Karen Kandra Wenzel
50 Packs in 50 Years of Fox Chasing

by Katherine O. Rizzo


The late Janet Hitchen, who Karen considers her foxhunting photography inspiration, snapped this photo of Karen hunting in 1987.

It started in 1965 with a pony and a junior hunt, and it immediately became a lifetime passion of following the fox, first in the saddle and then with a camera. Karen Kandra Wenzel of Woodbine has 50 years of chasing the fox by hoof and foot, capturing 50 packs (and counting) with her lens.

“I got my first pony, Cocoa, in 1964 from Hansen Watkins, who was a former Goshen [Hounds] master,” Karen said. She instantly joined Redland Hunt Pony Club, and a year later was at Doughoregan Manor for her first foxhunt, a Howard County Hunt junior meet. She hunted a few more times but became an official fox chaser a few years later when she was 16, the year her parents got her a junior membership to Goshen. From then on, foxhunting would be a part of her life forever.

“I met [husband] Gary in the hunt field when we were both freshman at the University of Maryland and then 20 years later, we got married!” Karen explained, laughing at the funny way they met. “It was 1969 and he was a junior member of Iron Bridge, and I fell off in the field at a joint meet, and he caught my horse!” Although Karen took some time off from hunting to show hunters, even competing at the Washington International Horse Show, both at the old Armory and Capital Centre, Gary became heavily involved in the sport, whipping-in for Goshen, and eventually as huntsman of his own pack.

“In 1987, I had some young horses and started hunting again,” she said. That same year, Gary bought her a nice Nikon and she started taking her camera to meets. “Janet Hitchen was a huge inspiration to me,” Karen said. “We have so many of her photos on the walls of our house.” Through the rest of ‘80s and most of the ‘90s, Karen hunted regularly with Gary, sometimes on a horse, and sometimes following with her camera. It was not until after a riding accident in 2000 that Karen decided to switch to just her camera. “I did get back on and ride a few more seasons, but in 2003 I just decided to quit riding, but still love the sport,” she explained. Gary and two of their friends, Julia Beal and Pat McDowel, hunted her homebreds while Karen honed her photography skills.

Karen & Cocoa

Karen on her first pony Cocoa, hunting as a junior Goshen member

“I think it is important for people to know I am a foxhunter who takes photos, not a photographer who foxhunts,” she said. “I have 50 years of foxhunting experience and zero years of photography training,” she added with a laugh. Karen does not consider herself a professional photographer, and says she has no ambition to be one either. “I don’t want to spend money on fancy equipment, and I don’t want to make money with my photographs either. I am just blessed to be able to follow my passion with a camera.”

This passion for foxhunting has led her up and down the East Coast taking photos of packs from Florida to New York, and everywhere in between. As of press time, Karen has photographed every pack in Maryland, and 50 packs in total. “I love getting to see other people’s country and hounds,” she said when asked why travel just to photograph foxhunts. “There are so many beautiful places and to see where different packs hunt… I just love it!”

Karen & Sea Drums

Karen, on her homebred Thoroughbred Sea Drums, and Gary at Goshen’s 1987 opening meet

Even though she considers herself an amateur, Karen’s photographs have been published in several magazines, including The Equiery, Covertside, Foxhunting Life, Horse of Delaware Valley, and the Chronicle of the Horse. “It means so much to me to have all those magazines publish my work since I am not a pro,” she added. Several of her photos were also used in both foxhunter Norman Fine’s Foxhunting Life calendar and the annual MFHA calendar.

Karen remembers her first time making it on an Equiery cover: “Crystal [Brumme, the Publisher] came to [Howard County-Iron Bridge’s] opening meet with the new issue in hand and held it up showing my photo to everyone. It was so exciting!”

Karen & Dark Scarf

Karen showing the OTTB Dark Scarf at the Washington International Horse Show

Although this Art Director personally favors her shots of huntsman surrounded by hounds, many of her fans love her fox photos. “To me, it is not a great day unless you see the fox… or coyote in some cases,” she said. Karen credits fellow Equiery photographer Bob Keller for helping her move into the digital age, but all her talent for catching the sly fox on film is credited to her husband. “His passion and his instincts have taught me so much. All his years of experience… he knows how the fox will run and we often get views even when the field may not.”

Now Karen’s passion for photographing hunts is combining with her passion for travel, as she has declared 2018 as “my year of travel!” – with the goal of getting to see as many different territories and packs as possible. She already has a plan to spend a week or so in Aiken, S.C., and hopes to be able to head out west. “If someone wants to send me a plane ticket, I’ll head there too!” she said, adding with a smile, “have camera, will travel!”

Karen’s Top Five Favorite Pics

#1 – “This is my all-time favorite photo I have ever taken!” Karen said. The photo is of Katie Gilbert in the Junior Handler class at the Bryn Mawr Hound Show in 2001. “It was the very last shot on my film camera, and right as I was focusing my lens, the basset turned around and kissed her.” The photo was printed in the Chronicle of the Horse and was on the cover of The Horse of Delaware Valley as the winner of their annual photo contest. This photo also appeared in the Chronicle again in 2002 when it won third place for Best Photograph.

#2 – “It is not a good day unless we view a fox… and even better if I capture it on film,” Karen said. This fox was captured on film crossing Montevideo Road in Poolesville while Karen was shooting for Potomac Hunt.

#3 – “Allen [Forney] is always one of my favorite people to photograph,” Karen stated. “He is always impeccably turned out and his horse, Rex, was very photographic, always posing for the camera.” This photo was taken at the Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds opening meet at Harwood in Brookeville in 2001 while Allen was huntsman.

#4 – “This is one of my favorite hound photos,” Karen said of the Bellwood Hunt hounds in full cry. The photo was also a favorite of H.L.Todd Addis, MFH, who used it in his book Our Penn-Marydel Hound – A Historical Anthology, published in 2002.

#5 – “This photo was one of two pictures that Frankie [Pardoe] used for a painting she did for the MFHA Centennial Art Show in 2007” Karen said. The fox cubs were born at Karen and Gary’s farm in Woodbine, and Karen was able to take several photos of them. “Frankie used a lot of my photos as the basis of some of her paintings, and for that, I am forever grateful.”

Art Director’s Pick
Out of the hundreds of photos that Karen Kandra Wenzel has shared with The Equiery over the years, this one of former Potomac Huntsman Larry Pitts is by far my personal favorite. There is something very simple and classic about the colors and composition that speaks to the subject of huntsman and hounds.

(first appeared in the January 2018 issue of The Equiery)