SubscribeGift a Sub
Enable cache 100
Horse Illustrated

A Different Approach to Fox Hunting

Originally established in 16th century England, formalized mounted fox hunting with hounds was brought to America in 1650. The first organized hunt club in the U.S. was established in 1766.

Photo by Shelley Paulson

Today, the traditional sport continues, but not without controversy. Animal welfare activists feel it is cruel to encourage the hounds to hunt and kill a fox. Others would argue that other means of controlling the fox population (i.e.. traps, poison) are equally or more cruel than a quick kill by a hound.

Because of the controversy surrounding the tradition of live fox hunting, many clubs have shifted to a drag hunt, where hounds and horses follow a scent dragged across the countryside minutes before the start of the “hunt.”

Traditional red coats are still worn by hunt staff members, masters, former masters, whippers-in, and male members who have been invited by masters to wear colors as a mark of appreciation. Photo by Shelley Paulson

The dragsman lays a scent using a bag pulled along the ground in 1- to 3-mile sections across the countryside, with stops for the horses and hounds to catch their breath (called the “check”).

During formal hunt season (from fall through early spring), an important tradition is coat color. Regular members, both male and female, usally wear a three-button black hunt coat that distinguishes them from staff. Photo by Shelley Paulson

One of the benefits of a drag hunt is the predictability of the path the riders will take through fields and forests. Drag hunts are also more efficient, and last just a few hours instead of all day, because the hounds aren’t as likely to lose track of the scent as they would with a live animal.

Also read – Fox Hunting with George Washington

Area landowners give the club permission to use their land for the hunts. Planning a route in advance is another advantage to drag hunting. Photo by Shelley Paulson

Reimagining fox hunting in this way allows club riders to enjoy their timeless equestrian sport; there are currently over 160 registered drag hunt clubs in the U.S.

I had the pleasure of photographing a drag hunt with Minnesota’s Long Lake Hounds at the peak of fall color in 2020. Established in 1959, this club has a rich history of hosting drag hunts and hunter pace events in the summer in fall.

Hunts involve a lot of cross-country galloping. At the beginning of the season, sections between checks are shorter due to the heat and horse conditioning. By fall, clubs can plan sections with more distance between them. Photo by Shelley Paulson

Hunter pace events award the group of horses and riders that cover a route closest to the optimum time, which nobody knows in advance. Hunter paces have a variety of jumps and are meant to mimic the pace and terrain of a fox hunt, which can be another great way to experience the thrill and camaraderie of “hunting” without all of the formalities.

The hunt master calls the pack with the traditional hunting horn. Photo by Shelley Paulson

As many of our horse sports come under increasing scrutiny, it is good to see some rethinking of the traditions to the benefit of our horses as well as other species.

This article about a new approach to fox hunting amid controversy appeared in the October 2021 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Shelley Paulson

Shelley Paulson is an equestrian photographer and filmmaker based in Minnesota. She shares an inspiring look at some of her favorite images and the stories behind them in her new book, Horses, Portraits & Stories, available on Amazon.

Recent Posts

Mongolia Trek on Horseback for Charity

Seventeen intrepid riders from five foreign countries gathered in Ulaanbataar for the ultimate horse riding trek: 3,600 kilometers (just over…

3 hours ago

Latest News from the Paris 2024 Olympic Games

Check out Horse Illustrated's latest updates from the 2024 Paris Olympics on equestrian sport for the three disciplines of dressage,…

20 hours ago

How to Show in Halter Classes

If you’d like to truly "show off” your horse at a horse show, you can’t do much better than to…

1 day ago

Manage Your Horse’s Joint Pain with Pro-Stride APS, a Non-steroidal Treatment for Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Injuries

What can I do for my horse’s joint pain? It’s a question we all ask our veterinarians at some point.…

2 days ago

Treating a Hoof Abscess

One of the most common causes of sudden-onset lameness in a horse is an abscess of the hoof. These occur…

2 days ago

10 Horse Grooming Hacks

Keep your horse’s coat healthy and happy year-round with these 10 horse grooming tips and hacks from two professional grooms.…

5 days ago