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Timeless tradition: Belle Meade Hunt celebrates 40 years

To some, it's the thrill of the ride and chase. To others, it's an appreciation of the horses or an opportunity to be outdoors. What all do agree on, the Belle Meade Fox Hunt Opening Meet is fun.


Water falls over the Rock Dam as Epp Wilson, Gary Wilkes, Charlie Lewis and several hounds keep watch. Click here for more Belle Meade Hunt photos

This year's opening meet was held on Saturday and had 150 horses and riders. Chasing the participants were more than 500 spectators in approximately 30 Tally-Ho wagons. Some long-time veterans, and some rookies, their reasons for attending the Meet are as many and as varied as the spots on the hounds.

Rita Parks said her husband worked in the area "years ago," and they began attending the event. Even though the couple now lives in Gwinnett County, they still enjoy participating in the event. This year, the Parks brought their sorority friends and filled a wagon.

"We just enjoy the heck out of it," said David Moore, who has been driving the Cedar Rock Farm wagon for 15 years. "It's a beautiful day to be outdoors."

Second-timers March Hall and Cathy Borders from Monroe, Ga. returned because "last year we had a ball." The ladies said they enjoy seeing the horses in the hunt because they show Saddlebreds.

An appreciation for horses also brought Joyce Sancken and her family and friends from Augusta. Mrs. Sancken's husband obtained tickets to the Opening Meet through an auction at Central Savannah River Trust. The Sancken's wagon was festively decorated with streamers, banners, and scarecrows.

"They've got the best horses and the best hounds, now we also have the best ride," said Mrs. Sancken. "We're riding in style."

Style caught the attention of Gail Leonard's exterminator who recommended she and her husband check out the Fox Hunt. The Leonards recently built a new house in Dothan, Ala. The couple chose English fox hunting as the decor theme, even though they had never seen a fox hunt. When their exterminator saw their house, he told them how to find information about clubs online. Mrs. Leonard said her husband found the Belle Meade Opening Meet on the Web, and noticed that it was the same day as her birthday.

"I'm a fanatic, even though I've never been before," Mrs. Leonard said. "It's everything I expected and so much more. Everybody here is so nice. I'm hoping to work my way up so one day I can ride in it myself."

It was Harry Varn's first year to attend the Meet and not participate as a rider. Mr. Varn, 77, said he is a charter member of the Belle Meade Hunt. Mr. Varn rode every year until four years ago when a leg injury forced him to quit. Mr. Varn said he returned Saturday by "invitation from Master Epp for the anniversary celebration." Mr. Varn said he hasn't been to the hunt since he had to quit riding.

"After being on the horse in the chase, those Tally-Ho wagons would be boring," Mr. Varn said. "When those dogs make a strike, the sound of their voices makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, like seeing Georgia make a touchdown."

With Georgia not on the attack "between the hedges," Jim Hadden and his friend, Brad Ansley, both from Glascock County, came to their first Opening Meet.

"I'm here because Georgia wasn't playing this weekend," said Mr. Hadden. "Besides, it's a great excuse to drink at 10 o'clock in the morning."

Fraternity brothers Ryan Payne and Eric Vanderheijden, both students at Southern Polytechnic State University and volunteers under the gifts and apparel tent, said they were helping to keep the drinks cold.

"The koozies are selling like hotcakes," Mr. Payne said. "It's our first year here. It's fun, the people are really nice."

Web posted on Thursday, November 10, 2005


Temperature:53° F
Wind:from the W at 5 MPH
Visibility:10 miles
Dew Point:53° F
Updated: 04-Nov-2010 10:01

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