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Riverine Fox Hunt Weekend


By Tommy Brannon, MFH

On January 20-21, 2018, four hunts combined their packs for two days of foxhunting in the Arkansas delta paralleling the Mississippi River. Longreen Foxhounds, as part of their 60th anniversary, hosted the event at Clear Lake Farm in Blytheville Arkansas, home of Jt. Master Midge Ellison and her husband Mike.  The hunts that formed the combined packs were Longreen Foxhounds (TN), Cedar Knob Hounds (TN), Shawnee Hounds (IL) and Tennessee Valley Hounds (TN). Susan Walker, Jt. Master of Longreen, hunted the pack, assisted by Clare Pinney, Huntsman for Cedar Knob Hounds; Dr. Mike Smith, Jt. Master and Huntsman for Shawnee Hounds; and Rob Caldwell of Cedar Knob opted to outride. The Whippers-in of Longreen each rode with whips from the other packs. There were three fields consisting of 56 riders, which also included members from other hunts in the mid-south.

The terrain consisted of large, open no-till cotton and soybean fields that had been bush hogged after harvest, riparian scrub forest, and wooded CRP land, interspersed with tall dormant grasses. This ground was generally firmer than one might expect in open row crop fields. The soil is a natural mix of sand and silt deposited each spring by the flooding Mississippi River, plus a top layer of chaff left by the no till farming method. This is a great wildlife habitat! Harriett McFadden, the Longreen Field Master explained that their horses never get bogged down in the mud in these fields, but just “skate along the top.” But a deep freeze had gripped the mid-south for over a week before the joint meet, leaving patchy ice and mud. This weekend the mud was deeper than usual due to the slowly melting ice. Field Masters allowed riders to spread out to keep out of other horses’ tracks and be on firmer ground. The footing was quite negotiable, even though horses, tack, and riders got spattered with plenty of delta mud! But it all washed off easily.   

Susan Walker cast hounds at 10:00 a.m. both days, drawing coverts south along the river. Saturday warmed up into the high forties and was overcast until late afternoon.

Because of the recent freeze, quite a number of horses and riders had not hunted in weeks, and some horses, normally calm at a cast, acted like they were broncs in a rodeo rather than on a fox hunt.  The recent freeze also affected the scenting. Covert after covert was drawn with no positive results.

Each hunt brought their best hounds, some having been winners in a recent hound trial (see MSHR article Jan. 2018 issue), but even with these and a pack consisting of 26½ couple hounds, there was not enough scent. This fact was brought home when, about two hours into the hunt, a coyote sitting in an open field was viewed. Some locals in an ATV quite a distance away were shooting at it with no success. Fortunately, a Sheriff’s deputy came along and stopped them from shooting because of all of the people on horseback, as well as their close proximity to the hounds. The coyote got up and ran into cover. Hounds found his scent, getting particularly excited in the spots where he had been sitting, but could not carry the scent it into the covert.

After the hunt, riders and spectators trailered to the Ellison’s house for a scrumptious barbeque hunt breakfast cooked by “Chef” Mike Ellison. 

 If the first day’s hunting lacked the expected action, that evening’s formal Hunt Ball had plenty of it! The foxhunters cleaned up well, donning scarlet tails and evening gowns to dance to the music of the very talented and versatile Soul Shockers from Memphis. In addition to dining and dancing at the Blytheville Country Club, members of Cedar Knob – Beverly Greenup, Peppy Butler, and Melanie Hicks – put on a skit featuring a cardboard boat floating on The Mississippi River, with Joanna Caldwell bedecked in a tight gold dress and a wig, dancing as Tina Turner to the music of Proud Mary.

Both Peppy and Melanie grew up riding with Longreen as teenagers and now hunt with Cedar Knob. Joanna’s gold dress was auctioned off and was purchased for several hundred dollars, the money going to feed hounds. There was also a whip cracking contest – to the demise of the ballroom chandelier which suffered several broken bulbs. The winner of this contest was Charlie Caldwell, who won a Yeti cooler. The dancing on the crowded dance floor got a little wild as the night wore on and included body surfing.

The second day’s scenting was not even as good as the first day’s. The temperature rose throughout the day into the sixties and there was a steady wind from the south. A few patches of ice were still on the ground on the north side of tree lines and the ground was muddy, although still firm enough to ride on.

The pack consisted of mostly Penn-Marydel hounds with a few American hounds snuck in. Who says fox hunters are not inclusive?  Plenty of deer kept popping out of the woods, but hounds were kept in check by Susan and the combined staff. One coyote was viewed, but the hounds could not carry the scent. After about four hours in the saddle, Susan called up hounds and everyone gathered at the Elliston’s house, again, for the hunt breakfast.  In spite of poor scenting, everyone had a fun time and Longreen Foxhounds are looking forward to another 60 years of foxhunting fun.

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