Willow Hoins, 15, a student at North Salem High School outside New York City, caught our attention handling numerous Golden's Bridge (NY) hounds to top placings at last spring's shows. She shares some of her experiences in kennels, in the field, and in the ring with Covertside Online. - Ed. Foxhunting has been a part of my life since forever. We live just a mile or so from the kennels so we would always hear hounds. I remember stopping at fixtures on the way to nursery school and watching the hounds go off on Tuesdays. On most Saturday mornings my sister Rowan and I were in the road whip jeep with Richard Knowlton, who ultimately taught us how to whip-crack.
Willow Hoins shows Golden's Bridge Chanel to the blue ribbon. Photo by Helen Houghton.
When I was very little I loved riding my mom’s 17.1 hand horse Parfait back to the trailer at the end of the hunt. She was huge with a big galumphing stride and she’d snort and be all full of energy. It was such a treat. To this day, she is still full of it at the end of a hunt.
Working With Hounds
I've spent time in kennels as long as I can remember. My sister Rowan and I have seen many litters whelped over the years, which makes it even more special to see or hear about their progress in the hunt field. I love working with our huntsman, Codie Hayes. We help a little bit in all areas. Walking puppies, worming and tattooing, walking out hounds, collaring hounds for hunting or helping with them at the end of the hunt. If I’m not hunting on my pony Lou Hou, I am road whipping and tracking the hounds on the GPS to keep them safe.
While we do walk puppies months before the hound shows, our winters have been brutal and sometimes it’s like starting over when spring finally arrives. Preparation gets pretty intense just before the shows. I try to work with the hounds every day after school, developing a relationship with them. We work on getting them comfortable on the leash, practice standing them up, exposing them to the “board” and other potentially scary things like judges. We worked a lot on showing them off lead this year, which really brought out their confidence and presence. Although it proved challenging for some hounds, it gave me a new perspective on seeing their movement. We also prep and pack up all the gear needed for the show. And of course, last but not least, the bathing of the hounds!
The most challenging thing about working with hounds is also the most rewarding: working with a timid hound. It’s difficult- they may be scared of something and they bolt around on the leash or just shut down, but when you gain their trust and build their confidence, it’s just the best feeling. And when they cock their head and look you in the eye, waiting for your next move, it’s just awesome.
Covertside Online: What is something about hound shows that people who have never done it might not know?
Hoins: Lots of things! You do it because you really love the hounds. It’s a labor of love. In the early years, it was strictly junior handler classes and somehow it was cute to drag your favorite hound, or be dragged by your favorite hound, around the ring. It was my way of participating in the hunt club before I was able to blast around in the hunt field. And then I just love the hound aspect of fox hunting. Getting to know your hounds through handling makes watching and listening to them work in the field that much sweeter. Showing them enables me to learn more about the various qualities of our hounds, or others. This year all the judges interacted a lot with me and I gained a greater appreciation of what they each look for in a hound and why.
Some other things about hound shows that people may not know is that while I appreciate the value in showing to maintain quality in the breeding program and I absolutely do want to win ribbons after all the effort to be there, in the end, I still love the hound, even if the judge doesn’t. Also, It’s great when family, friends or other hunt members come to watch and support, but they don’t comprehend that I do take it seriously because it’s a privilege to be there and a treasured honor for me to show hounds with Codie. Another thing, when participating in a hound show from start to finish, I don’t think people understand how much work goes into it, especially by the huntsman. It’s exhausting, but being there with this entirely other dedicated foxhunting family that you see each year is like being part of a very special club. Finally, the lab coats make me feel like a CSI lab tech!
Covertside Online: What can we do to get more people your age interested in hunting?
Hoins: Take the hounds to school! I took four hounds in for Show and Tell in my second grade class. When GBH Elvis spoke, two other classes came running in. A brief history lesson regarding George Washington and Penn-Marydels always grows a good conversation. Over the years I have participated in many activities that were successful in gaining the participation of kids. Any opportunity to get the hounds into the community through Library Fairs, Harvest Festivals, parades, etc., affords the opportunity to dispel myths and educate people on foxhunting, thereby gaining community support, as well as members.
Invite local pony clubs or 4-H clubs to meet the hounds or to participate in hunts, without a fee. Offer Junior Hunts where they can ride up with whippers-in, field masters or the huntsman. Host a Children’s Meet (not in the traditional sense) that’s more like a mock hunt where little kids can go around on lead line and still be near the “action.” This a great way to involve kids who don’t have parents who ride.
Willow helped Golden's Bridge bring home plenty of silver from May's Virginia Foxhound Show. Photo by Teal Hoins.
"Allow Them the Thrill"
As for what I would tell my friends to get them involved - I think it works both ways. I think as much as kids may not understand foxhunting and what we do, it seems some foxhunters don’t understand or appreciate these already dedicated equestrians. I have a tremendous sense of pride in carrying on traditions and formalities, it is an aspect of foxhunting I really like, but I think it can be intimidating to kids my age new to our sport. My mom has told me stories about hunting in Ireland and how that after a few hours of hunting, the thinning field would soon be chock full with kids and ponies once school let out, dressed in all manner.
We need to make it easier for kids to access foxhunting, but also more fun and allow them the thrill of it. The most daunting aspect of being new to hunting is often the way we are treated by an adult in the hunt field. It’s a huge turn off to be snapped at for not knowing a rule when they could just as easily have shared some information. Riding a safe and sane mount is much easier than bringing out your own untested pony. If you’re lucky, maybe you have a generous Master with a few dozen polo ponies that double as kid friendly hunt horses in their offseason. Or a spare a solid fox hunter to keep it exciting, but safe, for the competitive equestrian willing to try. Cut them some slack and then lead by example.
Golden's Bridge huntsman, Codie Hayes, congratulates Willow on her win in the Junior Handlers class at the New York Puppy Show with Golden's Bridge Yeti '18. Photo by Teal Hoins.
Codie and I wear matching fox socks and I always wear my unicorn belt for good luck. Additionally, foxhunting has afforded me such great opportunities and for that, I would like to thank my huntsman, Codie, my Masters, and the entirety of the Goldens Bridge Hounds hunt club. It was a privilege to be asked to share my experiences! Thank you.