The Norfolk Hunt Club has endured 125 years by keeping the sport’s thrills accessible to working men and women.
At 125 years old, Norfolk Hunt Club in Dover, Massachusetts, lies about 18 miles southeast of Boston, where growing suburbs have drastically changed the landscape.
Members of the Dedham Polo Club started the hunt in 1895 “so as not to forget the difficult and noble art of horseback riding,” according to “Norfolk Hunt: 100 Years of Sport,” written by Norman M. Fine. From their inception, Norfolk Hunt founders rallied around celebrating the adventures of riding and the comradery it brings. That comradery, in addition to its founders’ belief in good sport for all, has kept the club thriving for years as the land transformed around it.
Those beliefs and the geography are also why Norfolk Hunt has always been a drag hunt. It provided good sport and sociability, especially to those with tight schedules. Some of Norfolk’s earliest members hopped on trains from Boston the night before a hunt, enjoyed a good run first thing in the morning, then hopped back on a train to knock out a solid day's work at the office.
Its headquarters was established in its current location near the railroad in 1901 partly for that reason. Henry G. Vaughan became its first MFH in 1903. Most of the country hunted today was first hunted by him. He laid the club’s foundation for drag hunting and trained the packs specifically for that type of sport.
Hooked from Day One
“Drag hunting allows us to keep hunting in suburban Boston and its ever-tightening territory,” says Dominic Cammarata, former-MFH. “Live would have never been possible in the last twenty or thirty years. With drag, we can hunt in a designated time frame allowing people to plan their workdays to still hunt during the week.”
It’s worth noting that Cammarata offered his comments before rushing off to his own day job. He also shared the memory of his first hunt some twenty years ago. It was on a steeplechase course. He stood in the hilltopper’s field and watched hounds jump a large stone wall, followed by ten riders in red coats.
“They stopped for a break in the field after a wonderful run and I will never forget the steam rising from the hounds and horses on that crisp fall morning,” he remembers. “I thought, ‘This is what it has been like since the 1890s.’ I was hooked.”
“Open land is hard to come by in the Boston Metro-west area,” says Ruth Lawler, the club’s former MFH. “As a drag hunt, it’s easier to keep to our routes.”
Much of Norfolk’s current territory was opened to the club about a hundred years ago and sits in the Charles River Watershed area, as well as in Westport, South Dartmouth, Sutton, and Grafton. One of their most popular venues, Barney’s Joy, is a seaside property that offers stunning coastal views.
Lawler started foxhunting in her teens and thirty years later rediscovered the sport when a friend invited her to hunt with Norfolk. Her dressage mare quickly decided it was far more exhilarating than pirouetting by herself in a ring. She hunted that mare when she served as Norfolk’s MFH and will often lead fields with her today.
She remembers during one of her first experiences with Norfolk, one of the whips thanked her for coming and complimented her on her turnout. “I was wearing formal attire rather than ratcatcher, which was allowed, but rarely done during the informal season,” she says.
Nobody mentioned or seemed to mind her black dressage saddle. It was the only one she had that fit her horse at the time. For her, it was the unassuming and welcoming vibe that hooked her, and it was the cherry atop a surefire morning of good sport.
Another member, Dana Pope, had to borrow a jacket for his first hunt. It was a size too small. When he was asked to button up, he replied, “I would if I could.” It got an honest chuckle. He and his wife, Carolyn, felt so welcomed they kept coming back until he became President for five years. She currently serves as an MFH.
Today, much like Norfolk’s founding members did, those who join the club’s Tuesday morning hunts meet at 8:00 a.m., enjoy a good run, and get back to the trailers by 9:00 a.m. so they can still make their lunch o’clock meetings.
“They usually make arrangements for their horses’ care and dash off back to Boston to go to work,” Lawler says. “One long-time member recalls sitting in an important meeting and realizing that the strong smell of manure was coming from his shoe.”
It Takes A Village
Drag hunting also creates efficient land maintenance which allows members to give their time accordingly. Norfolk’s Clean-Up Day is one of its most popular events. Held every spring in April, members convene to prune branches, cut dead trees, and remove debris, followed by lunch.
“It’s rewarding when the trails and territory are better each year due to the one hundred thirty plus man-hours expended during the one day,” Lawler says. “Many landowners maintain our territory or give the hunt access to prepare their lands to be hunted. We use the phrase ‘it takes a village’ way more than we should, but that’s how Norfolk Hunt is—everyone doing his or her part somewhere.”
The club holds more than 50 hunts and events every year. They usually go off without a hitch because members, the majority of whom work full-time jobs, all pull together in the spirit of community, camaraderie, and the promise of good sport.
It is because of that synergistic, accessible, family-oriented character that Norfolk Hunt has established itself as an exemplary beacon in the greater Boston-Metro west region where landowners, established and new, see, feel, and understand firsthand the importance of the club’s history in preserving and utilizing their precious land.
“We have a landowner who created manicured trails covered in southern pine-straw especially for the hunt to ride,” Lawler says. “That landowner has since become a member and created more trails to share with Norfolk.”