As bulbs push up from the soil and the occasional warm breeze of spring blows, my door opens a bit wider. The heat still runs periodically, but it’s finally time to get out to the countryside once more—to a Brandywine Valley still rooted in tradition and agrarian life.
Change, like seasons, is inevitable. The tips of the trees are changing, brushed with red, the color of a huntsman’s jacket. And for the first time in 12 years, there’s a new Huntsman at the Unionville kennels of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds.
Longtime caretaker Ivan Dowling passed his horn to Barry Magner on the last day of the season, March 31. On that day, he made one last walk home with his hounds, bid them goodnight, and the next day, they had a new master. As the countryside reawakens, the progression is fitting.
Just as there is a new master, there are new whelps at the kennel—the last hounds bred by the now-retired huntsman. They need rest, and the young need training—both hounds and riders.
As the season moves ahead, it’s time to determine the fittest and fastest horses for the jockeys, who will guide them over the steeplechase and timber courses. It’s early still, and there are many races ahead, but the 71st running of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds Point-to-Point is already in the books.
On March 27, Susan Oakes flew down the stretch to take the first Mrs. E. Miles Valentine Memorial Sidesaddle Race. This Irish woman is no stranger to victory. In October 2013, she broke the world-record sidesaddle jump, at almost 6 feet, 8 inches. In March, a huge crowd lined the Averell Penn Smith Walker Memorial course as Oakes took Stephanie Boyer and Grey Lake Stables’ Fort Henry around the course in five minutes, 31 seconds.
“It was a lot different from home as we rode at catch weights and the going on a very exposed, undulating course,” said Oakes following her victory. “But it went really well. I didn’t know what to expect—the pace—but I’d have to say this was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
It was a great way to hurdle into the season. And as it moves forward, the sanctioned races loom, including the Maryland Hunt Cup on April 30.
Spring is here … just outside my door.