We want to hear from you!

Submit story ideas or reports here:

Submit to Covertside

Hound Show Cancellations

The organizers of the following hound shows have announced these cancellations: 

Southern Hound Show
Central States Hound Show
Southwest Hound Show
Carolinas Hound Show
New England Hound Show (possible reschedule to later in the summer—check with the New England organizers)
Virginia Hound Show

A Message from MFHA President Tony Leahy, MFH

Bravely Entering the Field

Eliana Boan’s second birthday party was pony-themed. She and her twin brother, Evan, couldn’t get enough of them. So Heidi Boan connected with Suzanne Stettinius, a close family friend of the Boans and a modern pentathlete who represented the United States at the 2012 Olympics and trained racehorses, put both kids on ponies. Suzanne’s energy made it fun for them. For Eliana in particular, it helped her feel brave.

The Joyful Spirit of the Sport

Most foxhunters have experienced some kind of time-bending moment out in the hunt field. An 11-year-old girl by the name of Sydney Pemberton eloquently summed up that feeling when she recently recalled one of her favorite hunting memories.

Harry Potter Gifts the Magic of Foxhunting

Braylee Duckworth2Young Braylee Duckworth has found a perfect hunting partner with her new pony Harry Potter. Photo courtesy of Carine Stava.

Hatchimals dominated Christmas in 2016. For those of us who don’t remember, Hatchimals are interactive eggs that hatch into toys after you care for them. For many kids, this might do. But not for Braylee Duckworth of Blair, Nebraska. She dreamed of caring for and connecting with something a little more real, something a little more magical.

So, in 2016, at 8-years-old, Braylee’s parents gave her a different kind of gift for Christmas, one that would change her life forever.

“We were tired of all of the nonsense gifts that just get played with for a few weeks and then eventually get thrown away,” says Braylee’s mother, Traci Duckworth. Instead, Traci and her husband Cory, gifted Braylee riding lessons. Two days later, Braylee found herself in the saddle and learning the ropes of Western riding with a feisty pony named Squirt.

Fast forward to spring 2019 when Traci and 11-year-old Braylee got a pony named Simba. The gelding needed some training and the family connected with Carine Stava.

Carine took Simba that summer and Braylee started working at her farm one day a week in exchange for lessons. Soon enough, once a week turned into daily trips to the barn. Braylee rode Simba, mucked stalls, helped feed, and groomed. That’s when she met Harry Potter, a 12-year-old, 13.3-hand “Western cow-bred” pony.

Braylee Duckworth1Braylee and Harry Potter, getting ready to tackle their next adventure together. Traci Duckworth Photo.

“One day, she saw Harry Potter in the field and asked if she could ride him,” Carine says. “And the rest, as it goes, is history.”

“Next thing I knew, I was receiving a picture of Braylee jumping a horse in the indoor arena,” Traci recalls. “I started laughing because I had no clue my daughter had secretly been riding and jumping Carine's horse.”

Braylee had spent the summer learning and loving Simba, but Harry had taught her to fly. It didn’t take long for Braylee to start schooling cross country with Harry and Carine.

Braylee Duckworth 4Braylee and Harry Potter galloping through a water complex during a cross-country schooling session. Traci Duckworth Photo.

Cross country schooling fees help support RIDERS, a program Carine developed in conjunction with North Hills Hunt to promote foxhunting and provide financial assistance to kids who otherwise might not be able to afford it.

“The riders pay half their membership, RIDERS pays the other half,” Carine explains. “They take lessons during the week and on hunt days they come early and stay after to help with chores. At Christmas they help make cookies we deliver to our landowners.”

After relishing in the rush of riding and jumping across the country at numerous RIDERS events, Braylee told her mother all about foxhunting. She had earned her way into the world of foxhunting with the help of Carine, Harry, and RIDERS. So, Traci did what any mother unfamiliar with the sport would do – she Googled it. “I thought, sure we’ll try it,” she says. She actually didn’t think Braylee would like it, but her daughter would soon prove her wrong.

Braylee Duckworth 3RIDERS has helped Braylee and other young riders get involved with foxhunting. Carine Stava Photo.

Labor Day weekend in September 2019, they loaded Harry into a trailer and headed to North Hills Hunt in Burwell, Nebraska, for a workday and an early season hunt with some of the young hounds. “I was clueless,” Traci admits, “but in awe at the same time as to what this sport was.”

It was Braylee’s first real hunt. On the first day, she and Harry rode with the gate group. On the second day, they followed Carine in first flight. They took to it like seasoned pros and never looked back.

“I loved running fast through the fields and flying over coops," says Braylee.

“They are really perfect for each other,” says Carine of Braylee and Harry. “Burwell can be challenging. Steep ravines, big gallops across rolling hills—the coops are around 2’6” to 3’. We can go 10 to 17 miles in a day. Braylee is so great to the coops that some of our adult riders like to follow behind her to get a good lead.”

While Harry had shown Braylee the magic of foxhunting, underneath it all, there had always been a subtle bitterness to the sweetness she grew to love. Harry was for sale and when offers came, so did her tears.

“So, my husband, mom, and myself talked and decided that she had to have Harry Potter,” Traci says. “We talked to Carine and told her we would love to buy him but needed to get some things in place first. Carine, being the amazing person she is, said she would wait and work with us. She knew that Harry and Bray belonged together.”

Harry PotterThis past Christmas, Braylee got the gift of a lifetime—her beloved Harry Potter. Traci Duckworth Photo.

For Christmas this past year, exactly three years after her first lesson, Harry Potter appeared under Braylee’s tree. Beyond experiencing the magic of galloping across open fields and flying over coops in first flight, Harry gave Braylee the gift of confidence by caring for and connecting with something real. For Traci and Cory, the gift was, and has been, Carine and her RIDERS program, which carved the path for Braylee to find herself in Harry and foxhunting.

“The RIDERS Program is an absolute blessing for us,” Traci says. “Because of this program, we are able to afford the sport. The club members are very welcoming to us as parents and are so nice to Bray. If it weren't for this club, Bray would never have been able to learn about foxhunting. She has gained so much confidence through this program and has also found a group of friends and family that truly understand her passion for horses.”

While Braylee plans to continue hunting for the foreseeable future, as well as aiming for Local Day at the Burlington Capital International at the Omaha Equestrian Center in April, she will always remember her roots. “Now that I have Harry,” she said, “we will start working on Western Pleasure together.”

Learning Through Legacy

Jr Gray Hopton 19 2Gray Hopton, a fifth-generation foxhunter, and his Chincoteague pony, Mocha, showing off their jumping skills at the Moore County Hounds’ Opening Meet this fall. Bob Hebert photo.

Eleven-year-old Gray Hopton spends most of his time practicing whip cracking and horn blowing—an atypical talent for most boys his age. Yet, he also makes time to appreciate the finer things more exemplary to his age group like finding amphibians and relocating snakes.

“Aside from foxhunting, Gray’s other main interest is herpetology,” explained Gray’s mother, Molly Thompson-Hopton. “He’s always on the lookout for wildlife and is the first person to call when there’s a snake in the barn.”

Jr Gray Hopton 19 3A budding naturalist, Gray is a fan of all types of reptiles! Molly Thompson-Hopton photo.

Whether studying salamanders or learning the voices of his favorite hounds, flora, and fauna seem to speak to Gray. When they do, he listens and learns just as his ancestors did. The Thompson-Hopton family tree has planted deep sturdy roots in his hometown of Aberdeen, North Carolina. His great-great-grandmother Verdie Caddell ran Caddell Stables in Southern Pines and taught countless equestrians to ride and foxhunt. The next three generations all hunted with the Moore County Hounds, too. That includes Molly herself. That’s four generations. Gray, and his younger brother, River, make five.

So perhaps whip cracking and horn blowing at the age of 11 aren’t so atypical after all. Before his family moved back to the Southern Pines area last winter, they settled wherever his father had been stationed as active duty Coast Guard. They found few hunt clubs in those residences, so when they made it back to one of North Carolina’s most dynamic and historic hunt countries, the first order of business was obvious.

Jr Gray Hopton 19 13Gray practicing cracking his whip aboard Mocha. Molly Thompson - Hopton photo

“We prioritized getting involved with Moore County Hounds and getting Gray out in the hunt field,” Molly says. She’s also enjoyed saddling up again herself after some time off. Gray embraced his first official season and the whole lifestyle like second nature. His family now lives on a farm with one horse, four ponies, and nine chickens.

“Gray is involved with every aspect of the care of our animals and life on the farm,” Molly says. “It’s important to me that he knows the time and effort involved in having a farm and that it’s a team operation.”

Jr Gray Hopton 19 8Gray and Mocha, beautifully turned out and ready for a great day of sport. Molly Thompson-Hopton photo.

One of those four ponies is a 10-year-old Chincoteague mare named Mocha. “She is fast and loves to jump,” Gray says of his spunky hunt partner. They’re learning the ropes together. “She had never hunted before but she’s loving it and is good with the hounds. She never gets scared when I crack my whip. She goes into the woods with me when we have to get hounds out for the huntsman.”

Gray swings on and off Mocha more and more effortlessly with each hunt. Other riders appreciate his and Mocha’s proximity to the ground and take advantage of his growing acrobatic prowess when their whips, gloves, or tack hit the dirt. “I also hold horses for people if they need to get off,” he adds. “Sometimes I get asked to hold the huntsman’s horse when he gets off.”

Jr Gray Hopton 19 2Gray has been enjoying spending time out with the Moore County Hounds this year. Lynn McGugan photo.

Gray’s grand-uncle, Lincoln, is Moore County Hounds’ huntsman. He regularly recruits Gray to help in the kennels and earn hands-on experience with the hounds—an intimate level of involvement of which most young huntsmen dream. And like any good apprentice, the toils of Gray’s labor have soundly shaped the virtue of his character.

“I notice it most in his confidence and how at ease he is talking to adults and kids alike,” Molly says. “One of the things I like about this sport compared to others is that there is such a large variety of people of all different ages. It’s great for children to socialize with all ages and not just their peer group.”

Jr Gray Hopton 19 1Gray helping out at the Moore County Hunt kennels with some of his favorite hounds. Molly Thompson-Hopton photo.

This applies to hounds, too. Connecting with MCH Yancey, Gray’s favorite hound, is perhaps just as important to him as impressing his great-uncle. “Yancey was the first hound I got to know,” Gray says. “One time his GPS collar came off and got stuck in a thick bog. I had to get off Mocha and crawl through the branches to find it. That was fun. I was hoping to see a snake, too.”

While he didn’t see a snake that day, he nonetheless regaled his family with the tale. With decades of tradition and history in their blood, stories from the hunt field fluently fill their daily lives.

Jr Gray Hopton 19 7Gray and his younger brother, River, heading out for a bareback ride. Molly Thompson-Hopton photo.

“It’s really interesting hearing his observations compared to my own experiences and comparisons between then and now,” Molly says. While she doesn’t remember going as fast when she was Gray’s age, she does remember exciting times aboard her own pony, Beau, the now 33-year-old her youngest son River rides. While Molly finds time to hunt once a week, homeschooling affords Gray three times the experience. “It’s always special to me when I get to hunt with Gray,” she says. “I can’t wait until River is out there, too. He wants to be just like his big brother.”

Gray most recently competed in the Junior North American Field Hunter Championship in The Plains, Virginia, in November. “I had never done anything like that before,” he says. “I wasn’t sure what it would be like but we met lots of new people and it was a good experience for Mocha.” With the guidance of his mother, Gray is also introducing his Welsh-cross Truffles to the fundamentals of hunting and hopes to create another generation’s worth of stories with him too.

Jr Gray Hopton 19 11Gray enjoying a festive day of hunting with Mocha. Lynn McGugan photo.

logo mfha smtiny

Subscribing Membership to the MFHA is open to anyone who cares about the future of country lifestyles and wants their voice and vote to make a difference. You will also receive Covertside magazine 4x a year!

MFHA Sponsors

Advertisers