By Heidi Baumstark
Photos courtesy of Masters of
Foxhunting thrives on interwoven relationships—healthy, vibrant connections between hunters, horses, foxhounds, landowners and the public.
Formed in 1907, the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) does just that, helping foxhunters stay connected. As the governing body of organized foxhunting in the United States and Canada, their focus is on promoting and preserving the sport of mounted hunting with hounds and maintaining proper standards of conduct. One of their goals is to grow foxhunting. Currently, there are 151 active MFHA member hunts in 37 states (26 of those are in Virginia) and three Canadian provinces. MFHA has approximately 6,000 subscribing members.
In April, David Twiggs became the principal leader of MFHA as executive director. He also serves as the organization’s Keeper of the Stud Book, which tracks breeding pedigrees of North American foxhounds. Hounds are bred to be “biddable” (obedient/compliant) and to hunt together with other hounds. After a successful career preserving outdoor sports, Twiggs—an AICP (American Institute of Certified Planners) land-use planner—has redeveloped large-scale rural resorts into sporting destinations.
“I’ve always been interested in rural land-use policy,” he says. “After the economic downfall in 2007, I began to ask, ‘How can we add value to the open space? How can we preserve it?’”
One way is foxhunting, which requires a vast amount of land. “Lots of urban people foxhunt. It’s their dose of the countryside,” Twiggs says.
So much about foxhunting is about relationships between the participants and the working animals: the pack of hounds and the horses. Sometimes there are only six or seven hunters in the field; other times, on special occasions, the number can peak to more than 100. The hounds work together to sniff out the fox, and the huntsmen follow the hounds. It’s an orchestration that flows.
Twiggs spent much of his early years on his grandparents’ cattle farm in western North Carolina. He has a background in bird dog sports involving a type of hunting dog used to point and retrieve game birds. “Back then, I wasn’t into mounted hunting,” he says. “Now, foxhunting is my primary sport.”
That exposure to the sporting life in North Carolina laid the path for his love of all field sports and bred an appreciation for farmers and the land.
Twiggs is now on a mission to inspire and educate others about the value of foxhunting. One way to accomplish this will be through MFHA’s headquarters coming to Middleburg. Soon, they will roll out the welcome mat in a 200-year-old stone building known as the Chancellor or Allen House named after Lorman Chancellor, the town’s Civil War-era mayor; it has also been occupied by family members of the current mayor, Betsey Allen Davis, and is located on the east side of town on Route 50. After renovations in 2018, Twiggs and his staff will move from their current Millwood office.
“This historic house has its own pedigree,” Twiggs says. “We’re extremely pleased to move in the middle of Virginia’s equine community.” The office will include conference rooms, space for educational programs and the MFHA Foundation, which was formed in 2000 and works with MFHA and other organizations that promote land conservation and research on training hounds and horses. A museum will showcase foxhunting artifacts and historical memorabilia. George Washington foxhunted in the Virginia Piedmont during his surveying days, as did Lord Fairfax. The sport has been active in the Commonwealth since the late 17th century and was used for military training.
“The museum will be a platform to educate legislatures and visitors to learn about the rural point of view,” says Twiggs. “One of our goals is to educate new property owners on how to create and conserve habitat.”
Foxhunting fuels a nature of neighborliness and also boosts the local economy. “It’s a very social sport,” Twiggs says, “so retail businesses, tourism, hotel, and food industries all benefit.”
And, it’s family-oriented. Twiggs, his wife, Ashley, and their two teenage daughters, Salem and CeCe, are avid foxhunters. Ashley adds, “Our girls have hunted with people of all ages. Since they were young, they’ve learned everyone plays a role. It’s a lifetime family sport, and I’m thankful to raise our girls as part of something so meaningful.”
Salem, 16, says, “I love foxhunting. But in my opinion, the most important aspect is the connections and relationships. I’ve made the most lifelong friends, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.”
CeCe, 13, says, “I love spending time riding with other people in my flight and watching all the different things in nature and hearing the hounds work.”
Twiggs says, “To grow foxhunting, we need to champion that rural point of view so it can continue for generations.”
For foxhunters, connections and relationships rule. ML
To learn more about MFHA and MFHA Foundation, visit www.mfha.com. Contact information is 540-955-5680 and firstname.lastname@example.org. MFHA membership is open to anyone who cares about the future of country lifestyles. Subscribing members receive a quarterly magazine, Covertside; issues can be found