Founded in 1895, Norfolk Hunt (MA) was one of the first recognized packs and its kennels are the oldest in continuous use in the country. The club's early leaders helped found and foster the MFHA over 100 years ago, and despite intense pressure from suburban growth, its drag lines are laid along trails protected by members for generations. Alyse Phipps, in her first season as a huntsman, picks up the horn to lead this storied institution with enthusiasm, commitment, and gratitude.
Phipps following her hounds at a meet earlier this fall. Photo by Ruth Baltopoulos.
Phipps began riding at age nine and soon knew she wanted to work with horses professionally. She acquired her first training project in her teens and continued learning as a student at Meredith Manor in West Virginia. Following college, she moved to Virginia and met Bull Run Master Rosie Campbell, who hooked her on foxhunting. During her time in the Bull Run country, she helped bring novice riders out and gradually developed her own clientele. This experience expanded into northern Virginia, where in addition to escorting clients in the hunt field, she groomed at hunting, eventing, and 'chasing stables before moving to Massachusetts. From 2013-2015, she worked as kennelman and whipped-in at Norfolk, so she was familiar with the pack when the Masters offered her the huntsman's role earlier this year.
Asked what her biggest challenge has been, Phipps replied, "Trusting my gut and hounds with confidence. A lot of my whippers-in are also new, so I have been teaching them along the way, as well as my [human drag] fox! Teaching has helped me overcome the inevitable anxieties of hunting a pack for your first season. Spending a lot of quality time with the hounds has built our trust and bond, giving me no reason to doubt them. They look to me for confidence and whenever they feel any doubt."
Walking hounds out last summer over trails Norfolk has used for more than 120 years, Phipps was focused but quiet, letting hounds exercise without overmanaging them. Recent improvements to the kennels have made caring for the mostly Crossbred and American pack easier. "Alyse is a pleasure to work, with which makes the hard work and time spent to get her up to speed these last few months by the Masters much, much easier," said joint Master Dominic Cammarata. "She inherited a good pack of hounds and spends a lot of time working with them and molding them into a pack that she knows and loves."
With Buzzard's Bay and the Atlantic as a backdrop, Phipps prepares to move off from Norfolk's Barney's Joy fixture. Photo by Ruth Baltopoulos.
Phipps' commitment to spending time in kennels, walking out, and interacting with hounds over the summer has paid off with a solid start at meets across Norfolk's suburban, south-central and coastal Massachusetts country. New associate Master Robert Shuman agreed: "She continues to exceed our expectations and the hunting this fall has been terrific. Whipping-in to her and working with the hounds has been an amazing experience for me. Her continued growth is a testament to her commitment to the sport, the club, and her staff."
Happily, most of the surprises over the first weeks of the season have been positive. "I've been thrilled with the outpouring support from the club, the amazing talent my horse has for the sport along with his love for the hounds, and the trust from the pack in such a short time," Phipps said. "I have surprised myself with how well I can read the hounds and know each personality, habit and status within the pack."
"It has been eye-opening and I am truly grateful for the opportunity," she continued. "Moving forward, my goals are to challenge myself and the hounds more each season with more difficult lines in different settings, to breed and draft more hounds, and to perfect my skills on the horn."
To learn more about Norfolk Hunt Club, please click here.