There is sometimes to be found a surprising level of antipathy among those with an interest in hounds, towards the influence and usefulness of Hound Shows. My own belief is that they have a value, as long as they are seen as a complementary tool for the hound breeder’s use. If the primary requirement is working ability in the field, then Hound Show competition offers a yardstick for assessing the bodily conformation that supports it. It provides some of the best examples on which breeders can base that aspect of their efforts, as a vital part of the mix that makes high class working ability possible.
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Interest in hounds is broader within the Hunting community than many might suppose. In particular, close attention is paid to the performance of hounds in the field by those who appear on a hunting day on their feet and using a variety of transport other than the horse. They provide a pool of expert knowledge and experience that might surprise many of the mounted Field as they say a cheery ‘Good morning’ to the dismounted supporters at the roadside. But there is too, a sobering residue of suspicion among the ‘footies’ about what one sometimes hears referred to as “…them useless show hounds…”
It might therefore be worth considering the place of showing and how it can be of interest and importance in helping to maintain and improve the standard of hounds of all types and breeds that appear in the Hunting field today. For the purposes of our consideration now though, I wish to examine only the foxhound.
The working foxhound is required to act as the repository of certain unseen characteristics that play a key role in his effectiveness as a hunting animal. He hunts principally by scent and so his ability to hunt with his prey in view may only be of importance in the final moments of a hunt, generally for a comparatively short time, when he has it in view and is able to course his quarry. So unlike the sight hounds, such as the greyhounds, lurchers and others of that ilk, the majority of his work is done through the medium of his nose. In the words of the old adage;
“Above all else, full well he knows
to catch his fox, he must have nose”
Then drive, which is that determination to press on and get as near to the fox as possible to bring a hunt to a conclusion, often displaying extra speed at the end so as to close with his quarry. His intelligence can also play a key role in bringing a hunt to a successful end. ‘Fox sense’ is one phrase used to describe the uncanny ability some hounds have to know where a fox may be found and what he might do when he is being hunted. Such hounds are a huntsman’s best friend. Then stamina and speed, with the power of acceleration allied to the latter, are key factors in his performance. Because he is not a free agent, ‘biddability‘ is also an important trait. In the lowland countries particularly, where we see intensive agriculture, competing shooting interests, urbanisation and major road and rail links it is crucial to be able to stop hounds and lift them so they might continue their work elsewhere. If they allow this willingly and do not sulk, it makes for easy transition from a point of danger or potential embarrassment to somewhere more appropriate and is a simpler task for the Hunt staff to execute. Then of course we have the important contribution made by ‘tongue‘ or the ‘cry‘ of the hounds; those electric voices that inspirit the hearers, canine and human, and let all know where they are hunting and what stage the hunt may have reached.
There are other special abilities that play an important part in the teamwork displayed by a hunting pack, where not all individual abilities will necessarily have reached the same level of perfection; indeed might well be absent save for those found in comparatively few of the hounds present on the day. There are the ‘fox finders‘, perhaps relatively few. The ‘road hunters‘ that can carry the line of the hunted fox up a tarmac road where no other can operate. Lord Henry Bentinck had in his pack in the 19th century a doghound called REGULUS; his reputation in this particular capacity sparked the saying “REGULUS for roads”. The ‘low scenting hounds‘ that can hunt in the driest conditions where the traces of the fox can sometimes be minimal. All of these specialists are welcome at the right time and can be ‘game-changers’ at the critical moment.
Whatever the innate and unseen abilities of the individual hound, he is required to work within a pack and it is important that his instinct for teamwork can be brought to bear at the critical point of a hunt at a time when he can make his contribution felt. This becomes a great deal easier if the conformation of the hounds is correct and displays a commonality that allows the pack to ‘run up together’. This then allows the ‘invisibles’ to be delivered en masse and to greatest effect to where and when their contribution is needed.
The construction of the foxhound’s anatomy includes particular ‘speed’ and ‘stamina’ points. In seeking symmetry and balance, the breeder will pay attention to all aspects of conformation and try constantly to improve those aspects where deficiencies lie.
From the ground up, the importance of hard-wearing feet with all pads standing in contact with the ground will help soundness and thus longevity. Good flat bone, but not overdone, in the limbs. Elbows neither turned in nor out, with a long upper arm set in high up in the shoulder. A sloping shoulder that gives good length of stride and a well-set-on neck that gives good balance. When looked at from the front, the shoulders should be flat and with an absence of ‘chestiness’ to allow the free forward swing of the forelegs. The body when looked at from above should describe a triangle with the apex at the base of the neck; and the ribs ‘well-sprung’ and not flat-sided as they are carried back towards the loin. Looking sideways on, there should be enough depth through the girth to accommodate the heart, lungs and other vital organs. The back and loins should be strong and deep, to afford the stamina a hound needs for a long day’s hunting. The hind leg should see good length from hip to-hock, thus providing an effective lever that will propel the hound forward and with the point of the hock close enough to the ground to accentuate that leverage.
The hound with ideal conformation will display balance and this desired characteristic is usually present when the eye is drawn to a point a few inches behind the shoulder and half-way up the rib cage.
Although it is still important to breed the type of hounds most suitable for the country in which they are to hunt, it is widely accepted that the type which finds widest acceptance is that described as the Modern English Foxhound. A comparatively small number of packs still breed the Old English type of hound, which they prefer for traditional reaons and to suit the conditions that prevail in their country. And of course it is important not to neglect the contributions made by the Hill, Fell and Welsh hounds that are also well suited to their native environments. Even so, The Modern English type has gained the greatest support for its ability to cope with a wide range of conditions throughout the land.
The need to have access to high-quality working blood, which Masters constantly and generously make available, is satisfied on a continuing basis. Hound Shows allow the Hunting world the ability to see examples of some of the best hounds available, in competition with each other. We can, as a result, see representatives of the type of hounds that have been assessed by their own Masters as being of sufficient quality for public display and generally those hounds are in due course bred from if their work is up to the standard required.
The subsequent encouragement to those who have an interest and the responsibility to breed their own hounds, often sees them exhibiting those of their own breeding. Thus the standards of conformation as well as work are maintained and improved. If these efforts can be backed up by continuity of breeding policies, followed by long-term appointments as Master or Hound Trustee, the old adage the “it takes 10 years to bred a pack” can be fulfilled.
There are included with this article photographs of a selection of some of the well-known stallion hound that have made a significant contribution to the breeding of the Modern English Foxhound in recent times. The make, shape working ability and breeding record that they have registered shows the way in which dedicated breeders have worked hard to continue to produce worthy successors to the great names of old. The list is by no means comprehensive but includes those hounds whose bloodlines have been incorporated by the author as part of certain breeding programmes. They are grouped under their I lines
Sire Line – Brocklesby RALLYWOOD 1843
Exmoor FRIAR ’81 – HACKLER ’78 ex FASHION ’79
Exmoor FREESTONE ’81 – HACKLER ’78 ex FASHION ’79
Berkeley FRESHMAN ’84 – Exmoor FREESTONE ’81 ex DELTA ’79 (no photograph available)
Beaufort MOSTYN ’92 – BARITONE ’89 ex MODEL ’87 (no photograph available)
Heythrop SANDFORD ’97 – Exmoor WHINCHAT ’93 ex SAMPLE ’94
Sire Line – Glog NIMROD 1904
Meynell &South Staffordshire GROWLER ’74 – BARRISTER ’68 ex GREETING ’69
Heythrop GLAZIER ’90 – Cotswold GLENCOYNE ’84 ex PADDOCK ’87
Heythrop BUSBY ’96 – Berkeley GROSSMITH ’91 ex BUNTING ’93