On one of the last Saturday’s of the season, looking as elegant as any huntsman can in scarlet, Middleburg Huntsman Richard Roberts watched his pack tumble down the walkway of the newly renovated Huntland kennels and out onto the grass to meet everyone before moving off to hunt. Friends, followers and especially the children hovered around them, eager to enjoy the attention and freedom.
The day before, hounds were brought to the meticulously restored kennels at Huntland as part of the kennel tour and reception hosted by Dr. Betsee Parker that evening. Originally built in 1912, the kennels lay vacant for decades and now are as originally built. Guests viewed for the first time the kennels’ interior, feeding and treatment rooms, staff living and changing quarters, and the unique tunnel under the lodges that opens up for separate exiting of bitches and doghounds into the grass yards.
After hunting, staff and hounds returned to the hunt’s kennels to snuggle up in familiar surroundings. “The kennels at Huntland will be considered a museum and not a working kennel”, explained Dr. Parker, beaming in her joy of welcoming everyone to the very special occasion.
A couple of weeks later, hound walking with Richard, whippers-in Carey Shefte and Libby Gilbert, I asked him about his first year. Referring to the challenge of being a new huntsman and becoming leader of a new pack of hounds, he said, “It was really good. The transition of adapting went well” he added, “the strong support of the Masters” was a major part of a good transition. “The landowners could not be more cooperative” he added.
The bond between this gentleman and his hounds is easily seen. Speaking softly to each hound, including the youngsters out for the first time, this was a happy pack, enjoying the time off and the brisk chill. As we walked up and down hills, Libby and Carey quietly kept them together, and lured the occasional wandering youngster back into the pack.
We reached the pond in the back of the property, the water too cold for them except the Labrador Retriever who dived right in and showed off by making two turns. The hounds, he described, “settled into my style of hunting.” And to his style of horn blowing, “each huntsman has a unique set of melodies in his repertoire.” He tossed biscuits to his adoring charges while sitting on the fence, admiring the view that stretched for miles until they were gone. Having grown up in England, it probably brought back memories. One tall hound was able to get his nose to his pocket, but was too late to find any treats.
Richard smiled as he talked about how much he appreciated his staff. On a wistful note, he mentioned that Libby Gilbert, the hunt’s 1st Whipper-In for four years, will sadly be returning to England to hunt a foot pack in West Yorkshire. “She will be very missed.” Karen Nutt will join the staff as Honorary Whipper-In and is already settled in.
“Are you getting ready for the hound show?” I asked, thinking about the Virginia Foxhound Show at Morven Park in late May. “Not yet!” he replied with a big grin. The last day of hunting was a week ago, I remembered.
A lovely morning spent with a lovely fellow and a most beautiful pack of hounds.