Scarcely more than a score of miles south of Denver, in the scrub oak and jack pine country of the Rocky Mountain foothills, the ladies and gentlemen shown here are gathered for the Plum Creek Hunter Trials. In dress, in purpose and in bearing they are all but identical with their fellows on the rolling meadowlands of Maryland or Ireland's emerald-green hills. But there is a difference, an important one—for this is the traditional sport of hunting to hounds in a modern, western style.
Blooded English hounds are available, bred at a nearby ranch, but trained for different game. Horses are here, but not the long-limbed Thoroughbred of Kentucky or Ireland's Tipperary. The coats are pink on the gentlemen, black and trim on the ladies beneath their derby hats and hunting caps, but Levis and Stetsons, like those in the picture above, are far more their accustomed garb. And the quarry which is hunted in these rugged hills is not the fox of old tradition but the wily and durable coyote. The Plum Creek Trials, and the Arapahoe Hunt which always follows it, are a true outgrowth of the Colorado hills and, like any of their eastern or European counterparts, they have their own tradition.
The present-day trials are the work of Reginald Sinclaire, an Anglophile rancher who offers hospitality and elaborate facilities to enthusiasts in the area for a day of competition and a midday break for barbecue. Since 1948, the unofficial warmup for the official hunt season, the trials each year attract competitors and spectators from a sizable area to the 4,300-acre ranch.
Because of Colorado's rugged hunting conditions, the horses that appear at Plum Creek ranch are not the fat, well-rounded, handsome conformation hunters often found east of the Mississippi. Most still have the look of a cow pony beneath their formal English tack: they are tough, non-Thoroughbred animals that have the stamina for long, long runs and that can jump handily out of tight spots.
Many of the riders who appear for the Plum Creek Trials are also members of the Arapahoe Hunt, founded in 1907, refounded in 1929 after interest had languished, and recognized by the Masters of Foxhounds Association in 1934. And the fact that it is not the fox but the coyote that is hunted lends a zest all its own to the affair.
"The coyote," explained Reginald Sinclaire, "seems to have as good a time as we hunters. Coyotes take great delight in fooling the hounds when the scent is poor. They know just when that happens and they sit around waiting for the hounds to catch up. They know they can always lose them again."
Colorado is not the only place where coyotes are chased. The Mission Valley Hunt in Kansas City considers this animal its quarry, and the Bridlespur Hunt in Clayton, Mo. will set out happily after whichever scent first turns up, a fox or a coyote. Once this hunt ran into a deer unexpectedly but, before plans could be changed, the deer made its escape. The hounds were startled but not nearly as chagrined as those in the Arapahoe pack who were once sidetracked by a porcupine. It took a veterinarian and the combined efforts of all the staff to repair the damage of that encounter.
Even though an occasional stray animal may thus disrupt the hunt, the coyote chasers are high in praise of the sport. They point out that it is more challenging because coyotes often run in pairs—which makes things more difficult—and are bigger and faster than foxes. A coyote, they claim, can run indefinitely at 30 miles an hour; others credit him with even greater speed. "And," say the Colorado hunters, "it's not just that they are fast and rugged. The coyotes are used to being chased; they seem to like it. Foxes are only used to being killed."