by Barbara Ellin Fox
“The hard riding, the real nerve tonic that tones up the individual for the emergencies of war, must usually be obtained outside of drills and prescribed duties.” This excerpt is from “The Regimental Hunt Club” , an article from the 1912 Rasp, the Cavalry’s yearbook.
Ordinarily officers did drill work for 2 – 4 or more hours each day, working in the school on everything from riding without stirrups or reins, jumping, lateral work and suppling horses. No activity provided the opportunity nor the incentive to ride out for a run over rough country on a regular basis, until hunting became a regular part of officer training.
Another excerpt from “The Regimental Hunt Clubs” states “The hunting field does give the necessary practice; has the spice of real danger, enough to create and maintain a healthy interest in the sport; and finally and best of all, it may be participated in by all who are physically able. It is not confined to any age or condition, except that of nerves.”
Hounds varied. In 1909 the Eleventh Cavalry Hunt was established at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. The Hunt started with a draft of six couples of American hounds. A draft of 4 couples of English Hounds and two couples of American Hounds from Millbrook Hunt in N.Y. were added before long.
At Fort Riley, hounds of various kinds were kept for hunting coyote and other game. An article in The Rasp 1912 includes photos of Russian Wolfhounds and Grey Hounds at Fort Riley. The first Foxhounds for the Cavalry School Hunt were drafts of English Hounds from Genesee Valley donated by Major W. Austin Wadsworth, M. F. H.
“The History of Hunting in the United States and Canada”, 1928, tells us about the Coblenz Hunt. “The Army of Occupation, which was later designated “The American Forces in Germany,” was under the command of a very enthusiastic horseman and sportsman, Major General Henry T. Allen, who had been a cavalryman throughout his service. It was natural, therefore, that General Allen should have sponsored the organization of a Hunt Club in the occupied territory, for the better entertainment and morale of the many mounted officers of his own command, as well as the Allied officers who were attached to his headquarters. Consequently, early in the winter of 1920, General Allen obtained a donation from America of five couples from the well-known pack of Mr. Joseph B. Thomas. A draft from England brought the pack up to thirteen couples, and with final drafts from the old French packs of M. DuSouzy and Comte de Broissia, the pack grew to more than twenty couples before the departure of the American forces from Germany.”
At Fort Sill, Oklahoma, packs of hounds were kept for running coyotes well before the beginning of the Artillery Hunt. Two packs were kept until the beginning of WW1 when the ability to hunt and keep a pack was diminished. But in 1926 the hunt was reorganized and 12 couple were added to the remaining hounds. Later 10 couple of cross bred American – English hounds were added.
The Infantry School Hunt at Fort Benning, Georgia, began with private hounds but eventually hounds of American, English and French lines were donated by the Cavalry School Hunt. Some of these hounds had been part of the pack of the Coblenz Hunt.
Hunting became an integral part of an officer’s life. It was available at a very reasonable fee and at some Forts, such as Fort Riley, it was a required part of the riding school curriculum. Hunting was valued as sport, entertainment, and for it’s contributions to morale.
Boys like adventure and danger. It sounds like from the excerpt that hunting provided the reason or reward for all the drilling. I know that there are many factors that go into the lack of boys in the English disciplines, but could this be it? There’s no danger? No adventure? But how could our modern industry bring this back? Maybe not hunting per se, as establishing a pack is beyond the ken of most of us, but an emphasis on the adventure of horses. We have disciplines that seem to fit the bill: eventing, polo and polocrosse, and games. Is it a matter of packaging? Or is there something about these events that is still too confining for the wild spirit of man?
Fox Hunting is still very much alive and well in the U.S. today with many male and female members. It is odd, but many people are not aware of this. Shortly after we moved to our current home, my wife and I, derssed in full hunting attire, were loading our horses on the trailer when our neighbor stopped by. He asked where we were going to find a fox hunt around here and we told him about a mile behind his farm. He had lived there for three years and had no idea.
You raise such a good point/question. One of my favorite sites is The Society of the Military Horse http://www.militaryhorse.org/ and I’ve wondered if the men who are members there might have some insight for us about boys and horses.
I don’t know many boys who want to spend lots of time perfecting their style on a horse. All the attention to detail that is required for English riding is usually not in the realm of a boy’s interest. However I do see a lot of boys in my neck of the woods (AZ) who love to rope. Perhaps the interest is in conquering the immediate challenge without all the “small stuff”.
Not many boys are interested in getting the dandruff out of their horse’s mane, or learning to braid, or doing any of that “hair” stuff.
You might be right that it’s partially the packaging. Some years ago George Morris wrote how no boy wants to have to wear the same outfit as his sister ( my words). But I suspect it’s even more than that. The boys I’ve met with horses are far more interested in cutting to the chase (no pun intended). If we could figure out how to do that, how not to sweat the small stuff and how to let boys keep an identity…. would we attract them to the sport we love? It’s a sport that has been taken over by the female part of our world and females can be pretty overwhelming!
I wanted to mention, in fairness to the Hunts in America… most of them welcome Pony Club and many of them have a lower fee for them and even set special days aside for Pony Club. But of course you have to live near enough to a hunt to participate, so that part is not always easy. My daughter will tell anyone that once you hunt, your riding life takes on a totally new tone.
We’re fortunate that the U.S. has not gone the way of the U.K. There isn’t anything more gorgeous than the Hunt, well turned out and enjoying the day. Your neighbor misses a great tradition.
Thanks for commenting, Jim