Blessing of Hounds sign of the holiday season in Aiken
It's an annual community tradition that continues to grow in popularity.
For nearly a century, the Aiken Hounds Blessing of the Hounds, Opening Meet and Stirrup Cup at Memorial Gate in Hitchcock Woods has come to symbolize the spirit of the holiday season.
The Blessing of the Hounds was officiated by Father Garrett Clanton of All Saints Anglican Church. The hunt is in its 96th year, and it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving in Aiken without the inspiring event. The Aiken Hounds are the oldest recognized drag hunt, according to the Masters of Foxhounds Association of North America.
"It's a little warmer than I would have liked it to have been today," said Linda Knox McLean, Aiken Hounds, Master of Hounds. "On dry days, scenting isn't as good as it is on damp, cool days. We're going to have a big turnout, and we're looking forward to this very special day, and we're so thankful to have the Hitchcock Woods to hunt in."
The hunt pack was composed of seven and a-half couple (15 hounds) of Penn-Marydel Hounds to take part in opening meet, said Katherine Gunter, Aiken Hounds Huntsman.
"The number of hounds is less than I normally bring, but I didn't want to bring any shy hounds," said Gunter. "I only brought two puppies because of the number of people in the field. There will be lots of voice."
The hounds have been preparing for the hunt season since the first of July, Gunter said.
"We have a pretty long cubbing season, our first day of cubbing was Oct. 2," said Gunter. "After we started, we added in puppies, teaching them along the way, and were really trying to get them broke off of deer and coyotes, which is a big thing in the woods. We don't want them running coyotes. We want them on fox scent. We spent a lot time in the summer with them. It's six days a week that they get out of the kennels."
This year, nine horsemen received their colors from the Aiken Hounds, and each of the hunt members were awarded the distinction by the Master of Fox Hounds Linda Knox McLean.
Those receiving their colors were Barry Acord, Arnie Bloom, Larry Comegys, Beth Huddleston, Theresa King, Gene Kneece, Tracey Murray, Boyce Myers and Toni Urban. Two new staff members were also welcomed Danielle Sertick and Ria Burton as whipper-ins. Jane Page Thompson and Karen Dempsey served the traditional stirrup cup.
"Opening hunt at Aiken is probably the greatest tradition that fox hunters have," said Larry Byers, Aiken Hounds, whipper-in. "Aiken Hounds will soon be 100 years old. We have the Blessing of the Hounds in Hitchcock Woods, and invite the public to come and share in the tradition, the spectacle of the Blessing of Hounds and Opening Hunt."
Contact Ben Baugh at firstname.lastname@example.org.