August 15, 2012

Hunters, horses and hounds just want to have fun

As published in The Erin Advocate

I went to see the Summer Games last week. Not the big ones in London, but the more informal ones hosted by the Eglinton and Caledon Hunt (ECH), a local club that helps preserve an old English tradition.

An invitation to the event arrived in my mailbox because our property is close to the route for one of their hunts, the woods and farmland in the 10th Concession near 5 Sideroad. For decades I've heard their horns and the cry of hounds, and seen their red jackets off in the distance, but had never met them.

It turns out they are a most hospitable crowd, based at the Caledon Riding Club in The Grange Equestrian Neighbourhood, a beautiful series of farms north of Cheltenham on Creditview Road. And while considerable expertise is needed for the training of hounds, horses and riders, it mainly for social and recreational reasons that they gather.

In the welcome message of the club magazine, Master of Fox Hounds Alastair Strachan says that people are drawn by "the good times, the horsemanship and the privilege of riding across miles of scenic private lands that would otherwise be inaccessible."

The club has taken great care to maintain good relations with landowners, since access is essential for their sport. They ride on the edges of planted fields to avoid damage to crops, and move slowly when they encounter livestock. They used to drop off bottles of wine to landowners, but now they treat them to a nice lunch at events like their Summer Games.

It included a Parade of Foxhounds, a live Mock Hunt, the Mimosa Cup steeplechase and timed race for pairs, and a Relay Race.

Informal hunts are conducted in the Spring and Summer, with the official season in the Fall. The territory ranges from Inglewood to Highway 6, and from Caledon up to Owen Sound. They hunt in two groups, with the first flight of experienced riders jumping fences to follow the hounds closely, and the "hilltoppers" taking a less difficult route.

Since foxes are relatively scarce, they usually find a coyote as quarry. (They do not release an animal to be hunted.) The group is led by a Master of Fox Hounds, with the help of a professional Huntsman (who is also responsible for hound breeding, training and kennel management). Then there are the Whippers-in who herd the pack along the approved route (much like the Whips who manage our parliamentarians).

Coyotes do not enjoy much public support. Many people consider them to be a growing threat, and not nearly as cute as foxes. They are wily as well, and on most hunts are able to elude the hounds – it is usually the sick ones that don't make it.

I have no interest in hunting of any sort, especially the killing of prey for sport rather than out of necessity. Still, I find the culture of it fascinating, and can see the excitement of riding cross-country. As a hound owner, I find these dogs amazing, and of course the horses are magnificent and very talented.

The hunting tradition has generated huge controversy in Great Britain. The hunting of foxes and other mammals was outlawed seven years ago, but supporters have been lobbying to have the ban repealed. The hunt has also been a high-profile symbol of the aristocracy.

ECH is an offshoot of the Toronto Hunt, which was founded in 1843. In 1919, George Beardmore built a new equestrian facility at the corner of Eglinton and Avenue roads, at that time open countryside, and it came to be known as the Eglinton Hunt Club. In 1945 they moved to Leslie and Finch Streets; then in 1963, with Toronto development encroaching on their territory, they moved to Caledon.

It costs about $2,000 for a full adult hunt membership with ECH, much less for younger riders or those who only want to attend social events and post-hunt breakfasts.

The club will be hosting an Old-Time Barn Dance on the Eighth Line of Erin on September 29, billed as "the most fun you can have with your clothes on". More information on the event and other aspects of the club can be found at, or their blog,