The varied aspects of foxhunting appeal to people in many different ways. Some are drawn to the pageantry, some to the countryside, some to the fox and his wily ways, some to the hounds, and some to the horse. Ambassador Richard (“Dick”) Viets is one of those who are drawn to the partnership between horse and rider while enjoying all of the parts of foxhunting.
Dick was abruptly introduced to horses at a young age. One day when he was seven and his older brother was nine, his father brought home two Welsh ponies with a bewildering assortment of tack and said, “Here. These are for you. Enjoy them.” And nothing more. The ponies were totally unbroken as were the boys. They learned together as they roamed their area of Vermont, riding, swimming, pulling toboggans uphill, and even skijoring in the winter. When Dick moved on to boarding school a few years later, the ponies were sold and Dick’s association with horses was put on hold for many years.
Several years after college Dick joined the Foreign Service. In his late thirties, he renewed his contact with horses when posted to India, even taking up polo and ineptly playing with the cavalry regiment that guarded the president. When assigned to Israel where he ran our Embassy in the late ‘70s, he bought a horse and kept it at a kibbutz nearby where he could go out and ride at dawn. It helped clear his thoughts and renew his sanity, he says, after many long and difficult days and nights of grappling with the Middle Eastern muddle.
This became especially true when he was our ambassador to Jordan. It was here in the desert that he had one of his most extraordinary adventures. He was riding alone late one afternoon in the desert when he heard a hum that sounded like a large contingent of tanks moving toward a surprise attack on Amman, not too far-fetched a thought at the time. The horse began to quiver violently as the sound increased. The horizon blackened as a huge cloud of desert wasps flew in his direction. The horse froze and he with it. By the grace of God, the cloud passed about a half-mile distant from them. Any effort to flee would have attracted the swarm and in a matter of a few seconds, rider and steed would have been bitten to death. The intuitive behavior of the horse saved both of them from an unpleasant ending.
At the end of his career, Dick was posted to Washington. A close friend, Vincent Melzac, who had a large Arabian stud farm in West Virginia with over 300 horses, learned of the imminent death of Dick’s wife. At her behest, he invited Dick to visit the farm to select one of his horses as a parting gift from her. He drove out to the farm and the farm manager immediately took him to a field containing more than 100 Arabians peacefully grazing. Passing through the gate they walked a few yards toward the herd. As they stopped to get a better view, one horse raised its head and walked toward them. As he reached them, he stopped and slowly put his muzzle on Dick’s shoulder. That was it. The manager could hardly believe his eyes. This was Dancer, one of three horses the farm manager and Mr. Melzac had thought would be best suited to Dick’s needs and abilities. Dancer and Dick were inseparable for the next 27 years.
During their first months together, Dancer, who was six and unbroken at the time of acquisition, and Dick were invited to a Saturday meet with Middleburg Hunt. Dancer put on a memorable show, refusing to jump anything but the lowest stone wall or log, and generally breaking every rule in the book. That was the last invitation to hunt with Middleburg, and it was the first and last hunt Dancer ever made. He simply hated the sport and all subsequent efforts to persuade him to the contrary proved fruitless.
Dick, however, was hooked. His first years of hunting were inconsistent and inconsequential because of his commitments to Henry Kissinger with whom he traveled the globe for ten years after his retirement from the Foreign Service. But eventually, he became a permanent fixture in the Orange County Hunt field where he is still at it, 90 years young.
Dick’s passionate love of dogs and horses, his deep appreciation of the countryside, and its wildlife (especially the red fox), the ethereal fusion of power and wisdom in one’s mount, and sharing his joy in it all is what keeps foxhunting ever new and always enticing. His description of his Huntsman, Reg Spreadborough, is that of a symphony conductor, who gathers all the threads together to give his field that excellent sport that has no peer. Dick, however, likes to put his money on the fox, whose playful antics all too frequently confuse the hounds. It often reminds him of similarities with his old profession, diplomacy, the main differences being horse, hound, and fox are all the more noble and principled.