FAYETTE COUNTY, KENTUCKY (WDKY)– On a brisk November morning, a crowd gathers for a unique religious service, as an Episcopalian minister addresses a crowd gathered near the banks of a creek.
“God is good and especially on a day like today it is right to give him thanks and praise.”
Dogs run around during the sermon. Horses don’t realize they’re being blessed.
The pomp and circumstance marks the official start of fox hunting season for members of the Iroqouis Hunt Club.
Each rider receives a medal depicting Saint Hubert, the patron saint of hunters.
Spectators feel as if l they’ve been taken to a bygone era. Such pageantry dates back to 1880 for this particular club.
Following the Blessing of the Hounds, riders and guests are served port wine, ham biscuits and cake on silver platters from stirrup level.
The whole event is a photographer’s dream.
Jack van Nagell, Joint Master of the Hunt, says “Everybody enjoys different parts of the sport, but I think when you can get out on a horse you love and see this beautiful hunt country, it’s just an unbelievable pleasure.”
But soon, the crowd is left behind as the riders and hounds go off into the fields and woods, trying to pick up the scent of a wild animal. These days, they don’t often chase after foxes; they’re looking for coyotes.
Lilla Mason, Amateur Huntsman, says “We don’t carry gun. We’re not hunting in the sense that we’re pursuing something with rifles. All animals we hunt are natural to the area. We don’t release game.”
The dogs hunt by scent, not by sight, and often guide the riders across streams or into thick brush.
The riders love it that they don’t know where the hounds will lead them. The club has permission to hunt on a collection of farms that covers ten square miles.
The goal is to disperse coyotes so they won’t form packs which have been known to attack pets or newborn calves. These days, hunts seldom end in a kill. The group is content when a coyote is chased off a farm.
“They do a great job hunting them and keeping them off our property.,” says Kevin Poole, manager at Wonka Farms. “Every hunt seems to buy us a month or two before they come back.”
The club hunts three times a week through March, until fields are planted.
Even even when there are no spectators, riders don the traditional uniforms and observe all the rituals. Leaders wear red jackets so they can be easily seen. Even the stock ties they wear have a purpose. They can be used as slings if a rider gets hurt during a fall.
It’s a sport for people who want to do something fun with their horse but avoid the stress of competition.
Mason says “There’s nothing more thrilling than being at a gallop across a grassy field, blue sky, whatever, with the thundering hooves behind you. It never ceases to send chills up your spine.”
In many parts of the country, fox hunting grounds have disappeared due to development. These riders hope by preserving a tradition, they’re also helping preserve farmland so generations after them will still enjoy the thrill of the chase.
For more information about the Iroquois Hunt Club, go to http://www.iroquoishunt.com/