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Penn-Marydel Joint Meet Weekend in Mississippi


Tom Brannon

Judith Craw

By Tommy Brannon, MFH

On the weekend of Feb 14-16, three of the fox hunting clubs in the mid-south – Longreen Fox Hounds, Cedar Knob Hounds, and Tennessee Valley Hounds – held a joint meet in the Mississippi Delta. All clubs have packs consisting of Penn- Marydel hounds, the foxhound that originated in the area where Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware meet. All three of the participating hunts are based in Tennessee, but the three days of hunting look place at three different Longreen fixtures in Mississippi. 

The Tennessee Valley contingent traveled from east Tennessee with people, hounds and horses, departing in deep snow to traverse the state. Accommodations were provided for them at Mid-South Dressage Academy in Hernando, Mississippi. Cedar Knob Hounds, based in middle Tennessee, did not bring hounds, but quite a number of members traveled with their horses to enjoy three days of sport. In addition to the riders from these three hunts, members of both Chula Homa Hunt in Mississippi and Oak Grove Hunt Club of Tennessee attended. The representative masters were:  Susan Walker, MFH from Longreen; Gretchen Pelham, MFH, Rosemarie Merle-Smith MFH, and Grosvnor  Merle-Smith, MFH, from Tennessee Valley, and Albert Menefee, MFH of Cedar Knob.

Susan Walker, MFH and huntsman for Longreen, cast hounds the first day, Friday February 14, at Birdlands Plantation near Como, Mississippi, owned by Harriet and Jake McFadden. This fixture is a hunting preserve that was purchased and restored by Harriet’s grandfather in 1936. The white columned plantation house has all of the charm of the old south and the preserve consists of several thousand acres of mature hardwood and planted pine forests interspersed with pastures and open fields. The jumps are coops over the barbed wire fences. There is plenty of wildlife! The coyotes did not disappoint that day! Albert Menifee, MFH of Cedar Knob and Ryan Johnsey, Huntsman for Tennessee Valley were able to join Suzan and her pack in a run that circled again and again in pursuit of coyote. There were about 60 riders.

The second day’s fixture was in the Mississippi Delta near Vance, Mississippi. This territory is open, flat delta row crop land with some very wet bottom land, no fencing, but deep and challenging drainage ditches. Most of the roads in the territory are gravel surface with almost no traffic. The deep, wet fields were quite a contrast for the guests from their rocky, mountainous fixtures. The gumbo mud may be great for growing cotton and other crops, but can really slow a horse down and can suck the shoes right off of a hoof! Those who were riding barefoot horses were glad of it. There is plenty of wildlife here, as well. The Tennessee Valley pack, under the horn of huntsman Ryan Johnsey, treed a surprised bobcat within the first hour. The rest of the day was devoted to coyote chasing. The turnout for the formal hunt was as impressive as any Pony Club formal inspection, but there was not one rider that had not been “muddied” by the end of the day. After the five hour hunt, all retired to the Sumner Grill in nearby Sumner, Mississippi for home-town sustenance. 

The Sunday, February 16 fixture was again in the delta near Vance, Mississippi, and again there were about 60 mounted hardy souls. The two packs of Penn-Marydell hounds were combined for a total of 17½ couple (35) hounds, as Ryan and Susan rode together to share the huntsman duties. The Longreen whips asked staff members and Pony Club members to accompany them as outriders. There was a full contingent of riders in both first and second flight field, as well as Grosvner and Gretchen in an electric ATV “road whipping” and photographing.

The packs worked well together, but the deep ditches were the main obstacle challenge for horses and riders trying to keep up with the hounds. Most were up to the task, but some got left behind at the makeshift crossings. After several hours and many draws, a coyote was viewed running across a field by whipper-in Tray Lawson. The problem was that almost all of the riders and hounds were on one side of the ditch and the coyote was on the other! Time being critical, Susan and Ryan decided to cross the ditch immediately to take the hounds to the line. There was standing water in the ditch and no way to know how deep it was, but they soon found out! Susan led the way and quickly submerged to the point that her veteran 24-year-old horse, Dunraven, was swimming! She remained mounted, and she and her horse were able to climb out on the other side. Ryan followed, also submerging in the process. He called back to the field waiting their turn with advice about the deep crossing. The field opted for a better place to cross and found one about a quarter mile downstream: a wooden bridge with a huge sign in front of it “Bridge Out. Road Closed!”  A quick reconnoiter by someone on foot found the bridge passable, and the field crossed. This was followed by one of those long fast gallops to catch up that fox hunters live for – when your horse is running so fast that the wind in your face makes tears in your eyes.

After a long fast run, traversing several better ditch crossings and back across the wooden bridge, the coyote gave the pack the slip and the hounds were called up.  All would agree that it was a great weekend of sport! Only Delta Blues music could surpass the music of the hounds at full cry!

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