foxhunting in the shenandoah valley

Y'all know how much I love to photograph, well, dead animals. I love agriculture, hunting, butchering, farming —  I live for those types of assignments. So, when I heard about foxhunting in the area — and that there were not one, but three hunt clubs — I knew I had to get out there and photograph it. John Patteson of the Middlebrook Hunt Club wears a foxhunting tie with his casual wear on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, during a hunt in Middlebrook. Most hunts have casual and formal days. Some casual wear can be as lax as "barn coats," though some still wear vests and ties. Formal rides include the pink coats for the huntsman and those who have earned their coats.Weirdly enough, though, foxhunting is sort of a misleading title. See, they don't really kill foxes on these foxhunts. It's more of a "fox chase," as they say. Of course, sometimes the hounds get ahead of themselves and do catch a fox, but those little guys are crafty and clever and can usually evade the hounds easily, unless they're sick or injured (which is uncommon). The hunters even swear that the foxes enjoy the hunts, as if it's a game to them.

Joe Manning puts on his pink coat before going out with the Glenmore Hunt Club on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, in Staunton. The reason the red coats are called "pink coats" is debated — some believe it describes the scarlet coat, faded from riding, or that it is the name of the original tailor.So, that's why you won't see too many foxes in my story. I believe, if I go out more (which I plan to when the season starts again in the fall), I'll see a fox evading the hounds. But I don't think I'll see too many that have been hunted down and caught.

Hounds from Middlebrook Hunt Club gather at the gate before being let loose for the hunt on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 in Middlebrook. Most of the hounds used by local groups are Penn-Marydel hounds, in blue tick and black and tan variations.

Either way, I love the romanticism of this sport. I think it's probably the only place where you'll find that "casual" can mean a suit jacket, vest and tie — at least for John Patteson, the ultimate Southern gentleman.

Huntsman Fred Getty blows his horn to call the hounds before setting off on the hunt on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 in Middlebrook. Getty has different calls on the horn that signal various things to both the hounds and the rest of the riders.I struggled with this story a lot, though. I went out probably a total of six times, I believe, over the course of two months. And four of the five times I went out, things didn't go too well. But, somehow, my hail mary at the end paid off and I don't feel as embarrassed showing this story off. I feel like I finally can illustrate the beauty of this sport, which wouldn't seem hard to do — but, somehow, I was stuck and couldn't get past it.

Huntsman Fred Getty waits for the hounds to gather before setting out on the hunt on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 in Middlebrook. I won't say I wasn't discouraged. I was. I couldn't figure out how I was handed tie-wearing riders, bearded gentlemen, beautiful hounds and majestic horses and couldn't make a good picture to save my life (like, really, I still can't figure it out). Of course, in the world of newspapers, you don't have forever — I had a deadline. It was a constant headache of worrying, "Will I pull through?"

Joe Manning, president of the hunt club, talks to other riders before leaving on the fox hunt with the Glenmore Hunt Club on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 in Staunton. Riders earn their pink coats over time, and have additional markings, such as the collar, which can be different from hunt club to hunt club.After posting some of my frustrations on the "A Photo A Day" forum, someone told me that I should keep going at it until I nailed it. He said, "Laforet talks about Bresson's twenty or so attempts to get the biker fleeting pas the stairs. It took Jay Maisel 22 different visits to capture Bird in Iran. It took me 5 years to get my wife to try bacon. And guess what — she loved it."

Riders from the Rockbridge Hunt Club can see an expansive view of Rockbridge County during their hunt Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Riders in fox hunts appreciate the natural obstacles they have to cross, which can be similar to arena sports like steeplechase. Obviously, this work is nothing compared to Cartier-Bresson. Obviously. But it felt good to keep at something until I was happy with it. I'm satisfied. It's not the most amazing thing I've ever done, but it feels good. I feel like I accurately represented the beauty of this sport. And I think that's incredibly important.

Joe Patteson adjusts the bridle on his horse, Schuster, on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, in Middlebrook. Contrary to the name, foxhunts rarely result in the killing of a fox. Many riders say it is more of a "fox chase," and admire the cleverness of the fox.A big, huge thank you to everyone who helped me along on this story — Timmy Huynh, Maddie McGarvey, Laura Peters, Jared Soares, Patrick Breen, Eric Seals and Matt Busch — you rock!

Middlebrook Hunt Club's hounds sniff out a fox on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 in Middlebrook. Most of the hunt clubs in the area us Penn-Marydel breeds, as well as Bluetick and Black and Tan foxhounds. The American Foxhound is the state dog of Virginia.The hounds lead the riders of the Glenmore Hunt Club through a field on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, in Staunton. Most of the hunt clubs in the area us Penn-Marydel breeds, with blue tick or black and tan variations.Riders of the Glenmore Hunt Club cross over a bridge on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, in Staunton. Virginia has more foxhunts than any other state in the U.S.A fox head is mounted on the wall of Middlebrook Hunt Club Huntsman Fred Getty, surrounded by other fox hunting memorabilia. Getty is an active sportsman — his office is decorated with trophies from his hunts, including geese, bear, moose and various exotic species from Africa. Also, I made a video. It's not the greatest. But there are cute puppies.

Foxhunting in the Shenandoah Valley from Katie Currid on Vimeo.