This fall, George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Alexandria will echo with the calls of fox hunting horns, the thunder of horses’ hooves and the baying of hounds, just like when Washington himself lived on the estate overlooking the Potomac River.
Fox hunting is a traditional equestrian, or horse-riding, sport that involves galloping cross-country in pursuit of a fox (which usually outsmarts the people and hounds giving chase). It was one of Washington’s favorite pastimes. He fox hunted aboard a spirited iron-colored horse named Blueskin.
“George Washington was considered one of the greatest horsemen of his age,” says Rebecca Aloisi, a spokeswoman for Mount Vernon. To commemorate the first president’s love of the sport, on Saturday the estate will host horses and riders in a pretend hunt on the 12-acre field in front of the mansion.
Bob Ferrer, master of the Caroline Hunt in Milford, Virginia, will lead the demonstration.
Visitors will get a chance to meet the horses (including Ferrer’s horse, Glory) and hounds. They’ll have a chance to learn about the sport, such as the dress. Riders wear stock ties — long white pieces of material that tie at the neck and can also serve as a sling or a bandage for horse or human — and heavy boots to protect their legs from brambles and thorns. Visitors will also hear about such fox hunting accessories as whips, horns, flasks and the leather cases women attach to their saddles to carry sandwiches.
“You can see paintings of fox hunting at Mount Vernon,” Ferrer says, “but it’s great to introduce the horses and hounds to people and share in the passion that we share with George Washington. You never know where the hounds will take you.”
In the sport of fox hunting, the dogs — which are a breed called American foxhound — are referred to only as “hounds.” These wiry, short-haired canines are the eyes and ears of the hunt. Washington was one of the first breeders of this type of dog, which is the state dog of Virginia.
“If you read Washington’s diaries, he wrote funny stories like when a hound went into the kitchen and stole the ham that was for dinner that night,” Ferrer said.
The first president had a special fondness for his dogs, giving them affectionate names such as Madame Moose, Doxey, Truelove, Sweetlips and Mopsey. (A hound named Vulcan stole that ham.)
On Saturday, watch for an all-white hound named Genie and her sister Gadget, a black, brown and white (or tri-color) hound.
“The foxhound is one of the most lovable creatures there is,” Ferrer said. “They will curl up on your lap and lick you to death.”
For more information about the sport of fox hunting, visit www.mfha.com. (Always ask a parent before going online.)
What: Horses & Hounds demonstration of fox hunting.
Where: George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 3200 Mount Vernon Highway, Mount Vernon, Virginia.
When: Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
How much: Included with admission to the estate. $17; ages 6 to 11, $9; age 5 and younger free.
For more information: A parent can call 703-780-2000 or visit www.mountvernon.org.
Jazynka is a freelance writer and frequent KidsPost contributor.