This past winter, Bonnie Barr-Briggs was out with other members of the Old Dominion Hounds on one of their weekly rides, during a pretty rough wind storm. “It was awful,” Barr-Briggs describes of the weather, “and we had a blast.” High winds and cold temperatures don’t deter these equestrians as they ride through the countryside of Fauquier and the Rappahannock—the same land the group has been riding through since its founding in 1924, though now more populated—on one of their regular fox hunts, a celebration of a culture and friendship that has been passed down through generations in NoVA.
“I have been hunting with them since I was 10 years old, which is nearly 40 years now,” says Barr-Briggs, who is in her first year as one of ODH’s three masters, the group’s leaders. She began riding with the group with her grandparents, which is how many are first introduced to ODH. “There’s generations of people out here. Sometimes you’ll have grandparents and grandchildren coming out to ride on the same day,” she continues. “It’s definitely a family activity.”
The actual hunting of the fox is secondary, according to Barr-Briggs. The group dresses in formal attire—a blue or black hacking jacket, or scarlet if you’ve earned the privilege, hunting britches, boots and a helmet—and the fun is had just from riding through the fields, unsure of where the pursuit of the fox will take you. Barr-Briggs estimates the clever fox gets away 98-99.9 percent of the time.
Hunting season goes from September to the end of March, but another classic equine event keeps the group active throughout the year. ODH’s Point to Point race is a steeplechase event now in its 47th year. Held annually in early April, there are nine races held on Saturday, with tailgating and activities in between the races also available. The race attracts people out to the Ben Venue Farm in Rappahannock all the way from DC and Arlington, and has had some loyal patrons who have reserved the same parking spots for 20-30 years. Saturday’s festivities are followed by a special event on Sunday for ODH members known as the Hunter Pace, where adult and juniors can ride a cross-country course to try and post the best time.
ODH’s Point to Point is just one of the steeplechase races put on throughout the summer. Other local hunt groups host their own events, creating a circuit for ODH and their fellow equestrian enthusiasts.
To become a member of ODH, one needs to get an introduction and invitation to experience it by someone already in the hunt, though owning a horse is not required as many people rent or borrow a horse for events. But once you’re in, you join a tight-knit community that looks to preserve both these classic sports and the land they are held on.
“It’s a group of people that really appreciates being outside, open country and definitely the element of family,” says Barr-Briggs. “We are all fighting to keep our countryside open as best we can to enjoy it for the next generation.” // Point to Point Race: April 6-7, Ben Venue: 38 Ben Venue Road, Culpeper; $25-$150 (parking)