“I would travel only by horse, if I had the choice.” — Linda McCartney
Most people know that Camden, South Carolina, loves its horses. Even those who are not so interested in seeing a horse have long attended the Carolina Cup held there each spring. As exciting as a steeplechase can be, it can hardly compare to foxhunting. Now in its 92nd year, The Camden Hunt is starting a junior program for children aged 8 to 12. Even if riders do not have their own horse, they can lease one for the day. It is a ride without the jumps and galloping, allowing aspiring hunters to be outdoors and taste the joy of the hunt. Another bonus is that foxhunting is a sport parents and children can enjoy together.
Janet Butcher is a Camden Hunt Master of the Foxhounds, or MFH. While her qualifications allow her to be at the front of the hunting pack, she enjoys being with the junior hunters. “I’m a former schoolteacher,” says Janet. “I like to lead and teach them.” Foxhunting teaches the young many valuable skills. Adult foxhunting participants must observe rules of etiquette, beginning with appropriate attire.
Here, younger riders have some leeway, taking into consideration those swiftly growing bodies that outgrow expensive jackets and footwear in a flash. Younger hunters wear earth toned jackets, jodhpurs, and paddock boots, rather than the special jackets and field or dress boots adults wear. Safety is always important, so riders must wear protective headgear. Other rules include being very quiet or silent while the hounds are hunting.
In a junior hunt, young riders are learning to ride over rough terrain that they may not have experienced before. “Most young riders have only trained in a ring,” says Janet, “so riding among obstacles like thick woods, mud, streams, rocks, and hills takes getting used to.” Foxhunters refer to this as “trappy” ground. Juniors participate as a hilltopper group, meaning that they observe the hunt from a distance and do not navigate jumps. Janet says observing is a little more difficult in Camden where the woods are thick. “However, the hounds can chase quarry into a swamp or across a field, so the junior hunters are able to see them work there,” she says.
While it is tempting, especially for younger hunters, to interact with the hounds, they must not be distracted because theirs is a serious job: flushing out the fox. In today’s world, a hunt’s objective is to chase a fox, not kill it. Chasing a fox with hounds may sound like a mean idea at first blush; however, the truth is that the fox is much smarter and faster than the hound. The 8,000 acres where The Camden Hunt holds its meets boast healthy populations of red and gray fox, as well as coyote. Once a hound has a scent, the chase is on. When the fox tires of the game, it can lose them all in an instant by dashing through a stream, going to ground, or, in the case of a gray fox, climbing a tree.
After the hunt comes breakfast. The Camden Hunt encourages its young riders to get to know one another during this social time as another way to encourage their future participation. As Sue Sensor, senior Master of The Camden Hunt, says, “The future of foxhunting is with our juniors.” Foxhunting is a tradition dependent on the younger generation to keep it going.
Janet finds The Camden Hunt’s young hunters to be very focused. “They ride so beautifully,” she says. “They are very bold and courageous. It takes a lot to take a horse over trappy ground. I’m very proud of them. They are amazing.” Janet believes foxhunting is a wonderful opportunity to develop bravery and courage. The Junior Hunt Program allows young aspiring riders to learn the time-honored traditions of foxhunting and enjoy a beautiful day of riding with The Camden Hunt.