Charlie Lewis and Jim Hicks, Thomson
As old-timers to the Belle Meade Hunt, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Hicks served as emcees for the day, both at the opening Blessing of the Hounds Ceremony and during the hunt. Mr. Wilson said both of the gentlemen have been members and active in the hunt for almost 40 years.
"So there's a lot of good stories back and forth and a lot of good fellowship, shared adventure, and a lot of adrenaline," the hunt master said.
In addition to being riders, Mr. Hicks and Mr. Lewis have been members of the hunt committee for many years and Mr. Lewis is one of the vice-presidents of the club. While sharing their stories before the Blessing of the Hounds, the two gentlemen explained fox hunt trivia to the newcomers in the crowd, namely how the names of rock piles, jumps and coops come to be. Mr. Hicks said there are two ways to have one named in your honor - by building it, or by crashing into it.
"And if you crash into it with a spectacular bent and something gets broken, then it's a guarantee it'll be named after you," Mr. Lewis said.
"Charlie, if that's the case, then you and I would have them all named after us," Mr. Hicks quipped.
During the simulated hunt - or drag hunt - the emcees explained what the hounds, masters and mounted followers were doing, what could possibly happen and reminisced about past incidents.
Warren Ethridge, Macon, Ga.
For 28 years, Mr. Ethridge has been a photographer of the Belle Meade Hunt whose photos are printed in the hunt program each year. As he walked among the horses and their riders Saturday morning, many called out his name, posing and asking for him to take their picture.
Mr. Ethridge said he likes shooting the hunt because the scenery is great. And although he has a digital camera, he still prefers to use his old, faithful film camera.
"My favorite photo was in 1988 of the late Master James on (his horse,) Balthazar," the photographer said. "And he was coming through the thicket with his hounds surrounding him. It was great."
Kappa Sigma Fraternity members, Southern Polytechnic State U., Marietta, Ga.
Each year, the Kappa Sigma Fraternity members volunteer their services to keep the Opening Meet running smoothly. Fifteen members were on hand Saturday to help set up, direct parking, direct the traffic of the Tally-Ho wagons and assist with the sale of souvenirs.
"I love the fresh air and the good company," said Jay Shinall, who was helping for his sixth year. "It's a good community service project."
Brian Hart said the group also does trash pick-ups, and hosts a boxing match as a fund raiser for charity.
"I love coming out here every year," the five-year Belle Meade Hunt volunteer veteran said. "This is always the most fun project we do. We don't make any money doing it, it's just for fun."
Mr. Hart said the group was sleeping in sleeping bags in the "half-way house," which is the Bowdre-Rees-Knox house that served as the old hunt clubhouse before Boots Hall.
"And yes, it's haunted," he added.
Barbara Exum, Macon, Ga. and her son-in-law, Henry Hall, McDonough, Ga.
As a charter member of the Belle Meade Hunt, Mrs. Exum said all of her children grew up with the hunt and the opening meet continues to be a family affair. Her three daughters, one son-in-law and one granddaughter were riding in the hunt on Saturday, her husband, Bill, was driving the lead Tally-Ho truck, and her son, William's, fraternity group was coordinating the set-up, parking and directing of traffic.
"So it really is a family affair. But the people of the hunt are like our family, too," Mrs. Exum said. "Thanksgiving Day is my favorite of all the fox hunt days, with the fog and the mist, and the horses get all sweaty and the steam rises off of them. It's just surreal. And since it's wet, the scent lingers longer, so the hounds are able to stay on their quarry."
Not to be left out, her other two sons-in-law ride on the Tally-Ho wagon each year.
"We support our wives on their quests to break their backs," quipped Henry Hall, whose wife, Molly, is a hilltop master and second field leader in the hunt. "We've been doing it for 10 years."
Rhonda Holton, Grovetown, Ga., and her horse, Artie
Mrs. Holton was taking riding lessons five years ago when her teacher introduced her to the Belle Meade Hunt. She "got hooked," and has returned every year. Mrs. Holton's daughter, Jonna, was one of the singers of the National Anthem during the opening ceremony, and also rides in the hunt.
Mrs. Holton said her horse, Artie, has a mind of his own sometimes.
"Some days he's Artie-Smartie, and some days he's Artie-Hearty, and some days he's Artie-Farty," she said as she petted Artie.
If he could talk, Mrs. Holton said Artie would say that he loves the hunt, but he knows his job, and wishes Mrs. Holton would leave him to do the hunt the way he wants to.
"The closer he is to Epp Wilson, the happier he is," she said. "He likes to be up front where the leaders are. He doesn't like it when I hold him back."
Gary Garside, Tryon, N.C.
This was only Mr. Garside's second year to attend and ride in the Belle Meade Hunt. Sporting a top hat and riding a 18.1 hand Clydesdale, Mr. Garside stood out among the other riders. And his horse didn't want to stand around and wait for the hunt to start.
"Buckwheat's ready to go, but he needs to chill out for a while," Mr. Garside said.
Mr. Garside said he and his wife came alone last year to participate in the hunt. But they enjoyed it so much that they brought six more riders from Tryon this year.
"We just love it," he said. "We'll come back with more riders next year."
Donna Russell, Wrens, Faith Caran, Louisville, and Wanda Jobes, Thomson
Although she rides horses, Ms. Jobes said she has been riding on the Tally-Ho wagons for the past eight years. She lives "just down the road" from the opening meet, and said she likes to come watch the horses and their riders go over the jumps.
"This year, I got a new camera (Cannon D40) and lens (70-200), so I couldn't wait to get out here and use it," she said.
Her friend, Faith Caran, said she would love it even if the hunters weren't there.
"It's just gorgeous," she said. "The scenery itself is unbelievable."
"I love the adult hayride and just meeting all the people," Donna Russell said. "It's just fun."
John Lewis, Louisville, and Peter Hill, England
Mr. Hill resides in England, and although he owns a house in Aiken, S.C., it was his first time to Thomson's Belle Meade Hunt. But he is no stranger to fox hunts, because he has participated in many in England.
"I'm a retired cavalry man," Mr. Hill said. "Hunting is always in the cavalry man's blood, because we never stopped until the horses were exhausted or an incident happened."
Mr. Hill said Thomson's opening meet was similar to those in England, except for one thing.
"They would be a lot colder and it would probably be raining," he said. "These English tweeds are not suitable for this warm weather."
Mr. Lewis, who is from Louisville, Ga., enjoyed comparing "hunt notes" with his new English friend. Mr. Lewis said he has been coming to the Belle Meade hunt since 1973 as both a participant and a spectator.
"This is one of the top few hunts in North America as far as respect and influence," he said. "Back in the days of prevalent coyotes, this hunt had the highest number of viewings. The Wilsons were instrumental in bringing it to us, and the community supports it. That's what makes it happen every year."