Cooling Out With ... Dick Webb
It must be said that Dick Webb, a Joint Master of the Moore County Hounds since 1961 and the third longest serving Hunt Master in country, looks better on a horse than he does walking next to one.
Webb, who will turn 84 in January, began hunting in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. as a teenager; he has been riding with the Moore County Hounds since 1947 (he graduated from Duke in 1951).
Webb and his wife of 56 years, Anne, split their time between Southern Pines and Marion, Mass.
Q: First and foremost, tell me about your injuries.
A: Touch wood, I’ve been very fortunate to have some very good horses that carried me very well over the years. I’ve broken my leg once, and hurt my shoulder, but nothing too serious.
Q: How long have you been riding?
A: My father liked to ride, so I rode as a small boy. I loved it. I rode all through boarding school in England and hunted in Poughkeepsie, Westchester, and Greenwich when back at home.
Q: What is the attraction to hunting over other equestrian sports?
A: The thrill of the chase is most important. Although we’re a bloodsport, very seldom do we kill anything. Our “quarry” — coyote, fox, occasionally bobcat — invariably gets away. When a pack of hounds opens on a quarry, the so-called “music” is very exciting … really, there’s nothing better.
Q: What makes a good hunt horse?
A: One that will jump freely and not be upset by the hounds running around. You need a wonderful, well-mannered horse that will put up with the hounds. Some horses can’t stand having the dogs running around them. A lot of my horses have been thoroughbreds … I’ve had a few failed steeplechases horses, too.
Q: Do you have a favorite among your horses?
A: I had to recently put my wonderful Leo down. He was 21, and I’d had him since he was 5. It was so tragic … he was incurably lame and we had no other choice. He was a dear soul, a lovely, lovely boy. He’s buried on the property.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception about hunting?
A: It’s misconstrued as an elitist sport. And it is NOT an elitist sport. The fact that Prince Charles hunts leads the public to perceive it as gentry galloping across the countryside. That’s not the case.
Q: What happens at the blessing of the hounds?
A: It’s the only artificial hunt of the year, and it marks the opening of the formal season. It’s what’s called a “drag hunt” — a scented drag is run over the course and the hounds follow. It’s a ceremonial thing … the crowds come out and watch the priest bless the hound, and, then they tailgate like they do at a football game.
Q: What do you perceive as the biggest threat to hunting’s future?
A: It’s the animal rights people in England. They would like nothing more than to end all forms of hunting. They have control of the humane society over there, and they have a lot of money. But that’s true here, too.
Q: What would you say to animal rights groups?
A: I’d tell them the farmers in England love hunting, because the fox is a threat to their sheep and other animals. We ride from October through March, and we only see one or two kills a year. That’s a pretty good average when you figure we go out three times a week, and on the weekend you can have 80 people out there.
Q: How long do you plan to keep riding?
A: For as long as I’m physically able. And I have to point out that although I’m the third-longest serving Master, one of the other two hunts in a Jeep now!
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