The formal foxhunting season kicks off this Sunday, November 1, when Whiskey Road Foxhounds holds its opening meet and blessing of the hounds at Oakwood Plantation near Montmorenci. The stirrup cup is scheduled for 8:30 with the blessing at 9:00. The hunt will move off afterwards. Follow this link for more information on WRFH opening meet.
Foxhunting in Aiken has a long history, going back over 100 years. Today, there are four recognized hunts in the city; back in the golden age of the Aiken Winter Colony, there was only one: the Aiken Hounds. Established in 1914 and recognized by the Master of Foxhounds Association in 1916, the Aiken Hounds has always been a major attraction for the city’s equestrian set. In the old days, the hounds went out on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The fields were large, and often members of Aiken society who did not dare to ride ventured into the woods in carriages to watch the hunters and the hounds as they flew by. Aiken’s other hunts came into being in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, filling the demand for more riding and different styles of hunting. The plethora of hunts in the area mean that real hunt junkies can be in the irons pretty much any day of the week without traveling too far from home.
Foxhunting is a sport that relies greatly on traditions. Opening meet is one of the most venerable of these traditions. Most of the hunts will have gone out for several weeks or months before their first formal hunt during cubbing season. During cubbing, the fields generally move more slowly to help get hounds, horses and riders into shape. The riders don’t have to dress as formally, wearing tweed jackets, or sometimes no jacket at all. Opening meet, by contrast, is always a formal affair. It usually involves at least some speech making by the Master of Foxhounds, a stirrup cup, and a more elaborate hunt picnic or breakfast after the hunt is over. The formal blessing of the hounds is carried out by a clergyman or woman, and includes traditional prayers to safeguard horses and hounds on the hunt to come. These traditions go back hundreds of years and are associated St. Hubert, an 8th century figure who is the patron saint of hunting.
If you are not a foxhunter yourself, and would like to partake in some of the spectacle and festivities surrounding the hunt, opening meet is as good time to do it. There are usually plenty of photo opportunities during the stirrup cup and the blessing, and some of the hunts also organize “Tally-ho” wagons that carry spectators into the countryside to catch glimpses of the horses and hounds as they move past. The most popular opening meet in the area is put on by the Aiken Hounds each Thanksgiving. Fields usually top 100 riders, and several thousand spectators walk into the Hitchcock Woods to Memorial Gate, where horses and hounds gather before the sport begins. It is an annual Thanksgiving tradition that is as well established in Aiken as turkey and stuffing.
Want to know more about Aiken’s foxhounds? The Aiken Horse publishes an annual Aiken Hunt directory each October. Find a print copy of the October-November issue, or check it out online. The hunt directory for 2015-2016 is published on the Aiken Horse website here.