Every fall for the last fifteen years the rolling hills of northeast Oklahoma have rung with the sounds of a huntsman’s horn and the musical sound of baying foxhounds on a line of scent.
Oklahoma? Yes! Fox hunting is alive and well in ‘Indian Territory.'
Harvard Fox Hounds hunt club was founded by Barbara and Max Naegler of Tulsa and has since been in the business of land conservation, appreciation for nature, and enjoying the company of others who ride to hounds. Before the Naegler’s took on the task of starting their own hunt, Barbara had competed in English riding events, but after having the opportunity to ride with the Artillery Hunt at Ft. Sill in Lawton, Okla., she was hooked. When her husband Max realized what a fun group of talented riders fox hunters were, he wanted to join the fun and was soon going with her to hunts.
After consulting with leaders of other hunt clubs, or Masters of Fox Hounds, and other professionals involved with hunts around the country, they were prepared to start their own hunt in 1996 and called it Harvard Fox Hounds. The National organization, The Masters of Fox Hounds of America registered them in 1997 and recognized the hunt in 1998 to full national membership status.
Winston Churchill said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
Lauren Hayes, a charter member of Harvard Fox Hounds and a medical student, would agree.
She says, “Horseback riding has fostered in me a work ethic because when I was younger it gave me responsibilities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. One of my fondest memories was preparing for each hunt. My siblings and I were responsible for getting the horse trailer loaded with our saddles and equipment the day before. After we had loaded the horses early on cold, dark mornings, my dad would admire all the work we had done ourselves. This always gave me a great sense of accomplishment. Since my family rode, this meant that I spent many of my weekends engaged in family activities where we were all participants. It isn’t that common nowadays, and I think that my siblings and I are very lucky for it.”
In late October, the 15th annual Opening Hunt, or first hunt of the season was held at a private farm east of Tulsa. The Naegler’s welcomed more than 70 riders and interested observers to the day’s festivities, which included a blessing of the hounds, welcoming of new members and thanks to all who participated in making the day what it was.
Max Naegler is retiring from hunting the hounds and is passing his hunt horn to his wife following the opening hunt. Epp Wilson MFH, Master of the Belle Meade hunt in Georgia presented Max with an engraved horn given in appreciation by friends and hunt members. Max recited a poem about himself and his horse that he had written, which concluded with the following lines:
In later years those that were there would often say
You should have been there on that wonderful fall day
When Max and ole Fred would cinch it up one final time
And go hard and fast like they did in their prime.
The Reverend Judy Van Hoose told the story of St. Hubert, patron saint of the hunt, who had a life changing vision while out hunting on a Good Friday. He envisioned a cross in the antlers of a stag and thereafter vowed to lead a selfless life helping those less fortunate.
After blessing the medals which were awarded to new members of the hunt, she said, “For St. Hubert, that event, that interruption changed Hubert’s life forever and he went from being self centered to selfless as he helped the poor for the rest of his life. I hope everyone at this hunt has an interruption that changes them in some way and that their lives will be better for it.”
Then Max, aided by the mounted staff of helpers, brought the hounds forward and Rev. Van Hoose said the blessing prayer for the hounds and all who were riding that day.
Bagpiper Victor Anderson, wearing traditional attire, played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. As the inspirational sound of the pipes echoed off the hills, the hounds, guided by the huntsman and his staff went down the avenue of trees to begin the hunt followed by the field of approximately sixty riders.
After a two and a half hour hunt, riders returned to the large barn, transformed by lights and decorated tables into a welcoming banquet hall by member Peggy Knight and her committee. All enjoyed a sumptuous hunt breakfast of barbecue and the rousing music of Shelby Eicher’s band, The Grasshoppers. Stories were told and retold of the galloping runs up and down the hills and over jumps while hearing the ‘music’ of the hounds’ voices.
Photo credit: Ann Bennett of annbennettphotgraphy.com