Constable: Wayne fox hunt features pageantry, etiquette and no blood
The first rule of the Wayne-DuPage Hunt club is don't make assumptions about the hunt club members.
Yes, they appear to be a large group on horseback with a pack of barking hounds in pursuit of foxes. Yes, several riders carry whips. Yes, the closing ceremony is called "The Kill."
But there are no foxes, except for those wild creatures that occasionally join the crowd of spectators. The whips are essentially noisemakers, cracked to get the hounds' attention. Nobody carries a weapon, and there is no blood.
"We've never killed an animal," says Fred Iozzo, 71, who leads the hunt as Huntsman and has held the prestigious Master of Foxhounds elected position title for the past 27 years. "We've never killed a toad as far as I know."
Members talk about how much they love their horses, love their hounds, love the tradition, love dressing up, love the etiquette, love the lingo, love the camaraderie, love nature, and many even love foxes. Wayne-DuPage Hunt, a merger between Wayne Hunt and DuPage Hunt of Wheaton in the mid-1930s, has been recognized by the Masters of Foxhound Association since 1940.
From their first hunt in Wayne, generally in mid-April, to the last hunt of the year, generally in early December, the group with 65 riding members usually conducts hunts at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and enjoys a longer, more populated hunt at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Instead of a "live" hunt chasing foxes, the hounds follow the "drag," a scent (usually fox urine) on a lure that is pulled across the grounds by riders on horseback before the hunt starts in Wayne.
"It's really fun. You have to make it interesting for the hounds," says Jennifer Carroll, one of the people responsible for the drag, which has to take into consideration the wind, humidity, sun and other factors to make sure the hounds can pick up the scent. "If it's not for the hounds, you're just on a trail ride."
A recent Sunday hunt drew nearly four dozen riders, the most accomplished wearing scarlet (not red) jackets designating males, and black or navy blue jackets to identify females.
The jackets are called "pinks" possibly because the very first ones in England were made by a tailor with the last name Pinke, says Carol Hancock, 78, a past president of the club, who knows odd trivia such as that. She also has been a leading force in the Wayne Area Conservancy Foundation, the conservation arm of Wayne-DuPage Hunt, which preserves and maintains land, including the savanna where her husband, past president Doug Hancock, 84, recently planted 90 oak trees. To learn more about the hunt, visit waynedupagehunt.org, and to learn about the conservation efforts, visit waynearea-conservancyfoundation.org.
The hunt is essentially a tasteful, energetic costume party in nature with hounds and horses. The First Field features the best riders on fast horses that jump. The Second Field is slightly less proficient, and the Third Field might take things slowly and not do jumps as the group travels on trails, through tall grasses and along muddy creeks.
It's a smorgasbord for the senses.
"It's the clothes we wear, the terminology we use, the etiquette -- and there's a lot of etiquette," says Carolyn Bailey, who leads a caravan of a dozen vehicles to good spots to watch the hunt, for which her husband, Wayne Bailey, Marie Iozzo and Pam Ruminski are the Whippers-In.
Riders should not come between the hounds and the Huntsman, never shout, never pass the Field Leader or Field Master, and always respect the property, which includes forest preserve and private land. Members who have earned their "colors" have the privilege of riding up front, and colors refers to the collars, not the coats. Wayne-DuPage Hunt features a canary (not yellow) collar with scarlet piping. Other clubs sport different colors.
And buttons matter. The Huntsman's coat has five, staff members (which include anyone with a Whipper-In title) have four, and the riders have three.
The hounds are never called dogs, but if the hunt comes across someone walking a dog, that animal is called a "cur dog." A deer is a "haunch." The warning of a danger uses "ware" instead of beware, as in "ware hole" or "ware haunch." The sounds of the hunt are very important. A hound "honors" by "giving tongue on a line," which means the hound follows the path taken by another hound and makes a sound to let the rest of the hounds follow in "full cry."
The Huntsman has a horn that he blows in various patterns to command the hounds, let other riders know what is going on, and to end the hunt with a mournful tune. At that point, the Huntsman and all the staff and riders take part in the Stirrup Cup, where a tray of beverages (usually port wine in a silver cup) is held at stirrup-level so riders can reach down and grab a drink.
On Saturday night, members donned formal wear for the annual Hunt Ball, which also adheres to a strict dress code and etiquette. "It's not an uppity thing," says Carol Hancock, the seventh generation of her family to live in the area. "It's people passionate about conservation."
The social bonding was a big plus for Jennifer and Steve Carroll of St. Charles, who met on a hunt, married, and now can watch their 22-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, join the hunt on her horse named Eddie.
"My dad and my mother and sister were all members of the hunt at one time," says Steve Carroll. "It gets in your blood."
Jennifer Carroll remembers a den of foxes near the stable and kennels. "They use to come out and watch us leave," she says.
The club's new state-of-the-art kennels have professional staff and lots of volunteers to take care of the club-owned hounds. Emmitt O'Brien, 11, started working with the hounds as a kindergartner, alongside his dad, Patrick O'Brien. Now his sister, Olive, 7, joins them.
"I just like hanging out with the hounds," says Emmitt, who has a rescued Victorian Bulldog named Mila at his home in Wayne. "I like the connection with me and the hounds."
His favorite was a retired hound named Take Two, who died of old age. The family looks forward to the hunts.
"I'm not a horse rider, but I can still come out and enjoy the beauty," Patrick O'Brien says.
One rider fell, but neither she nor her horse were injured. The hounds occasionally take a wrong turn.
"It never goes as it should, ever. It would be boring if it did," says Huntsman Iozzo, perched upon his trusty 19-year-old horse, which is named Steeler because it came from Pittsburgh. The hounds have returned to the kennels, but the riders enjoy drinks and appetizers and the horses are treated to apples and carrots on the ground near a babbling creek. The scene resembles a 19th-century oil painting.
"It was a great day," Iozzo says. "Look at the trees. It's all about getting out in creation."