“Pity the master,” writes William P. Wadsworth repeatedly in his invaluable “Riding to the Hounds in America.” So, in accordance with Master Wadsworth, it is with both respect and pity that we welcome the new crop of Maryland Masters of the Foxhounds.

What is a “master?” According to Wadsworth, a master is, quite simply, “the person in command of the hunt in field and kennels.”

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? You get to append the initials “MFH” to your name, and then you get to lead the field and get invitations to hunt all over the world, right? Right, just as soon as he or she gets done ensuring that the pack of hounds has a capable huntsman, that there is plenty of staff to assist the huntsman, that the breeding and training of the hounds is appropriate for the territory and the club’s style of hunting, that the staff is properly mounted…right after he or she has touched base with the sometimes well over 100 landowners who can make up a given territory, made sure the paneling and trails were in good order, the long time members of the club were in good humor and the new members were feeling included, and just after he or she answers the complaints of the 60 or so backseat drivers, diplomatically dispenses with the Monday morning quarterbacks, and juggles the hunt club politics, the master will get right on that having fun part!

Yes, pity the master.

Why would anyone agree to take on that role? For as many masters as there are, there are as many intensely personal reasons. For some, serving as master is a family tradition. For others it is their opportunity to serve the sport about which they are so passionate, to grow and expand the sport. And still, for others, after having enjoyed the sport for years as a field member, they feel a keen obligation to give back.

Some individuals strive and politic for mastership, others are reluctant, taking the title only after much coaxing. Some masterships are intentional, others are accidental – the last man standing.

The journey to mastership is different for each individual, and in each club. Some clubs appoint each master; other clubs appoint one master and that master invites joints to serve with him or her. Some appointments are by a board of directors, which usually runs the business aspect of a club. Other appointments are by the club’s hunt committee, which focuses just on the hunting aspects of the club. In some clubs, the entire membership elects each master, individually or as a slate.

Different masters have different strengths and different priorities. For some masters, it is all about the hounds and the sport, but they have little use for people. Other masters with keen diplomacy skills may be responsible for landowner relations or membership relations. Some masters bring administrative and financial skills to the table. Some masters are known for their horsemanship. Some masters can think like a fox, and have a knack for positioning the field just so in order to view the fox and then the hounds. Other masters may bring a more vigorous, hard charging approach to leading the field, and would rather fly with the hounds in full cry.

The Maryland masters of the class of 2009 are no different, each having taken the leadership role for different reasons, each hoping to be a complement to the other joint masters in the club.

The three masters of the New Market-Middletown Valley Hounds have perhaps the greatest challenge, as all three are new to the job, with no senior master, and they have a new huntsman, Robert Taylor (also a master for Goshen). But retired Master Leo Rocca remains in the wings, guiding and helping.

The new master at the Green Spring Valley Hounds, meanwhile, has an equally daunting challenge, albeit at the other end of the spectrum, as he joins the largest and most experienced field of masters in state, lead by the longest serving master in Maryland, J.W.Y. Martin, Jr., a Master of the Foxhounds since 1977.

Katherine D. Byron, MFH
New Market – Middletown Valley Hounds

Katherine “Kate” Byron was born in the saddle, as her parents were early members of New Market. By the time she was hunting age, the family was hunting with Antietam Hunt, where her father, Jamie Byron, served as field master and honorary secretary and her sister Sally, whipped-in to huntsman Clayton Doing. Kate and Sally were the third generation of Byrons involved with Antietam, as grandfather, William Byron was active with the hunt in the 1930s.

Although her family was active with Antietam, Kate also hunted with New Market while in pony club, through the invitation of long time members, Larry and Nancy Isaacson. Their daughter, Holly Isaacson, and Kate were in Shenandoah Valley Pony Club, riding with Dickcy Boutelle Gibson, so hunting with NMMVH was only natural. “I was essentially a surrogate child of Pleasant Valley Farm!” explains Kate.

As an adult she joined NMMVH, hunting for several years, then taking a hiatus, as she campaigned her horse through upper levels of eventing before bringing him back into the hunt field.

How is it going so far?

It’s going pretty well. It was definitely a transition, as we have three new masters and one new huntsman all starting together. Master Rocca has been fabulous in handing over the reins, being available for introductions, advice and support.
Our huntsman, Master Taylor, has also been terrific in sharing his hunting experience, while remaining sensitive to the differences in clubs and territory. My joint masters are great and we’ve been working our way through the division of labor and responsibilities. It’s all a learning experience, which so far is working well.

I know that the previous masters and huntsmen of NMMVH had worked hard to ensure good hunting in western Maryland and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, and I wanted to be part of keeping that in place for everyone who enjoys the sport. I think that we have so much opportunity in our area [to develop territory] that we have yet to discover, while so many other hunts are probably stagnant with respect to developing new territory, that in order to maintain and promote foxhunting, someone needed to take on that challenge and it might as well be me!

What have you learned so far?

[Being master] has opened my eyes to the differences in what folks look for in their hunting. I come from a fairly “traditional” approach of being a hard-riding foxhunter (and Intermediate-level eventer). From hunting as a kid, and being a Pony Club “A,” I am trained to really listen, watch and ride. But I’m learning that not every member wishes to enjoy their sport in the same way, and it’s a balance to hope that everyone has their version of a good hunting day.

Kevin T. Curran, MFH
New Market – Middletown Valley Hounds

Kevin Curran is a fourth generation Master of the Fox Hounds, beginning with his great grandfather’s mastership of the Chevy Chase Hunt Club. Kevin himself began hunting when he was about ten, soon whipping-in, and is proud this his sons, Andy and Luke, are likewise whipping-in. He has been with NMMV for five years.

How is it going?

I have such a new and profound respect for other MFHs. There are so much ongoing issues – hounds, staff, landowners, crops, legal issues just to name a few. I am blessed to have two wonderful joint masters that are not only fine horsewomen but are very competent at running a hunt club and looking to the future.

What have you learned so far?

How fast a pack of hounds can get away from you if you don’t bring your A game! Mostly, I’ve learned that it is about team building to get done all that it takes……. to open the trailer door, to let the hounds out, to swing up on your mount, and to be able to follow one’s passion of riding to a pack of hounds and listening to the most beautiful chorus of music ever to be heard. We are truly blessed.

Franklin “Whit” Foster, MFH 
Green Spring Valley Hounds

Franklin Foster, known among his friends as Whit, was raised hunting with the Green Spring Valley Hounds. With his father serving as the honorary secretary, Whit grew up with an appreciation for the amount of “behind the scenes” work that it takes to run a hunt club and to provide good sport.

Like so many others, he left home (and left hunting) to pursue a school and a career, spending ten years in the oil and gas industry before returning to Maryland. However, it was a full twenty-five years before he returned to the saddle. But then his children were interested in riding, and now the whole family hunts. “Nothing beats a day of hunting with all the family and looking back and seeing them fly the fences with a smile!” explains Whit.

How is it going so far?

We have a good thing going at GSVH, with terrific landowners, a conservation minded community, a keen and capable huntsman and staff, an able and supportive field thanks to the efforts of the masters, so I accepted the role to keep it going for another generation – and because it is fun going hunting and that is what masters are supposed to do, right?

[It was something of a surprise] that I was asked to be a master at GSVH, not having ridden in the Maryland Hunt Cup or on the steeplechase scene (such as joint MFHs Duck Martin, Ned Halle and George Mahoney) or not being an “A” rated pony clubber or eventer of some note, such as Sheila Brown.

Joint masters like Duck Martin and Sheila Brown are some of the most capable and knowledgeable in the business. I see myself as a very junior master with a lot to learn from my fellow joint masters, and my [primary] role [at this time] is to learn and support them in the job. We have a terrific hunt because of the consistent efforts of past and current masters and I would like to keep up that effort and standards of the hunt for the current generation and the next.

What have you learned so far?

Never miss a good opportunity to shut your mouth. No really, at GSVH we have a great field, which helps in a myriad of ways that makes the job of a master enjoyable. I am only six months into the job and, yes, it is time consuming but so far the support has been great!

Jennifer Sponseller Webster, MFH
New Market-Middletown Valley Hounds

Jennifer Sponseller Webster was a young girl the day of her inaugural hunt, Thanksgiving Day, 1982, with the then Howard County Hounds (prior to their merger with Iron Bridge) at the famed Doughoregan Manor, home of Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence and today still the seat of the Carroll Family – Maryland’s founding family. “Needless to say, I was hooked!” says Jennifer.

Jennifer was soon a regular in the field of the New Market – Middletown Valley Hounds, of which her grandparents, Dr. Ross and Jean Brinkley, had been founding members and for which Dr. Ross Brinkley had been the long time honorary secretary, and his son David had been a whipper-in.

As an adult, Jennifer moved to Pennsylvania and hunted with Plum Run until that pack was disbanded, at which time Jennifer rejoined NMMVH.

Shortly after Jennifer accepted the role as joint-master, she learned she was pregnant, due on opening day!

How is it going so far?

It could not be better. We have a fantastic new (to us, but certainly not the sport!) huntsman, Robert Taylor, MFH (Goshen) being supported by an eager staff of honorary whipper-ins and an enthusiastic and excited membership. We are growing our territory and our membership, while at the same time retaining the majority of the veteran members and past leaders, including former and retired masters Pat Carter, Leo Rocca and Frank Becker who have served as the cornerstone of our club for decades.
I have the opportunity to work with two joint-masters whose skills and personalities are complementary to what I thought I could bring to the table.

What have you learned so far?

To borrow from the cliché, I really do learn something new every day and suspect that I will continue to learn for as long as I am given the chance to remain in this role. It will be a long, long time before I might ever be considered among the ranks of respected masters like Liz McKnight or Roger Scullin, who have served their clubs well, year in and year out, for many, many years.

Most specifically, however, from a primarily administrative standpoint, I have been amazed with just how many different variables go into putting together a viable hunting schedule/ fixture card in our country and just how difficult it has become to make this happen with the new challenges of changing deer hunting laws in the [two] states in which we hunt. And of course changes in land ownership and crop farming schedules all play a part in this, as well. We don’t have thousands upon thousands of acres that can be hunted at any given time, in any given weather, like our fellow hunts are blessed with in parts of Virginia and also Baltimore and Harford Counties, and we must handle every last acre we’ve been gifted with kid gloves. I had an easier time figuring out the Rubik’s Cube in the 80s than I did putting together the first fixture card of our formal season – it nearly did me in!