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October brings forth fall, foliage, and fox hunting. The first weekend of the month is the beginning of the formal season with its blessing of the hounds, hunt breakfasts, and equestrian fashion pageantry that splashes the color of autumnal leaves with scarlet, black, and brown flashes as horses, hounds, and hungry riders gallop along.
The New York Times had a lovely article two weekends ago about the Golden’s Bridge Hounds and its pack of Penn-Marydel hounds. I had the pleasure of hunting with them as a guest a few times in the last decade and thoroughly enjoyed watching the hounds work. I also recall as a teenager hunting with the Fairfield County Hounds in Newtown with their pack that included Penn-Marydels. But as hunts have moved to different locations over the decades due to loss of land caused by development and the loss of the fox population and the introduction of the coyote in these new countries, the role of the hound and its tracking abilities remains constant, its role has also changed.
According to a Chronicle of the Horse magazine article in 2005, “The consensus among huntsmen with exclusively Penn-Marydel foxhound packs is that they’re unbeatable for their nose, voice, and ease of hunting.” Not only that, but because they are so agreeable to hunt, as one huntsman said, “They sort of hunt themselves and don’t require a lot of additional work.”
Their physical appearance and conformation has changed over the years to adapt to more or less rugged terrain and longer and more robust runs that coyotes give than the wily fox who will start and stop, run in circles, and try to “outfox” a pack of hounds as he heads to his covert. And depending where you are fox hunting across the country, the pack may be comprised of larger or smaller hounds with shorter or longer legs to get where they need to go either tightly bunched or perhaps well spread out as they hunt.
A Historic Hound
In the world of hunting hounds, you have your English hounds and your American hounds and then you can also have your crossbred hounds. But all hounds in America originated from Southern hunting hounds brought from England in the 1650s to the new world. Even George Washington was an avid fox hunter and bred his own packs with detailed breeding and pedigree records.
At some point, hounds that were bred in Pennsylvania and on the Eastern shores of Maryland and Delaware were singled out for their fine performance in the kennel and in the field. By the 1930s, the sportsman started to organize these hounds into a specific breed of American hound called the Penn-MaryDel, a combination of the three states’ names from which they hailed. In 1934, the Penn-Marydel Association was formed to preserve the bloodlines of this foxhound and keep a stud book.
Today, the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) is the keeper of the stud books of hunting hounds registered with MFHA-approved hunts across America. The studbook has been published since 1973 and the Penn-Marydels were included, but only listed as American hounds, not as a distinct breed. In the world of fox hunting hounds, many times hounds are crossbred with other types of hounds, such as an English to an American or Penn-Marydel to an English, and many times just for one generation, to help improve the breeding stock of hounds for specific purposes. For example, if a hunt has moved to a new country, a term used for where they conduct their fox hunts that has more open fields and more coyote, they may want to breed toward hounds with longer legs and larger lung capacity to run for longer hours than what the old country demanded of them in dense woods or travailing babbling brooks.
In the early 2000s, hound breeders worked with the MFHA to determine what rules were needed to consider a purebred Penn-Marydel to be registered with the organization. At the time all Penn-Marydels were considered American hounds if bred to an American hound and if a Penn-Marydel was bred to a crossbred hound, the offspring were considered to be crossbred hounds.
The original Penn-Marydel Stud Book goes back to 1933, and to be a “registered” Penn-Marydel, a hound needs to trace back five generations of registered breeding in that studbook. In other words, to be considered a registered Penn-Marydel, the hound must have five clean generations of Penn-Marydel breeding without an outcross. Starting in 2009, the MFHA began to register Penn-Marydels as a separate breed under its own name rather than just list them as American Hounds.
Penn-Marydel hounds come in the traditional hound tri-colors of brown, black, and white, and some come with ‘ticking’ or little flecks of darker color sprinkled through the white hairs. But some hunters like a strain of just black and tan Penn-Marydels most famously hunting with the Andrew Bridge hounds.
According to the Chronicle article in 2005, “The Andrews Bridge hounds are most recognizable for their distinctive color — black and tan. The color harks back to the pack’s origins. The Andrews Bridge hounds were started by Sam Riddle, who was more known for owning the famed race horse Man o’ War. He began the pack at his Glen Riddle Farm in Ocean City, Md., on the Eastern Shore, at the end of the 19th Century. When Riddle died in 1951, his pack went to his nephew, Walter Jeffords Sr. He wanted to distinguish the pack from other packs, so he decided to breed black-and-tans. Crompton, MFH since 1968, kept the color.”
Today’s fox hunts should be more aptly named quarry chasing, since the animals are not hunted to kill anymore and many hunts prefer to chase coyote, known for its long straight runs of many hours, which can be a wildly good day of riding.