the responsibility and care of property, animals (68 hounds) and staff.
In England visiting his mother, Hitchen, a jtMFH since 1987, was among the missing last Saturday when the huntsman blew “gone away” on his fox horn, and staff and hunters went off across the hills.
Hounds, (20 couples, i.e. 41 hounds) eager to get down to business after socializing at the Meet, responded to the huntsman’s horn with alacrity. It wasn’t long before their voices could be heard as they gave chase over the Daughtry (Ben and Nancy), Crawford and Miller (Carey and Jack) farms and headed toward Buck Lodge Road. Flocks of Canada geese flew over, and deer scurried in all directions, as riders galloped across fields, over chicken coop jumps and off into the woods.
“We had a good run to Mike Rubin’s place on Whites Store Road, where the fox turned and ran right back to the hunt club,” jtMFH Crawford said.
Striking out again, hounds, horses and riders headed to the Albert Wedemeyer farms, crossed Buck Lodge Road and worked the valleys on the Rubin property. Five hours in the saddle later, after viewing a number of foxes and enjoying numerous good runs, hunters heard the huntsman blowing “going home” on his horn.
It was none to soon for some of the 65 fox hunters, who had been up before the crack of dawn, braiding manes and tails, brushing and grooming and preparing both themselves and their horses for the big day.
There was still the Masters’ Tea to put the final touch on the day. Over a hundred club members gathered in the evening for the party that starts the club’s social season for the year.