The Blessing of the Hounds & Fox Hunting Traditions
The Blessing of the Hounds opens the season on September 29th this year, and it is sure to draw a considerable crowd of excited onlookers, just as it does every year. Wayne, Illinois is a small village nestled about 40 miles west of Chicago. The village has strong equestrian roots and a love for carrying on the centuries-old tradition of a formal fox hunt.
The History of Fox Hunting
The tradition of the fox hunt dates back to 16th century England. Farmers began gathering their dogs to track and hunt foxes as a means of pest control. It was not until the late 1600s that dogs began to be specifically bred and trained for the hunt. The tradition of the fox hunt was brought to America around the same time, and there is a record of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson keeping their own packs of hounds to use for the hunt around the time of the Revolutionary War.
On the day of the hunt, riders gather dressed in their best hunting attire; men sport bright red jackets, while women wear black. The horse’s manes are neatly braided. The hounds are introduced to the scent of the fox, and from there the pack leads the group of hunters, most usually on horseback, while they follow the trail of scent. Traditional foxhunting usually ends with the hounds capturing and killing the fox, however, this has been outlawed in many countries. Modern fox hunting usually ends either with the retreat of the animal into the ground, or the hunt is completely fabricated with the use of fox urine for the dogs to catch a scent, so as not to injure the fox.
Wayne’s Fox Hunting Tradition
The village of Wayne, IL began its foxhunting tradition in the 1920s. Wayne’s hunt serves as the largest and oldest registered hunt in the Chicago area. The event is invite-only, usually allowing about 75 riders to participate. Riders’ ages range greatly, from children in the Pony Club to retirees. The event brings in hundreds of onlookers each year.
The hunt begins around 10 am. To begin, Reverend Richard E. Malmbergleads from The Little Home Church by the Wayside leads in prayer before the horses, hounds, and riders are off, chasing the scent laid by using fox urine. The hounds lead the riders for miles through wooded areas and meadows full of high, lush grass. The hunt goes on for about two hours, and it is completed when the riders break the tree line at the end of the scent trail. The hounds are rounded up and encircled by the riders, and a long, loud horn is blown to signal that the “fox” has been captured. Another successful Wayne fox hunt is finished.
After the hunt, cocktails and water are offered to the riders, not yet dismounted. The horses are returned to their trailers at the club to rest and eat, while the riders take part in a buffet and exchange their exciting experiences in the hunt.
For decades, the tradition of the Wayne foxhunt has served as a fun experience for horse lovers of all ages. The Village of Wayne is buzzing with excitement for the upcoming hunt.
ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF FACEBOOK
From Irene on the 2018 Hunt:
Exhilarating, Demanding and Magnificent. These are the words to describe the Blessing of the Hounds. Every time I go to the barn and prepare for a hunt I feel the excitement. Each time is like the first time I ever rode.The beauty of the countryside, the hounds and the camaraderie between the riders warms my heart and soul. The friends I have made along the way through this magical journey has been wonderful and very fulfilling. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this very old and beautiful tradition that started back in the 16th century. I hope it lasts for more centuries to come.
2021’s Blessing of the Hounds is scheduled for October 3rd.