Horse Capital: A ride with a Kentucky 'Huntsman'
Traditional fox hunting scenes - the pack of hounds running across fields, riders in scarlet coats galloping over hedges. Whether in wood paneled libraries or in the great old, English manor houses like Downton Abbey, they signify an old-fashioned, upper class era, a sport of a time long gone by. But as WUKY Horse Capital reporter Samantha Lederman discovered, fox-hunting still takes place all over the world. There are three different hunt clubs in Kentucky and she recently spent a day with Spencer Allen, the huntsman of the Long Run Woodford to find out more.
Fox hunting is steeped in history and tradition. Even Allen’s horn has a legacy: it dates back to the late 1800s and belonged to an English Lord who perished in the first World War. The small, copper horn came back from the trenches and found it’s way to Allen and Kentucky via a contact in Wales. About 8 inches long and slender it fits perfectly into the inside pocket of Allen’s hunt coat. It bears the engravings that identify it and some fading and little dents from years of handling. Allen uses it to communicate with his hounds while galloping across the country,
Using just the horn and his voice huntsmen like Allen can signal to their pack exactly what they want them to do.
It’s a cold, blustery day - a morning when you’d rather push the snooze button as many times as you dare and snuggle under the duvet. But not for this man…
Hunting might be considered a sport, but it’s really a business; one that sustains countless livelihoods: not just the hunt staff, but all the peripheral industries that are vital to run a pack of hounds: dog and horse food suppliers, veterinarians, tack sellers, farriers…the list goes on and on.
The Long Run Woodford Hunt currently has about 50 hounds, but tradition dictates they be counted in couples, so technically about 25 couple. Allen can recognize each one instantly from the other side of the paddock; he’ll tell you their name, age and describe their personality,
To Allen, these hounds are like his children – he spends all day every day with them, often from the very minute they’re born.
Hounds are bred to hunt, literally. Some of them make wonderful pets once they’re retired but they are working dogs, who live and love to hunt.
A kill these days is very rare, but the hunt will keep the coyotes away, and thereby are performing a service to the local farmers and landowners.
The hunting year runs from May to May and Allen is about to embark on his fourth with the Long Run Woodford. Huntsmen are responsible for the hounds’ care, their breeding and their training. They look after the horses and the landowners, keeping them happy and taking care of the land they hunt over. The regular hunting season usually runs from about November through April. From May through the summer is devoted to the care and maintenance of the hounds, horses and land, and to training the puppies for the following season. Obviously each huntsman will have his own style and will want to mold the hunt accordingly to maximize it’s safety and efficiency, and to that end when a huntsman moves packs, he will typically bring a few hounds with him to the new hunt to help them all assimilate with each other.
Being a huntsman is a labor of love and it’s a craft that tends to be handed down over generations. No one ever got rich being a huntsman. It’s incredibly hard, tough, physical work, a mixture of skilled and manual labor, usually seven days a week in all weather, with office admin to be taken care of on the side, and it’s dangerous to boot,
Unusually Allen wasn’t born into it but rather says he fell into it. After leaving the marines he served as an amateur whipper in, a huntsman’s assistant for two years.
Allen is from Virginia which is widely considered the Mecca for fox-hunting in America
As lucky as Allen feels to be here, the Long Run Woodford are equally lucky to have him; he’s devoted to his craft, his hounds and the pack and it shows every day.