By Dr. Mark Smith MFH
The term “master” in this day and time seems archaic at best and at its worst, racist. But foxhunting is a sport heavily founded in tradition, and the term is firmly grounded in the history of the sport. Before trucks and horse trailers, people attending a hunt got there on horseback. The hunt was typically hosted by the owner of a large estate who was referred to as the master of the house by not only his servants and employees, but also the local population. The pack was privately owned by the master who would invite friends, family, business associates and politicians to come to his estate and spend up to a week, hunting daily, and wining and dining nightly. One can only imagine a week of foxhunting all day and partying every night at Mt Vernon with George Washington, who regularly hosted such events.
Those days are long gone. Today, most Masters are middle income. They are either elected or appointed depending on how the hunt is organized. It is expected that a Master dedicate his time, talents, knowledge and wealth for the benefit of the hunt. In this way he is really more of a servant of the hunt.
The responsibilities of the Master include Obtaining land to hunt on, maintaining landowner relations, setting the time and place for the hunts, resolving landowner complaints, overseeing any professional staff, maintaining and managing the kennel, care of the hounds, hound breeding, setting up joint meets, helping to maintain trails. A good Master should know the hounds in the kennel almost as well as the huntsman. He or she should know the names of all members/subscribers. The Master is the point of contact with the Masters of Foxhounds Association. Many Masters host parties for the membership. And many Masters reach into their packets to makeup shortfalls in the hunt’s budget.
The average term of a Master is about eight years. This is because the responsibilities of being a Master takes a toll. A Master knows it is time to retire when he can no longer ride, when health dictates, or when he is burned out by the responsibilities.
So what does a person get out of being Master? He becomes a dues paying member of the MFHA and can attend the Master’s ball the last weekend in January in New York. He can attend the MFHA annual meeting and vote along with any member of the MFHA who attends. He gets the satisfaction of maintaining an age old tradition. And he gets to ride at his leisure (wherever he wants) to the hounds, and participate in the high speed chase on the back fast horse across open country behind the quarry, being pursued by a screaming pack of glorious hounds.