With bellies full of port and sherry, the ladies and gentlemen of an Albuquerque- based fox hunting group cantered over the eastern escarpment of the Pecos River Valley for the first time, Saturday morning.
The group, Juan TomÃ¡s Hounds, is a member of the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America established in the 1960s, and usually hunts only on ranches located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe or the undeveloped land on the Duke Cityâ€™s West Mesa. But two Roswell JTH members persuaded the red-coated masters and their hounds to hunt coyotes on Bureau of Land Management- owned land just opposite Bottomless Lakes State Park.
â€œWe like to hunt in various places,â€ Leandro Gutierrez, a veterinarian at Casa Querencia Animal Health in Roswell who scouted the land three weeks before the hunt, said. â€œWeâ€™re from here, and itâ€™s a great honor for us to host a hunt here.â€
In traditional 16th-century British form, the riders sipped their wine from plastic cups (well, almost traditional) during the â€œStirrup Cupâ€ prior to the hunt, then donned traditional English hunting attire. Masters and former masters wear scarlet coats, while women wear colored collars on their riding jackets. Everyone sports breeches, English dress riding boots and black hunt caps with ribbons on the back.
The co-host of the hunt, D a v i d Durham, of Roswell, says the social traditions of fox hunting first attracted him to the sport after college.
â€œA lot of it is the camaraderie and horsemanship, and thereâ€™s a certain culture to it thatâ€™s kind of cool,â€ Durham, a psychiatrist and neurologist at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, said. At 10 a.m., sharp, the horn sounded, signaling the release of the hounds. Eleven couples, or 22 hounds, leapt from a horse trailer, and sniffed the ground for the scent of coyotes.
Adren Nance, the huntsman who directs the hounds, says the length of the hunt depends on the weather â€” the colder, the better since the hounds prefer not to run in the heat. Saturdayâ€™s weather was perfect, he said.
This fog is awesome,â€ he told the hunt, which consisted of about 15-20 riders.
Nance also says that English-style riding is not foreign to Roswell, where New Mexico Military Institute once had a cavalry unit.
â€œI used to be a commander of the cavalry unit,â€ Nance said, smiling while showing off his gold NMMI belt buckle. â€œIt all comes from when NMMI used to have a big horse program until they stopped in 1998.â€
Nance directed the hounds and other riders east and circled the Caprock, while skirting private land. He stressed that fox hunting is more focused on the chase than the kill.
â€œWe might catch one coyote a year,â€ he said.
One of the â€œwhipper – insâ€ that keeps the hounds from straying from the pack agrees that the sport â€œis all about the hounds.â€
â€œItâ€™s all about picking up a trail,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™re just there to follow and see nature.â€
JTH will hunt again in Roswell today, beginning at 7:30 a.m. The group hunts every Thursday and Sunday morning from October through March. It is one of two Masters of Foxhounds Association of America-sponsored fox hunting groups in New Mexico.