Hunt ‘alive and well’ despite COVID-19

About half as many riders participated, the legendary luncheon was cancelled but the hounds got their blessing, as did the Sunshine Coast in the 21st annual Fraser Valley Hunt Opening Meet last weekend.

“It was very different, there’s no doubt about it, but we had a fabulous time,” said Fraser Valley Hunt Society’s William Donnellan, a master of foxhounds in both Ireland and Canada. The Sunshine Coast hunt is one of his favourites. “It’s always fabulous terrain,” he said. “They put on a really special event.”

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More than 20 riders, about half as many as usual, enjoyed the clear blue skies in Roberts Creek on Nov. 7 – welcome relief after an infamously rainy and snowy last two years. The hounds were managed by new huntsman Kelly Coughlin, and her handling was “top class,” said Donnellan.

Normally spectators line the road leading to the property of Kenan and Lynn MacKenzie, who host the event with the Sunshine Coast Equestrian Club, but this year the public was asked to stay home to maintain COVID-19 safety protocols.

Another highly-anticipated tradition – the hunt luncheon competition – was also cancelled.

Typically participants arrange their best cutlery, props and lavish food and drink in the back of their trunks in hopes of winning the competition, organized by equestrian club member Virginia Mills, but the pandemic put a halt to that.

“We missed that this year,” said Donnellan, who gave her flowers and cake – at a distance – to honour the more than two decades Mills has organized and sponsored the tradition. “We couldn’t hug or anything,” he said, describing her as a “true supporter” of the hunt.

The annual blessing of the hounds, normally conducted by Rev. Terri Scallon, did occur, however.

Hunting season runs from October to March to avoid disturbing foxes while they raise their offspring in the spring and summer. Today’s hunts use a drag scent rather than live foxes.

“We’re very grateful to everybody on the Sunshine Coast [who] supports the event,” Donnellan said.

Despite COVID-19, the Fraser Valley Hunt Society is increasing its membership after restructuring a couple of years ago. Today, it has the highest membership in its 40 –year history.

“This is a major world tradition,” he said. “It’s alive and well.”

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