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The Development of the Foxhound

The breeding of good foxhounds considerably improves the delights of the chase for Master, huntsman and those in the country who walk puppies and interest themselves in their local pack ; furthermore, it enhances the sport by producing hounds with the conformation to get over the ground and the nose, courage and “fox-sense” to keep close at their quarry. In an age in which progress of machines, science and chemistry have intensified the problems of hunting, the hound in many packs hunts and catches foxes in conditions that might have been deemed impossible some 40 years ago.

Judging by what old Masters remember and from a study of pictures, it seems that the fashionable hound of today closely resembles the one of the second half of the last century—say, the sort of Lord Chaplin’s old Blankney or the Warwickshire, who won the cups regularly at Peterborough in the ’80s and ’90s, and stemmed from the Lord Henry Bentinck strain. Although a Peterborough rosette is no criterion of prowess in the field, many Masters have always been influenced by the type shown there and inclined to use sires accordingly. At the present time we have the happy situation of the leading packs at the shows giving a particularly good account of themselves on hunting days, and of other packs investing in the blood and finding the benefit in the field. For this we have to thank such men as the Duke of Beaufort and Sir Peter Farquhar, Colonel Lowther and several other distinguished friends of that wonderful hound man, Mr. Isaac Bell, who saw the dangers of the fashion both before and after the first World War—a fashion that made straightness, bone and round ribs of first importance and that sometimes sacrificed nose and tongue, and an idea of where the fox might have gone, for quick manoeuvring of the pack on the grass, with horn and whipper-in fully applied.

Nowadays judges look, as many always did, for balance, that is quality and activity above all; they like a hound with good elbow, neither out nor tucked in under him, and for him to move straight. A well-laid shoulder is essential, and a nice neck, longer on top than below, is a great help. Good wearing feet, which go in several shapes (not including big fleshy ones) are, of course, easier to judge in an old hound who manifestly has them. Ribs in-depth, rather than barrel-shaped, are desirable in proportion to the size of the hound, and a strong loin and width over pin bone are as important as the elbow. Muscular second thighs and a good distance from loin to buttock help motivation very much, but there is some divergence of opinion over hocks. There have been many fast hounds with straight hocks and equally fast hounds with bent ones, well let down; cow-shaped hocks and those left well behind are a weakness.

Lack of Substance

Criticism of what has become the show sort of hound is directed in general terms against lack of substance. There has indeed been some danger of getting animals with neck and shoulder, but poor over the loin and with unsubstantial middle pieces—features that could lead to weakness and a tendency to be ready for home at two o’clock. Masters have been quick to spot this trend, while mindful that quality hounds beat cobs at all times. Then it is said that crookedness and backwardness at the knee are encouraged. Major Maurice Barclay, whose judging was second to none, maintained that the great point was that a hound should move straight, and that absolute straightness, although desirable, must not sacrifice the elbow or cause a knuckling over knee.

It is noticeable that an unentered hound that is plumb straight often goes wrong at elbow or knee later. Strong, springy pasterns very slightly back, allowing the whole sole of the foot to be on the ground, must help to avoid the straight line from shoulder to foot, which allows no margin for shock-absorbing. Underline is crabbed, but it is hard to recall a hound with decent ribs and strong loin tiring for this reason; scope is also a great advantage, the argument against cobs being relevant in both cases. Most judges would agree with the critics that a good shoulder, essential as it is, cannot excuse a poor back end. On the other hand, a poorly positioned elbow and shoulder will still be in trouble however good the motivating power behind.

 

The number of light-coloured hounds is the last year or so in any case, of all the particular fox, in the particular place and at noticeable. Quality certainly seems to go with attributes required, colour is much the easiest the time when he is hunting him, he will “tune white, but the colour does not come straight to regulate and, incidentally, much the least in” and try to keep close to the line. When the from Wales, as some suppose. A glimpse of the important, and those who prefer the black and fox turns short, he applies the brakes at once, Puckeridge kennel, for instance, or at some of tan, with a modicum of white marking, may hunts on if he can, or, if not, makes his own the old pictures reveal this. While there is well see what they want in future years. cast and comes back to where he last had the considerable advantage in being able to pick      However handsome a foxhound is, and line. The right sort will throw his tongue up the pack running in the distance if there are whatever illustrious names appear in his on the scent immediately and produce females a few light colours, it is difficult for a huntsman pedigree, he must be top-class in the field, and with deep voices. His good conformation helps to tell his hounds apart out hunting when he for that he depends on his huntsman and him against fatigue and facilitates the con- has a lot of white ones. Hounds can be shippers-in. A noisy, silly staff can spoil the centration necessary to press two or three distinguished as much by their mannerisms best in a fortnight. But, just as the fashion is foxes in a day. If families of this sort of hound and movements as by their markings, but a for quality in the hound, it must be for quiet- can be found, which are inclined to “run up” closely integrated pack of one colour is a ness, patience and decisive action in the late in life, the breeder is a happy man. Some problem even for those who know them. It huntsman, and to match that the animal people imagine that very fast hounds, with may be fortuitous, but there seems to be an already described is well-equipped. Having great courage and drive, particularly bitches, increase in top-class dark coloured hounds in been allowed to test the particular scent of the are bound to go beyond the line, but a pack that does this suffers from too hasty a hunts- man, over-riding, or failure to draft the ring- leader. If aimless drifting follows at a check, a huntsman’s job is nearly impossible.

 

The Future

image of Portman Wizard 1963
Portman Wizard 1963

What is the next development? The sires of Badminton, Portman and Heythrop are currently very extensively used, and bloodlines to hounds like Meynell Pageant ’35 and Mr. Bell’s great Godfrey ‘28 are somewhat congested. The Heythrop Brigand ’54, with a complete tail-female outcross and the priceless ingredient of pre-potency, was welcome, and his progeny are now scattered far and wide. The black and tan Dumfries-shire Hounds containing a contribution from France, the College Valley, with their Fell cross, and the Cotley, combining College Valley with the tenacious West Country harrier, have many admirers; these packs have been bred and hunted by great experts and show fine sport. They include blood of a different breed from the existing foxhound and require careful mating. There are still hounds that have not been mixed with the so-called Welsh taint which have good traits, and there is some scope for manoeuvre within the current trends. It is a mistake to lose size, as it is only too easy to breed whippets; on the other hand, very big hounds are at a disadvantage, particularly with the prevalence of wire and the decrease of pure doghound packs. Let us cherish the continued development of a medium-sized hound with class, activity and the ability to hunt closely at speed.

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