By A. Tara Botero
Mecklenburg Hounds, Inc. (MHI) is celebrated its 61st year with an Opening Hunt on November 11. Fox hunting has a rich tradition in the Charlotte area with the first hunts happening in what is now the Arboretum area starting from Community House Road. Currently, the hounds are housed in Waxhaw, NC and riders come from Waxhaw, Monroe, Midland, Ft Mill, Charlotte, and Lake Norman.
MHI conducts live hunts, meaning that they follow actual animal scents with the hounds, but they do not kill any animals. Today, fox hunting is based on the thrill of the chase. MHI is very involved in land conservation and preserving open spaces as well as perpetuating the fox as a species. They currently ride at two fixtures, land approved by the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America for fox hunting, including Larkspur Ranch, Lancaster, S.C., and Brewer Plantation, Heath Springs, S.C. There are currently 45 members of Mecklenburg Hounds including riders, junior riders, and social members, who do not ride.
The Opening Hunt is the start of the official fox hunting season. They will begin with a Stirrup Cup. This is an opportunity for socialization of members and guests as well as for riders to have Fox Blood, which is actually Port, and a little snack. The Stirrup Cup is served by social members on the ground with traditional silver trays and festive decorations. Next, the Blessing of the Hounds is given. This year Pastor Josh Tucker, of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, gave the prayer to the hounds, horses, and riders for safe passage and sport. The riders and hounds will then depart to follow the scent trail. The Tally Ho Wagon will follow and allows social members to ride along on a tractor-pulled wagon and experience the thrill of the hunt. The hunt will last about two and a half hours before the riders and Tally Ho Wagon return for a catered lunch. Lunch brings the members together to share tales of the hunt. Once lunch is over, everyone is exhausted and exhilarated and heads home to take care of the horses and the hounds.
During the hunt, everyone will ride in English Tack with formal attire, including black Melton jackets and tan britches with black boots and safety helmets. The staff will ride with Pink Coats, which are actually Scarlett, and white britches with black boots with brown tops. All sorts of horses are ridden by members including thoroughbreds, quarter horses, warmbloods, draft crosses, ponies, and more. The hounds are a mix of three different breeds: Penmarydel, American Crossbred, and Walker Blood. Each breed brings a talent to the pack such as speed, endurance, and voice. Riders will break into three different fields during the hunt. First Field follows directly behind the huntsman at as fast a speed as necessary to keep up with the hounds and may have jumps. Second Field is a made up of riders at a controlled walk, trot, and canter with optional jumping and maybe some galloping. Third Field, or Hilltoppers, are made up of walk trot only riders and horses. To assist in the safety and the managing of the hounds in the hunt field, MHI uses tracking collars and radios.
Mecklenburg Hounds is an established hunt and they work hard to ensure there are always new riders. They work closely with several trainers and barns including Honeysuckle Farm with Dominque Morrison; Fox Point Farms with Charlotte Cannon and Tommy Robinson; and Stormy Haven Farm with Erin Kimmer. Junior riders usually start with lessons and are then invited to a hunt when they are ready.
MHI will host hunts throughout the season which goes from November to March and will have daybreak hunts during the summer which are more casual and used to train the hounds. While many riders own their own horses, there are also horses available for lease to members. New riders and social members are always welcome. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Nicole Hatfield or Jeanine DeVaney through their website, MecklenburgHoundsInc.com, or on Facebook as Mecklenburg Hounds, Inc.