Story by Erin Bozdan | Photos by Joanne Maisano

Fox hunting is a sport that is not only exhilarating and fulfilling, but also contagious especially for young children.

If you were a junior foxhunter, you may recall the excitement felt the first time you heard the hounds open on a line, how your pony started to dance and how you knew something great was about to happen. Things like getting scolded for running past the adult members or not wearing a hair net, make for fond memories later. For some young local riders, the hunt may become a lifelong passion or perhaps even a career.

Olivia Johnson with Mickey about to compete in the Junior Field Hunter Championship.

Olivia Johnson with Mickey about to compete in the Junior Field Hunter Championship.

Juniors are important to the longevity of the sport because these youth riding in the hunt field are the future members, masters, staff and supporters of the hunt. They are essentially the life line of the sport who along with land preservationists, land owners, and hound and kennel management keep the  tradition alive.

For some children who grew up in a foxhunting family, it is like learning to tie your shoe. It’s just something you do.  Alex and State Senator Jill Vogel’s two youngest children, Olivia and Thomas, have been riding since they were 2-years-old. The pair recently started their first season with the Piedmont foxhounds where their mother is a member. After watching their older siblings return from the hunts with exciting stories, it was only natural the youngest Vogels would continue in the family tradition. Brought up under the tutelage of Nancy Dillion, legendary foxhunter and trainer in Virginia, going out hunting was high on the list of activities and skills the children would partake in.

Olivia and Tas (Thomas)Vogel.

Olivia and Tas (Thomas)Vogel.

“If you’re at Nancy’s barn you can’t avoid being socialized to this whole notion that the end prize to all your hard work, is that you get to go hunting. You get out there and you’re out of the ring, going really fast, seeing the hounds, the fox and the countryside and you think, wow this is what all that work was for,” said Vogel.

For Vogel, just one of the many benefits of her children being involved in the sport is the exposure to the world outside of the riding arena. “To have young people appreciate the land and actually understand the value of it is so important,” the senator said.

For 6-year-old Olivia and 9-year-old Thomas (or Tas as he is known to his friends and family), their favorite aspect of foxhunting is “being around the hounds and going fast!”

Olivia’s hunt pony Firestorm has “a great canter and loves to go fast!” Her brother rides his horse Coffee and says “Coffee does whatever you ask him. He’s chill and doesn’t freak out”.

Ten-year-old Hayley Rees is another outstanding local junior. She is featured on this month’s cover. She has been hunting for four years now both with The Blue Ridge Hunt and Loudoun Fairfax Hunt. Her grandmother, Donna Poe, who is an avid foxhunter, started taking her out hunting when she was 6.

Georgiana Runyan, age 7, first time hunting.

Georgiana Runyan, age 7, first time hunting.

Now, Hayley rides first flight on her pony Glock, an 8-year-old Dales pony, jumping the same big fences the adults do. She says her favorite thing about hunting is that “you get to be free on your horse” and the jumping is fun too! Glock clears fences with room to spare and with Hayley grinning ear to ear! They are a fantastic pair and a perfect example of what a junior foxhunter embodies.

Her advice to a younger junior just starting out in the hunt field is great advice not just for juniors but for adults, too! “Just stick with someone you know and ride in the field you are comfortable with.”

Having a buddy and a solid mount are both very important to a youngster starting to dip their boots into hunting, not only for safety but for guidance.

Today, many hunts have junior days, junior handler hound shows, mock hunts, and clinics geared toward encouraging juniors to participate. Learning proper etiquette, turn out, being supportive in ways like volunteering to get gates for the field and staff and being educated on what is actually happening on a day’s hunting, are all key. According to the Junior North American Field Hunter Championships (JNAFHC) website, it was founded in 2003 to help teach children the importance of land conservation, particularly for the sport of foxhunting, to let like-minded foxhunters meet each other and make it interesting by adding a little competitive flair.

Children from all over the country come to ride in different hunts during the week where they are judged on their turn out, manner and suitability of their horse or pony. This vehicle brings juniors together to see all types of hounds, gain new experiences and meet new friends. All of which will hopefully lead to a future commitment and love for the sport.

 

This article first appeared in the November 2018 issue of Middleburg Life.