Mason has always had an interest in horses, but she never aspired to be a huntsman – she simply wanted to keep up with the hounds during hunts. Growing up riding in the deserts of west Texas, she moved to Kentucky later in life and began training horses for Jerry Miller, one of the masters of the IHC.
After Mason became an IHC member, the masters of the club (those that operate and lead the hunt) took notice of her keen instincts and superior horsemanship, and eventually asked her take on the huntsman role.
Derek Vaughn, who has served as president of the IHC for the last three years, owns a farm across Boone Creek adjacent to the clubhouse.
“I had a friend that suggested I join the IHC, but I hadn’t ridden since I was 15 – 16,” said Vaughn, who decided to take up the sport at age 51. He leased a horse and learned the basics from other members, who took him under their wings. It was only after he had become involved with hunting that he discovered the sport ran in his blood, as both of his grandfathers had once been members of the IHC.
“It’s very much of a camaraderie-type of sport with a whole lot of etiquette, and there are a lot of reasons for that,” he explained. “You can’t get in front of the masters and when the huntsman is coming through, there’s a way you have to position your horse for safety reasons.”
When asked what his favorite part of hunting was, Vaughn explained, “I’ve grown up in this area, but I’d never seen the countryside like you get to see on horseback. When you get up in the morning, sometimes there’s a mist and it’s the most incredible, natural experience. Then you’re running on the horse and you’re exhausted; it’s great exercise. There’s a lot to love about it.”
The IHC has a special affiliation with many local cattle farms to utilize their land for hunts.
“The most important thing in any hunt is the land owners, because without land we couldn’t hunt,” Mason said. “This hunt club has a long relationship in this area with farm owners – some are third and fourth generation people that have allowed the IHC to cross their land.
“It’s kind of a win-win situation in that we hunt and chase mostly coyotes. They have no predator and they can bother cattle. If we’re out there chasing them, they stay away from people’s houses. (Farmers) like seeing us out there during the winter when their cows are calving.”
The jumping part of the hunt comes into play when IHC members cross from one farm boundary to another. The club must work with the farmers throughout the winter to install jumps over certain parts of the fencing to ensure the safety of the riders.
While the hounds will occasionally kill a coyote or fox during a hunt, the point of the hunt is to simply disperse the animals and keep them from preying on the farmers’ stock.
“The way we do it is the natural way; it’s a more balanced way than just shooting them, because if you shoot the alpha male, then all these other males come in from other areas to establish their own territory,” Mason explained. “But if you have established families here, they won’t let others in.”
Mason loves observing the hounds’ behavior during a hunt. “It’s just so incredible to watch hounds and coyotes play and chase each other,” she explained. “It’s also amazing what you see in nature. We’re out there and we get to see the fall, winter and spring, and the seasons change. Whether you find something to chase or not, it’s just so special.”
Down the road from the clubhouse is the hound kennel, where the IHC’s more than 100 animals are kept. Just like a horse farm, the hounds have a specific turnout schedule and more than 10 acres of land on which to roam. Throughout the day, they are free to romp and play and splash through water basins placed throughout their paddocks like normal dogs, but when training time comes, the hounds are all business.
“They get to do what they were bred to do, and to see that is one of the most special parts of being a huntsman,” said Mason, who in addition to her other IHC duties spends hours with the hounds each weekend, training them to follow her lead and making sure they’re fully prepared for the hunt season.
Jerry Miller, who owns the land on which the kennel sits, is also the breeder of the dogs, some of which are nationally known and have won multiple show competitions.
“The English foxhound bloodlines eclipse even the Thoroughbred horse,” Mason said. “We import a lot of hounds from England – they’re good, strong bloodlines that have proven themselves for a number of years.”
Foxhunting is difficult to fully comprehend without experiencing it firsthand. After hearing Mason describe the process, however, it’s easy to see how the tradition, beauty and excitement of the sport have captivated so many people over the years.
“You leave on a misty morning and put the hounds in a wooded area where you think a coyote might be…the hounds go in with their noses down and one says, ‘Yip, yip,’ which means, ‘I think I smell something,’” Mason said.
“When the other hounds come over to investigate, another one will yip, and pretty soon it’s a full cry of the hounds. It’s just thrilling. Then everybody is ready to gallop. You sneak around to find something and once you do…the horses get excited and it’s just really fun.’”
In order to join the IHC, one must obtain three letters of recommendation from current members. The two types of membership are social and riding, but both are included in all club-related events and dinners throughout the year. To learn more about the club, visit www.iroquoishunt.com.