My name is Tony Cummings and I hunt with Shawnee Hounds in southern Illinois. I wanted to share a few pictures of one of my recent hunts and brag on my son a little bit, if you don't mind indulging a proud poppa. My son Vinny, age three, has been coming to Shawnee since he was just one year old. Masters Mark Smith and Gail Petrikius have always been so great with him, and his grandparents live across the country so he just adores them.
Vinny prepares to mount up.
We have an ornery little rescue mini/pony that we got as a buddy animal who quickly became the boss mare. Vinny has progressed from being our amateur groom to being ponied around our property. He rides great and usually only gets in trouble for messing with the lead horse (my wife likes to ride slow, and Vinny is known for breaking branches and cropping my wifes horse so he can "go real fast!").
He watches us take all our gear out one or two times a week, work the horses, care for them when they're sore, and talk about hunting all the time. Fast forward to mid-season this last winter. Vinny has seen the ceremony of us bringing in our gear out of the cold, washing and oiling the leather, laying out our clothes for the next day, waking up before dawn and he started to ask to come. We always said, "Sure, when you're older." Finally one day he came out in his Easter best outfit and told us he was ready.
We approached our masters and asked if we could bring the little fella in third field. They were ecstatic. We waited for the right day at the right fixture, got Vinny some jodphurs and a jacket, worked on his seat skills and his etiquette, and then we were ready.
No better guide than Mom!
Day of the hunt it is freezing, drizzling, we were sure he wasn't going to be game. We were wrong! He was so ready to hunt. He helped us with the kennels, greeted the huntsman, and even had hot chocolate. He hunted the entire day, never once asked to go back, got drizzled on all day in near freezing weather, and even fell off once and got back on. Most of the adults looked more uncomfortable than he was. Through it all I got to observe through the lens of our camera, as I followed a ways back in the atv (we wanted one of us not mounted in case something happened). He crossed roads, crossed ditches, trotted and helped us view. He rode with the hounds, and most importantly he loved it!
Being on a lead doesn't mean you can't get close to the action.
These are a few pictures of Vinny's first hunt. His mother is holding his lead, I spent the day photographing but usually ride with them as well. They are a great group of wonderful friends that I am honored to know. I think it is pretty amazing to watch the next generations approach to the sport. Did I mention that he's only three!
It was pretty magical to watch Gail lead third field, giving priceless bits of advice and sharing her lifetime's experience with my three-year-old son. Even more remarkable to watch him absorb it, internalize it, and use it.
At the culmination of the nearly three hour hunt, he groomed his pony (we've taught him that the care for the horse and hounds come first), waited until the field was formally dismissed and helped round up the hounds (he frequently does hound walks with us). Afterwards, at our "clubhouse" (the designated room at our local Mexican food restaurant), I watched him retell his version of the hunt to our Master who listened to it as intently as if Vinny had just come back from a high speed hunt in Ireland.
Vinny with Shawnee Masters, Mark Smith and Gail Petreikis, at the after-hunt party.
Vinny has been training through the summer. He's four now and is hoping to not need to be led this season. He will still tell me about his first hunt as if I hadn't experienced it with him, and he still yells tally-ho whenever he sees a coyote.
We are grateful for our hunt and the great people we share it with, and we are honored to be a part of an intercontinental community that all share a common love of the sport.
Vinny says Hi and Happy Hunting!
Covertside and the MFHA wish Vinny and his family many seasons of good sport together.