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Belle Meade Hunt draws hundreds of local residents, visitors to McDuffie County

Many of the sights simply were described as breathtaking by riders on horseback and those who rode along in what are known as Tally-Ho wagons. Those on horseback, clad in their special clothing for the 42nd Annual Opening of the Belle Meade Hunt near Thomson last Saturday, were led by some of America's finest, specially-trained hunting hound dogs.

Those in the wagons, sponsored by a host of local businesses, came in comfortable attire. Many wore blue jeans and hats. And like the riders on horseback, they all had one thing in common - having a good time.

"It's a time to have lots of fun," said Christy Munns, general manager of White Columns Inn in Thomson. "We enjoy taking many of our customers out on the Tally-Ho wagons for them to have a good time. Everybody always seems to enjoy it so much."

The Belle Meade Hunt season, which opens every year on the first Saturday in November, draws hundreds of local residents and out-of-state visitors - two from London. Although the hunt season lasts through April, opening day, is the only day the public is allowed to attend.

"A day like this doesn't happen but once a year," said Scott Huff, director of public works for the city of Thomson. "It's a lot of fun. You get to talk and have fun with a lot of friends and meet other people, too."

For Sandy Yelton, deputy coroner of Warren County, it was a chance to be with friends and view the beautiful scenery that can only be seen on horseback or by riding in a Tally-Ho wagon.

"This is my second straight year attending," said Mrs. Yelton. "It's a lot of fun. And the scenery is so beautiful. It's a lot like being in the mountains, where the different colors of leaves let's you know its fall."

Her sister, Kay Langham, echoed those sentiments.

"It's really a special place to come and hear one of the hunt masters explain what the hunt is all about," said Mrs. Langham, who works as a secretary for Reeves Construction Company and is a volunteer firefighter with Warren County.

Robert Rivers, who lives in Thomson and works at Pine Top Farms, has been attending the Belle Meade Hunt for the past 10 years.

"I like to come every year, because I get a chance to see wildlife up real close, sometimes," said Mr. Rivers, who in the past has even driven trucks that pull the Tally-Ho wagons. "I think it's a lot of fun."

For Lynn Thomasson, who lives in Tignall, it was her fifth time participating as a rider in the Belle Meade Hunt.

"I love trying to keep up with the hounds more than anything" said Ms. Thomasson, who works as a 911 dispatcher in Taliaferro County. "It's a real challenge, I can tell you that."

She was one of 150 horseback riders who participated this past weekend. The riders were broken down into two groups - half being members of the Belle Meade Hunt and the other half of the group being invited riders.

For Tara Cooper, of Harlem, opening day of the hunt is a family affair. Her husband, Terry Cooper, owner of Select Cars and Trucks in Thomson, as well as Mrs. Cooper's dad, Gary Wilkes, are all members of the Belle Meade Hunt. Dr. Wilkes, in fact, is one of the hunt masters, along with Epp Wilson and Charlie Lewis.

"It's most definitely a family affair for all of us," said Mrs. Cooper, while riding her 4-year-old son, Wilkes Cooper, on horse prior to the opening meet's traditional blessing of the hounds. "That's one of the reasons I think it's so special is because it's such a family-oriented sport."

Mrs. Cooper and her brother, Chad Wilkes, were introduced to the sport when both were young children.

"Being outside like this is a great stress reliever," said Mrs. Cooper.

Gregg Wilson, whose grandfather, the late James Wilson, founded the Belle Meade Hunt, knows well the meaning of family affair when it comes to talking about the hunt.

"I've known about the fun of this sport since I was a little boy," said Mr. Wilson, who now lives in Columbia, S.C. and works as an animal nutritionist. "This is God's country; there's no two ways about it. I get a real kick out of being here every year for opening day hunt ceremonies."

Tom Lee and his wife, Barbara, of Wrens, have been attending the opening meet since 1989.

"We've met all kinds of people," said Mr. Lee, noting that his wife is on staff at Belle Meade and works with the hounds out in the field. "It's a great way to fellowship with people from different places."

That's how he met Jeff Warren and his wife, Ava, from Glade Spring, Va. The couple have been making the journey to Thomson for the past eight years. They sell riding horses.

"This is one of the best places around that I know of to throw a party," said Mr. Warren.

Web posted on Thursday, November 08, 2007

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