This Saturday, a group of people who enjoy both horses and the great outdoors will gather for what has become a tradition of more than 30 years -- Opening Meet of the Belle Meade Hunt.
The first Saturday in November traditionally kicks off the fox hunting season, which lasts until March.
The Belle Meade Opening Meet, the largest in the entire world, will bring a host of visitors from near and far. Traditionally, hundreds of people will show up to enjoy a day in the woods and fields of McDuffie County. Although there are plenty of out of town visitors who come to ride horses and to watch, many who will attend are local and say they wouldn't miss this special McDuffie event.
"My three favorite days of the year are Christmas, Thanksgiving and Tally Ho (opening meet). Tally Ho might be my favorite," said Brad Ansley, who returns year after year.
The afternoon will begin with the Blessing of the Hounds at 1 p.m.
The public may attend the blessing ceremony which will be at the Larry Knox country home on Wrightsboro Road. Visitors are encouraged to arrive about 12:15 p.m.
Reverend Father E.R. Frank, an avid horseman who rode with the founders of the Belle Meade Hunt Club, starts the ceremony. He normally relates the story of Saint Hubert and how he came to be the Patron Saint of hunters.
He then invokes the blessing with the audience responding using printed copies. Father Frank traditionally presents a Saint Hubert medal to every rider; many will carry the medal with them throughout the season.
Father Frank has been performing the blessing ceremony every year since the beginning, and although he has given up riding, his enthusiasm and love of the sport remains.
Following the ceremony, riders will depart, winding through woods and across fields while passing such historic landmarks as the Old Rock Dam.
"We have some of the most wonderful countryside in the world in McDuffie County and the landowners are gracious enough to share it with us and the community, particularly on that day (opening meet)," said Huntsman Epp Wilson, who shares the responsibility of Joint Master of the Hunt with Charles Lewis and Gary Wilkes.
Spectators who have secured tickets ahead of time will ride in the 35 Tally Ho wagons, which are operated by local volunteers who enjoy supporting and participating in the event.
Tally Ho riders will not travel the same route as those on horseback, but will still get to enjoy some of the perfect landscape and topography that has made Belle Meade one of the top hunts in America and Canada.
"Part of the mission of Belle Meade is providing a way for people to be more in touch with nature and more understanding of the fields and the forests and the animals it harbors," Mr. Wilson said.
"When I want to learn about the scriptures in the Bible, I go to the First Methodist Church on Main Street in Thomson. When I want to feel close to my maker, I go out into the woods. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with my friends -- horses, hounds, and human."