Bennett Barclay, of Elkridge-Harford Hunt in Maryland, is a recent graduate of the MFHA Professional Development Program. Now in its 15th year, the program is designed to enhance and improve the skills of hunt professionals and encourage a career in hunt service. We recently caught up with Bennett to learn more about him and his experience with the program.
How long have you been foxhunting? Can you tell me a bit about your riding background?
I most likely started foxhunting around age 12. My father was the huntsman for Green Spring Valley for 20 years, and he still hunts with them to this day, so I spent a lot of my teenage years following Green Spring behind him. I started taking riding a lot more seriously when I decided I wanted to get into hunt service professionally, but I knew that I needed to be a better horseman to achieve this at the level I wanted. I spent four years working for steeplechase trainer Billy Meister, one of the greatest timber jockeys and trainers ever to ride over fences and an avid foxhunter himself. That was the best decision I ever made; Billy taught me a lot about hunting, everything about horses, and a hell of a lot about life.
What is your official role with Elkridge-Harford Hunt? How did you get involved with them?
I'm the first whipper-in at the Elkridge-Harford, though it was somewhat inadvertent. The whole time I was working for Billy, hunt service was the ultimate goal. A few years ago, I heard Elkridge had a kennelman position opening up, so I applied for that. It wasn't quite what I wanted, but at least it was a foot in the door. After I was hired, however, but before I started the job, the currently serving first whip at Elkridge announced that she was moving on to other things. The second whip stepped up into the position, but he only wanted to serve that role for a year, and suddenly I found myself in the second-whip position. I served in that role for a year and when my first season was over and the first whip moved on, I was given the chance to take the position of first-whipper-in.
Why did you decide to go through the Professional Development Program?
I knew the opportunities for networking and expanding horizons that the program provided, and I wanted the chance to take advantage of that. Hunt service is wonderful, but the nature of the work can limit your chances to experience other aspects of the sport beyond your own hunt club. I really wanted to experience the opportunities provided by the program.
What skills did you feel like you improved upon? What else did you learn throughout the program?
After spending time picking the brains of some of the most knowledgeable Masters and huntsmen in the country, I really feel like I have the foundational architecture to establish a breeding program when I find a pack to hunt one day down the road.
What was your favorite part of the program?
The chance to spend time with so many of the best professional packs in the country through kennel visits and an extended visit to a few other packs, all of which is part of the curriculum of the Professional Development Program. The opportunity to get the perspective of so many other knowledgeable and experienced professionals at the top of the game was truly invaluable and will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Do you have any memorable experiences with some experienced staff and/or mentors that you worked with during the program?
As part of the program, I spent a week with Fox River Valley in their Georgia country during the winter. During that time, I had the chance to sit down with [MFHA President and MFH] Tony Leahy and pick his brain. I think some of my favorite memories, not just of the program but in general, will always be sitting at Tony's kitchen table, going over so many aspects of hounds, hunting, leadership, and life in general. He was invaluable to me, and although I'm sure I must have been overwhelming with so many questions, he was always gracious and enthusiastic in sharing his knowledge and encouragement through the whole experience.
Learn more about the Professional Development Program here. Are you a past graduate of the program and you want to share your story, or perhaps you’d like to nominate a deserving staff member? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.