Friday, May 25, 2007

Casanova: Hunting on a Budget -- And It Shows

I know the Brits think we don't have fox hunting, but we do and quite a lot around here. I'm off to the Casanova this morning -- a short history of this broken down place is appended below.

The hounds are the rankest smelling beasts I've ever seen, and they feed them old horses that are butchered up in the woods, where a wicca's dream of old skulls can be found.

This is not a hunt that believes in wasting any money! In fact, they pride themselves on doing everything as cheaply as possible as this article, entitled "Hunting on a Budget" notes:

Fox-Hunting is regarded as a rich man's sport. It need not be. The broad valleys and rolling grasslands of the Piedmont section of Virginia are, perhaps, the finest fox-hunting country in America. There the great hunts of Warrenton, Middleburg, Orange County and Piedmont, famous all over the world, pursue the fox with all pomp and circumstance. Their budgets run as high as $30,000 a year and the subscription fee ranges from $300 up.

But right in the heart of this territory, with a country that borders on that of Warrenton, the little Casanova Hunt furnishes sport as keen as any with a total expenditure of less than $1000 a year. It is an inspiration and an example to all those who would like to pursue this great sport, but who feel that their purses and the resources of their communities are not equal to the strain of supporting it.

How can it be done on such a tiny budget? It is the purpose of this article is to answer that question. Miss Dorothy V. Montgomery, the Master and Miss Charlotte St. George Nourse, the Secretary, of the Casanova Hunt, have kindly placed at the author's disposal their records and accounts. All the facts and figures will be cited in the hope that other communities may profit by the example of Casanova.

First, let us glance at the history of the Hunt. It was organized in 1909 at Creedmore, the home of E. Nelson Fell, and recognized in 1910. Harry L. Edmonds, who still hunts with it, was the first Master. The Hunt occupies an area of farming country in Fauquier County, east of Warrenton. Its territory extends for fifteen miles north and south and a little less east and west. Unlike the countries of the neighboring hunts, there are no great estates in this region. The landowners are mostly real farmers, who derive their livelihood from the soil. A few of the subscribers have somewhat larger means, but there are no rich "angels."

The Casanova Hounds hunted from 1909 until 1925, when the Hunt fell on evil days. For two years it suspended and Warrenton hunted the country. Then it was re-organized with Miss Charlotte Nourse as Master. For eight years more it was continued, Miss Nourse being succeeded first by Harry Lee Smith, James Hibbard and William Sprague as joint Masters, then by J. Chauncey Williams. In 1935 it was again discontinued and Warrenton once more took over.

But the sporting people of Casanova were unhappy without a hunt of their own. A group of landowners came together to take counsel as to how the Hunt might be revived. They realized that the reason for its previous abandonments had been that the establishment had been too elaborate for the means of the community. They had learned their lesson. This time they would go at it as simply as possible. No frills and all for sport.

The Hunt subscription was fixed at $25, and the capping fee at $5, so that everyone who had a horse could hunt. The Huntsman Oscar Beach, of whom more later will be discussed, volunteered to serve without pay and to mount himself and his son Thomas, who acted as whip. All the staff were, of course, honorary. Hounds were lent by Beach and Miss Nourse.

On this basis the Hunt was reorganized. A board of Governors, all landowners, was elected, and an Executive Committee consisting of the Master, Secretary, Huntsman, the Chairman of the Board and one other Governor was entrusted with the active management. Miss Montgomery was made Master, and in the Fall of 1937 the Casanova Hunt embarked on its courageous experiment. This is how it worked out. The record speaks for itself.

... Since 1937 the Casanova Hunt has progressed slowly but surely. The expenses have been held down - the second year they were two dollars less than the first - but the fields have grown larger. The high level of sport has been maintained. During the past year there was only one blank day. Throughout the whole three years the Hunt has never failed to meet its expenses; it had never contracted a debt or failed to pay in advance for the keep of hounds.

Such a record presupposes some remarkable personalities in charge of the Hunt. There are. The Master is a tall, young woman, who rides like Diana, and shoulders the heavy burden of keeping the field in touch with hounds, with ease and grace. No one could be lovelier and more charming, but she maintains the discipline of the hunting field with a firm hand.

Miss Charlotte Nourse, the Secretary, deserves a monograph all to herself. She lives with her sister, Miss Constance Nourse, on an old farm in the very core of the country. The ancient, weather beaten house and the big barns blend into the landscape. Thoroughbreds wander unhaltered about the yard. As you cross to the house, the twin War Whoop fillies, which are their owner's pride and joy, thrust their beautiful heads to see what is going on. They are identical twins, of the same flashing chestnut as their granddaddy, Man o' War, and each has a white blaze in her face.

Miss Nourse comes to greet you surrounded by a tumultuous pack of puppies, which next year will hunt with Casanova. Her hair is white and her eyes a steadfast blue. Her chiseled features have the beauty of Greek sculpture and her manner has the gentle absence of pretense that is the hallmark of the true ari

Miss Nourse comes by her love of foxhunting naturally for her great-grandfather, Samuel Morris, founded the first hunt of which there are definite records in America. It was started in 1766 and was called the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club. It is now known as the Rose Tree Hunt, outside of Philadelphia.

In all its history the Casanova Hunt has only had two hunstmen. Oscar Beach now holds that office and everyone agrees that he is the driving force that makes it go. Ruddy and stout with sandy hair, he looks like John Peel himself; and his way with hounds and a fox is uncanny, He seems to be able to sense every move a fox will make. So great is his love of the sport that sometimes on by-days he will slip out with the hounds accompanied only by his sons, Thomas , who is his official whip, and Charles, who, though only fourteen, has inherited his father's sixth sense. Miss Montgomery says that when Charles is with her in the field, she has never a worry of losing hounds.

Oscar Beach's methods are unorthodox. His hounds are vari-colored and of any strain "that will run." He allows them to hunt themselves. They are never forced to pack while hunting. "The American hound," says Beach, "is ruined by whipping in. Once his tail goes down he is of no use. English hounds are different, they will stand for it. But the American should be allowed to hunt for himself." Beach will often take his hounds out at dawn on a by-day and allow them to hunt a cold trail for practice. He doesn't believe in lifting them and making a cast if there is a check, but prefers to let them work out their own salvation. There seems to be what might almost be called a friendship based on mutual understanding and trust. As he rides to covert, he does not make his pack follow closely at his horse's heels, but allows them to roam through the woods, hunting on their own hook. For he knows that, unless they find a fox on the way, the first faint note of his horn will bring them right back to him.

Beach is not a man of independent means. Throughout the summer, he works from dawn until dusk on his farm. In winter he adds to his income by selling the hunters he and his sons raised and made. But he will accept no recompense for his services to the Hunt.

"I've been offered many a good salary to be huntsman for other packs," he said. "But I turned them down. If a man loves hunting he doesn't want to be paid for it."

Because of Beach's system of getting hounds that will hunt and then letting them get on with their work with no unnecessary interference, there are no pretty pictures of hounds closely packed going to covert, though once they are running they might often be covered by the traditional blanket. However, leading figures of the rival hunts will confidentially admit that Casanova had the fastest and most efficient pack in the state. It is worthy of note that every official of the Hunt and most of the field are mounted on Thoroughbreds. They have to be able to keep up with those running hounds.

In addition to its officials, Casanova numbers many sporting characters among its subscribers. J. Chauncey Williams, formerly Master, is one of its most ardent supporters. So is William Gulick, who with his young sister and brother is always out. North Fletcher and Alex Calvert, who live in Warrenton, prefer to hunt with Casanova, and the grand old man of foxhunting, Harry Worchester Smith, often vans over from Middleburg to enjoy a keen day's sport.

The fame of the little hunt is beginning to spread and several newcomers have recently bought places in the Casanova country. That very sporting couple, the E. Gardner Primes, acquired a lovely but rundown old estate for the proverbial song and, by the judicious expenditure of a few thousand dollars, have made it one of the loveliest in Fauquier County. Another recent purchaser of land is Miss Mary Maxwell, who rides hard and well.

So well stocked with foxes is the Casanova country that the Hunt hopes never to adopt the practice of importing foxes and turning them loose. In fact, Miss Nourse is violently opposed to such a policy.

"Its too hard on the farmers," she says. "Too many foxes kill too many chickens. Sport is a fine thing, but it must not interfere with a man's livelihood. Foxes are protected in Fauquier County, but if we take advantage of that fact, there will be protests, protection will be taken away and the next step is a bounty. Then good-bye to the sport."

With all of its natural advantages, its fields of grass tilting toward the sky, its patches of woodland covert, its Thoroughbreds and its running hounds, its picturesque personalities, the thing which makes Casanova so fine is its spirit. Everyone connected with it loves good hunting and, stripped of pomp and ceremony, that is what they get. The unselfish cooperation of the whole community is the fundamental basis of the success of this experiment in hunting on a small budget. In these times, when many a fine tradition is falling by the wayside, it is heartening to see a group of men and women successfully fighting to preserve one of the greatest amenities of country life.


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