West Hills Hounds merges with Santa Fe Hunt

By August 22, 2011
Wearing the traditional red coats, California's Santa Fe Hunt club ride the flower-strewn rangeland.

The flowers were in bloom for a Santa Fe Hunt spring ride near Temecula.

Local Southern California fox hunting clubs the West Hills Hounds and the Santa Fe Hunt have merged, effective with the 2011-2012 season, scheduled to begin in September. The clubs will combine hound packs and base operations out of SFH’s headquarters in Temecula.

The move is expected to increase efficiencies and expand membership, said WHH’s Mitchell Jacobs, who now becomes one of three Masters of the Foxhounds, joining SFH’s Terry Paine and Don Parker.

Jacobs said the two groups are already very well-acquainted. “We’ve been hunting together three or four times per year. We enjoy hunting together, and this will reduce maintenance costs for the hounds and the huntsman, so it made sense.”

Both groups are non-profits, recognized by the Masters of Fox Hounds Association, a national governing body founded in 1907 that maintains standards and records boundaries for participating groups. Among the first orders of business for the newly merged group will be a joint MFHA hunt in Reno the first week in October. The big regional meet takes place every three years, and brings together the whole Pacific district ― four California clubs, one from Washington and one from Nevada.

Santa Fe Hunt members and their horses and hounds in a grassy field near Temecula, California.

Caifornia fox hunters track coyote, which are just as wily as fox and are rarely caught.

In merging operations, the groups unite two rich repositories of Southern California equestrian history. The West Hills Hounds was formed (as the West Hills Hunt) in the San Fernando Valley in 1947 by former cavalry officers looking for a way to continue their riding after WW II. At the time of the merger, the group had 20–25 members. Formed in 1969, out of Rancho Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Hunt has about 55 “family memberships, but that doesn’t mean everybody rides,” Paine said. The groups each have about 25 hounds, which will continue to be maintained as a combined pack of 50.

“They have a wonderful, cross-bred American pack, and traditionally, we’ve always been an English pack, so combining should be interesting,” Paine said.

You get different kinds of voices in your hounds depending on what breed they are. Since there aren’t really any foxes in this part of the country, the clubs hunt coyotes. “Coyotes run a big line—a bigger circle than a fox, and they’re cunning and more than capable of taking care of themselves. We’re not really focused on killing any coyotes; we just want to see our hounds trail a scent line. If we get up close enough to see one, we consider ourselves lucky, and a lot of them we see year after year.”

Jacobs said one of the things that appealed to him about merging with Santa Fe was their robust schedule of social events. “They’ve got a Hunt Ball, a Wine Ride, a Barn Dance. The social component to hunting has always been important, and has been something we’ve been wanting to expand.” “We’re always trying to attract new members,” Paine concurred. “These sorts of things are fun for guests too.”

Hunters convene on horseback with their pack of hounds in a snowy, mountain region.

The season runs October through March, and at high elevations there is sometimes snow.

Each hunt consists of a minimum of two and sometimes three groups, divided into skill level of the rider. The fast-paced action takes place up front, with the masters and others keeping up with the hounds. For those who prefer a more leisurely pace, there are guides bringing up the rear.

In an effort to ease newcomers into the fold, the Santa Fe group also hosts annual clinics. “They’re more informal and a little less overwhelming than an actual hunt,” Paine said, noting that the sessions are broken down into target groups, for Pony Clubbers, young riders and adult beginners. “This sport takes a lot of mentoring. If someone wants to come out and hunt, we’ll pick them up with a trailer and haul ’em and ride with ’em. A lot of people work real hard to keep this hunt going.”

One thing the club tries to apportion equally, no matter what the level of rider, is fun. Said Paine: “I warn newcomers: Prepare yourselves for a thrill. You’re going to have a lot of excitement and ride big cattle ranches that you don’t normally get to ride. Buckle up!”

For more information about the Santa Fe Hunt, visit www.SantaFeHunt.com. To read more about the Masters of the Fox Hounds Assn., click on www.mfha.org.

 

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