By Elizabeth Vance
For 50 years, the Belle Meade Hunt has majestically opened fox hunting season in Thomson, Georgia with the world’s largest opening meet. Held annually on the first Saturday in November, it is a day filled with pomp, circumstance, and miles of opportunity as hunters ride across the rolling fields, through pecan orchards, and historic countryside of McDuffie County. It is also well-known as a mobile tailgating party! Tally-ho wagon riders bring coolers and baskets filled with food and beverage treats to enjoy and share. It is an opportunity to delight in a day spent in the great outdoors while receiving a grand introduction to the fashionable side of the sport of fox hunting.
The day begins with a Blessing of the Hounds ceremony at 1p.m. It is customary for the fox hunters to be blessed and receive the Saint Hubert medal. Saint Hubert is the patron saint of hunters. The service, performed by the hunt chaplain, is a formal affair on the lawn of a white cottage, flanked by pecan orchards. Dismounted riders, reins in hand, stand beside their horses creating a long, grassy aisle. As the joint masters of the hunt approach with the hounds, ears strain to hear the words that officially mark the beginning of hunt season; spoken by Belle Meade’s joint master, Epp Wilson: “We present to you the Belle Meade pack of 2016.”
Tally-ho wagons line up to caravan alongside the horses and hounds. At the blast of the horn, the hounds take off, noses down and baying, hunters right behind organized in four flights of riders, ranging from the skilled to the novice. Once the wagons pull out, they are heading to several planned rendezvous points, passing hunt country landmarks like the Bowdre-Reese-Knox House, the Rock Dam and the Gentleman of Virginia’s gravesite. These stops offer opportunities to take photos, stretch your legs and mingle with the crowd, including the red coated hunters on horseback. The grand finale, which happens near sunset, is a stop hailed as “Champagne Hill,” where sparkling beverages are poured while spectators, horses, hounds and hunters toast the day and the season ahead.
“It’s the grandest sport and the greatest thrill,
To chase the fox from hill to hill.
Through countryside rolling o’er fields and streams,
It’s the kind of a course that fulfills sportsmen’s dreams.
The hunters impatiently ride to and fro,
But dash like the wind at the cry, tally-ho!
The horses are lathered they too seem to sense
The joy and excitement of clearing a fence.
So here at the close of a wonderful day,
Of foxhunting and fellowship, may I tribute pay
To the Master, his Staff and the keeper of hounds,
Our toasts and our praises to all know no bounds.
Tonight with the stirrup cup full and o’er flowing,
We toast one and all who keep foxhunting going!
Who join in the chase though they may take a spill,
And who keep coming back whether sunny or chill.
May the joy that results from this sporting event
Make us healthy and happy and always content!!”
~ Belle Meade Toast
For more information about the Belle Meade Hunt opening meet or Thomson, GA visit www.visitthomsonga.com.
Elizabeth Vance has been the Director of the Thomson-McDuffie County CVB for 8 years. A lifelong Georgia resident, she is passionate about Georgia Tourism. For more information about the Thomson area, contact Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org.