Saturday, August 18th, 2018

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Chagrin Valley Hunt gallops valiantly into next century

Thanksgiving Day Hunt in Hunting Valley, 2007.

Chagrin Valley Hunt gallops valiantly into next century


Three days a week, mid-summer to early winter, before sunrise, lights flick on in barns throughout the Valley and outlying areas. Trucks are packed with tweed jackets and riding boots polished to a high shine. Excited horses are groomed and saddled, and eager hounds push their noses through the kennel fence. Finally, everyone and everything is loaded into trucks and trailers for another morning of riding to hounds.
What makes this rural scenario remarkable is that 2008 marks the Centennial Season of continuous foxhunting for the Chagrin Valley Hunt. For 100 years, the Hunt has connected those who love the time-honored sport with our lovely Ohio countryside and the spirit of clever hounds and horses.
The initial meet of the Chagrin Valley Hunt was held in Kirtland on November 7, 1908 when 35 riders followed Mr. Windsor T. White, the first CVH Master of Foxhounds (MFH), and his pack of English hounds. The sport proved so popular that within a year a group of prominent businessmen purchased the Maple Leaf Inn, an old stagecoach stop in Gates Mills, and dubbed it the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club. Then in 1911, the hunt hired its first professional huntsman, Percy Edward Cotesworth.
Soon the hunt territory stretched across the eastside of Cleveland, from Coventry Rd. to Rt. 306, and from Kirtland to Chagrin Falls. And shortly instead of riding, the hunters took to “wheels” to get them to the meet on time.
In 1927, a grand tradition was born in America when Mrs. Walter C. White learned of the 8th century legend of St. Hubert of Leige. The story tells of Hubert, a passionate foxhunter who, when hunting with hounds, came upon a stag and envisioned a crucifix in his horns. He renounced the vanities of the world and became the patron saint of “the chase and dogs.” By the late 1800s in France, hounds, huntsmen and spectators would gather in churchyards to be blessed. Mrs. White brought this lovely ceremony home to the Chagrin Valley — thought to be the first Blessing in this country – and is now a regular event for many hunts. Usually the last Saturday in September, The Blessing of the Hunt marks the opening of Formal Season.
In 1967, with generosity of the local landowners, the hunt moved from its traditional territory to Middlefield, Burton, Hartsgrove and, of late, Zoar, Ohio. Day-to-day activities of the Chagrin Valley Hunt are handled by Joint Masters of Foxhounds Dick Desberg, Judy McConnell and Howard Meyer. However, it is the professional huntsman Phillip Headdon who is creating a very merry chase this year, with hounds working beautifully through the cropland and woods.
Acting as additional eyes and ears for the huntsman are whippers-in who help with the hounds. Seasoned whippers-in are Will Fraser, Cary Meyer, John Redmond and Masters Judy McConnell and Howard Meyer. The Field, led by Fieldmaster Dick Desberg, is composed of riders of many levels: those who jump (First Flight) and those who choose to circumvent the jumps (Hilltoppers.)
The hounds of the Chagrin Valley Hunt are a pack of English Foxhounds with pedigrees that trace back to the early 1700s. These friendly hounds are counted by the couple, yet each is an individual with a name and personality all his/her own. Hounds quickly learn to heed the huntsman. When a hunt begins, the huntsman will cheer his hounds on using both voice and horn, with a specific meaning to each call. Once on scent, the urging sounds change to the exciting call of “Gone Away!” And when the fox has had his fun, he will slip into his den. Then the huntsman blows “Gone To Ground” and calls his hounds to seek another chase!
The Chagrin Valley Hunt is a warm and welcoming group who consider themselves to be environmentalists and stewards of the land. They are outdoor enthusiasts who love the camaraderie of horses and are thrilled to follow a fine pack of hounds into the countryside… and now into the next century.
For more information about the Chagrin Valley Hunt, please contact the Hunt Office at 440.423.4414.

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