A fox hunt can be an exciting endeavor, but when the Master of Fox Hounds is best-selling mystery author, Rita Mae Brown, the experience becomes electrifying.
Eleven William Woods University hunter/jumper equestrian students, two instructors and an alumna made a 14-hour drive to eastern Virginia to fox hunt (or chase, since the fox is no longer killed) with Brown late last month.
In addition to being a prolific author (her Sneaky Pie Brown mysteries are consistent bestsellers), Brown is Master of Fox Hounds for the Oak Ridge Hunt Club in Crozet, Virginia. She also is a member of the William Woods University Board of Trustees. Her book “Cat of the Century” takes place on the William Woods campus.
“She very generously invites WWU students to participate in a weekend of riding to hounds, attending cultural events and soaking up the ambience of a part of the country with a long history of horses,” said Karen Pautz, clinical instructor of equestrian studies.
“Going on the fox hunt was an incredible experience,” Megan Shahinian, a sophomore from Palatine, Illinois, said. “The horses were fantastic and Virginia is beautiful. It was by far the most amazing trip I have ever taken.”
“What a wonderful hunt with Oak Ridge,” Kayla Cardinal, a senior from Carol Stream, Illinois, said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better mount and the best opportunity to learn the skills of a whip. The field looked beautiful with the mountains to set the scene. It was so nice to be back at the place my heart calls home.”
Pautz agreed, “The weather was perfect for hunting—cool and clear—and the scenery spectacular.”
Following the hunts, WWU students joined members of the Oak Ridge Hunt Club at Brown’s Tea Time Farm for post-hunt potluck meals and camaraderie.
“It should be noted that fox hunting is more appropriately called ‘fox chasing,’ because the wily quarry rarely lets the hounds get close,” Pautz said.
Another day was spent visiting Horse Country Saddlery in Warrenton, Virginia, where proprietor Marion Maggiolo pointed to a sales rack of hunt show coats, and told each student “if you can find one that fits you, it’s yours!”
“We were overwhelmed by her generosity, which then continued with her giving the students parking passes to the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase to be held that day,” Pautz said. “After the races, several students continued on to attend the Washington (D.C.) International Grand Prix.”
Following Sunday’s hunt, and another potluck luncheon, several students traveled to Brookhill Farm in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a tour and a discussion by owner Lynne Beegle-Gebhard on the inner workings of a successful boarding/training facility.
“This five-day adventure was full of generosity, history and memories. Every place we traveled we were met with people willing to give us unforgettable memories. From the actual hunt to shopping to steeplechase to family style meals, it was all incredible,” Louisa Geyer, a junior from St. Louis, Missouri, said.
“My favorite memories were being able to ‘whip-in’ the very first hunt. Whippers ride the outskirts of the field group and keep the hounds and prey reined in. This means riding with one other rider over and through any terrain at various speeds. It was exciting and secluded from the large field group.”
She added, “The beautiful Virginia scenery surrounded and made for fantastic hunting. It was so valuable to learn the history of hunting and how it was adapted into the hunter show ring. Many aspects have changed in the current show ring and it wasn’t until I was flying across a field and into the woods after the hounds on a sent that I realized what it meant to be a true hunter.”
In addition to Pautz, Cardinal, Geyer and Shahinian, attending the hunt were William Woods students Addie Carion, Eilie Cole, Kylie Eliot, Megan Graber, Ashley Larkins, Samantha Riley, Emily Spilios, Adrienne VanMatre, alumna Colleen Harper Hertzog and hunter-jumper instructor Susie Ouderkirk.