By John Burton
History, tradition, love of the outdoors and nature and, certainly, fun.
These are some of the elements that draw members of the 129-year-old Monmouth County Hunt to the time-honored sport of foxhunting.
“You’re doing something that people did hundreds of years ago. It’s a connection with the past,” said Ann Jordon, a club member since 2006, explaining the appeal of the sport. “It peels back all the layers of technology and it gets you outside with the hounds and horses, who are doing an amazing job.”
“It is a very addictive sport,” said Mary Jane Carey of Colts Neck. Carey has been horseback riding for much of her life and returned to riding, the sport and the club in the mid-1970s, when her five kids were sufficiently grown.
“It’s anything to do with horses,” Carey noted. “Then the outdoors, the fresh air, being outside seeing the changes of the seasons. You see things you might not ordinarily see.
“It’s doing something you really love and enjoy,” she added.
The sport is steeped in tradition with members pointing out that George Washington was an enthusiast, regularly riding to hounds and the call of the horns.
Locally, foxhunting has taken place in Monmouth County since 1820. In 1885, P.F. Collier, an Irish immigrant who established Collier and Sons publishing company, established the hunt club and built stables and kennels on his Eatontown estate.
From there, the club continued on the sprawling Amory Haskell estate in Middletown when Haskell served as the club’s master – the person who really oversees and controls the hunts.
In 1969, the club moved its activities to the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area, a 5,700-acre area in Allentown in the county’s western region. It’s where the club continues to conduct its hunts during its season, on Wednesdays and Sundays from Nov. 1 until the end of March.
While the hunt involves horses, foxhounds and, of course, a fox, club members stress they do not hurt or capture their prey. The riders, following the instructions of the master, follow the hounds. The hounds are chasing a fox, sometimes a gray fox indigenous to the U.S. or the red fox imported from Britain. Both are found at Assunpink. The hounds, horses and riders follow until the fox “runs to ground” to its lair, and the dogs are withdrawn.
“The fox always wins in our hunt,” Carey said.
Riders’ horses are usually thoroughbred, because of their breeding for stamina, though standardbreds are used as well. The club works with horse rescue groups, allowing members access to the animals.
The dogs, about 50 for the club and overseen by the club’s master of foxhounds, are crossbred hounds with litters kept and raised to participate in the sport. The club cares for the animals for their entire life, Jordan said.
The riders’ attire is steeped in tradition as well. Club members in good standing wear the formal burgundy, velvet jackets with gold trim on Sunday hunts with an accompanying white scarf, yellow vest and high black boots with brown tops. The scarf serves as practical as well as decorative purpose, being used as a bandage in a field for an injured rider or horse, Jordan said.
The formality of the wear is intended “to show respect to the landowners, allowing to cross the farms,” Carey said.
On less formal hunts, rider will wear “rat catcher” wear, meaning a traditional tweed hacking jacket, a type of sport coat. Some still wear the harrier jackets, usually of a green Melton wool, which is a throwback to the harrier hunts, referring to the small breed of hound used to hunt hares.
The club membership has dwindled to 15, but Carey and Jordan believe it is a wonderful secret that they would like others to discover and come out and enjoy.
In honor of the club’s long history, the Monmouth County Historical Association has included a display about the club and sport as part of its Agriculture in Monmouth County exhibit currently running at its library and museum at 70 Court St. in Freehold.
Club members will conduct a hunt demonstration from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 5, on the grounds of the historical association’s Taylor Butler House, 127 Kings Highway, Middletown.
Both the exhibit and hunt demonstration are opportunities for the public to become acquainted with the sport and club and to come to know what the members have known: “It does become a passion,” Carey said.
Additional information about the Monmouth Hunt Club is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.