Photo Courtesy Karen Kennedy
Perched atop her horse, senior Ally Whitehead spies a blur of reddish-orange flickering in the distance, and the chase begins. A pack of hounds scurries below, frantically catching scents of the foxes nearby, and Whitehead focuses on the wooded path ahead as she spurs her horse into action to keep up.
Whitehead regularly participates in foxhunting, a common activity for equestrians. Foxhunting involves a group of people, typically between 10 and 50 in number, who ride on horseback following foxes. The foxhunting club releases a group of hounds before each hunt, which leads the riders to the foxes.
According to Whitehead, hunters gallop through fields pursuing a fox until the hounds chase the fox into its burrow. Though earlier versions of the sport actually involved killing the foxes, that element is no longer practiced.
Although Whitehead has been riding horses since she was little, she only started foxhunting when she was about 10 years old. “My great-grandmother has fox hunted for years and years, and my grandfather was part of Elkridge Harford Hunt Club,” she said. Whitehead typically goes foxhunting on the weekends when she is available.
Whitehead, who has also been on the equestrian team for four years, likes how free foxhunting is compared to horse shows. “I like being able to go and not have to worry about how I look and just go jump some jumps, and there’s not really any rules to it,” Whitehead said. “You kind of just go out there as long as you pay attention and don’t talk and be respectful.”
Similarly to Whitehead, junior Emily McGuirk enjoys the sport due to its differences from equestrian. “I love the hounds, so it’s really fun watching them catch scents and taking off,” McGuirk said.
Senior Taylor Crews, a fellow equestrian, started foxhunting when she was 11 and was “completely hooked.”
Recently, Crews has taken a larger role of “whipping-in” at one of the hunting clubs she belongs to. She helps to keep the hunt functioning smoothly by informing the master, or leader, of the hunt of the hounds’ locations. “When I am going around, I have to be aware of where the hounds are. Sometimes, I have to run across the countryside to tell the masters where they can go so that they’re not interrupting hounds,” Crews said.
According to Crews, people outside of the sport do not always understand what happens during hunts. “People usually think we are sitting in a tree killing foxes. It actually takes a lot of practice to get your horse comfortable enough to be near the hounds,” she said.
While foxhunters do not compete, they still consider the sport a fun pastime, and Crews has no plans to stop when she goes to college. “Even though I’m going to college in New Jersey, I’m going to see if I can find a barn that will let me ride one of their horses in exchange for work,” she said.
Ianna Pirozzi is an In-Focus Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.