Ever since the sport was brought to America in Colonial days, fox hunting has had its troubles. It was just about 100 years ago that sportsmen and the public in general first sounded the death knell of fox hunting. The skeptics reasoned that such a rural pursuit as fox hunting could never survive in an age of industrial revolution with its railroads, automobiles and barbed wire. Today the death knell is still tolling, and with about as much effect. Too many deer are running riot with hounds; housing developments are gobbling up precious hunting country; parkways and thruways are a constant menace to the packs, and taxes have reduced to a handful the number of people who can afford to foot the bill of a private establishment. But in spite of these setbacks there are still some 200,000 persons in this country happily engaged in some form of fox hunting. Most of them enjoy "night hunting" on foot in mountainous or wooded country unsuitable for riding. The rest—about 3,000 every weekend—ride to hounds mounted in the English tradition.
It is this mounted form which faces a simple decision today—change or die out. It is a decision that fox hunters have faced for decades and they're still going strong in spite of it. In the matter of adaptability the fox hunter is a past master. Overtaken by sprawling suburbs, the hunts near cities are moving off to new country. To replace the angels who formerly financed most of the sport, hunt clubs are being formed in which all members share the costs. With an eye to the future, pony clubs are being encouraged for young riders.
Along with its other hazards, fox hunting constantly has to wage a war of enlightenment with landowners and the public. Most attacks on fox hunting are based on ignorance, and of all the sports in America it is the most misunderstood.
Educating the public to the qualities of fox hunting is part of the dedicated purpose of the Master of Foxhounds Association to which all of the nation's 107 recognized packs belong. Because the leisured young gentleman of means is almost a thing of the past, fewer young men are seen today in the hunting field. Young women are taking to the sport in increasing numbers and now outnumber the men about 10 to 1. While most hunts try to keep up appearances and turn out as well as they can, the worth of a fox hunter is not judged by his clothes but how well he rides to hounds.
The Meadow Brook Hunt on Long Island is typical of the hunts which today face many obstacles, and no hunt illustrates better their ability to overcome them.
At one time the Meadow Brook met as far west as Jamaica—now a subway terminal set in the midst of close-packed stores, filling stations and houses. For years the Meadow Brook hunting country has been shrinking at the edges and today all that remains is several strips of landed estates riddled with parkways and intersected by solid lines of speeding cars. And some of these are being slowly eaten up by housing developments.
Although the wise people have shaken their heads at the start of every new season and prophesied that this would be Meadow Brook's last, the hunt is still going strong and not even the Jericho turnpike and Route 25A, which run right through their country, have dampened the spirits of its members or lessened sport—they've just made it harder. At least one hound is killed on these roads every year and others are often hit and injured. Veterinary bills have increased, and public relations are constantly strained. One driver whose car hit a hound sent the hunt a bill for a dented fender—and collected!
CHASED BY GUNNERS
With the influx of new residents who are not geared to pleasant thoughts about horses, a difficult landowner problem has arisen. Like other hunts the Meadow Brook is constantly being misunderstood. When hounds ran a fox into the cellar of a stolid-looking development house—after what must be conceded was an excellent chase—all kinds of unappreciative people objected. Properties were promptly posted against riders; the local sale of barbed wire increased and on one occasion the hunt was chased by some gunners. Complaints started to pour in that "the horses are frightening the children." Patiently and with the resolution of spirit inherent in fox hunters the members of the Meadow Brook have handled these problems, and if all are not yet solved at least the hunt continues to go out twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Under its Joint Masters, Mr. Charles V. Hickox and Mr. William F. Dobbs, assisted by their professional huntsman, Charles D. Plumb, the Meadow Brook carries on in the best tradition of the sport.
If and when it has to close down, its members will go somewhere else to hunt—but stop hunting they will not. Such is the fox hunters' love for their sport that no hazard or distance seems too great to prevent them from getting out and riding to hounds. An example of this is Mr. Tim Durant, Master of the Smithtown Hunt, who commutes by commercial plane from Danbury, Conn, to his hunt in Long Island every weekend, thereby avoiding a seven-hour drive by car.