Photography by Chia Chong
As the early morning sun chases away the long winter shadows, some 100 horses enter a sweeping pasture. Each of their riders dons formal hunt attire: red or black coats (determined by club rank and gender), crisp stock ties, white or tan breeches, tall black boots without laces. Cups of sherry are passed around on silver trays while 33 hounds (that’s 16 and a half couples, in foxhunt speak) congregate in a corner. The huntsman, Martyn Blackmore, a Brit who’s been in the field his entire life, is about to blow his copper horn.
It could be a scene cut straight from an old English oil painting, but today we’re at Airy Hall Plantation in Colleton County, South Carolina. Situated on 1,700 acres of countryside along the Ashepoo River, this is the heart of the Ace Basin, 65 miles north of Savannah. Riders and revelers from near and far have arrived for the last day of the annual Plantation Hunt Weekend, the largest event hosted by the Lowcountry Hunt— a group founded in 2006 that now comprises 80 members, about 20 of them from Savannah.
Melinda Shambley is one of the club’s three founding masters, and her sister and brother-in-law, Frankie and Buck Limehouse, are the owners of Airy Hall. Shambley is quick to note a key difference between American foxhunting and the British sport: Stateside, the goal is the quest, not the kill.
“In Britain, foxes are pests, but that’s not the case here,” says Shambley, who attended her first foxhunt at age 3 and foxhunting in her 30s. “What we do should actually be called fox chasing. If a fox goes to ground, our huntsman calls the hounds back, but most of the time they get outfoxed.” (A translation for the uninitiated: If the hounds run a fox into a hole or up a tree, Blackmore quickly diverts the hunt.)
The Plantation Hunt Weekend is just as much a party as anything else, with an oyster roast and Lowcountry boil one day, a champagne brunch another. A time of “huge camaraderie” is how Shambley describes the festivities. “We go out for a good day of sport,” she says, “and come in for good food and drink.”
On this hunt, the hounds were on a line but lost the scent (more foxhound speak), so after several hours of traversing through fields and woods, riders retire their horses to trailers, change into tweed dress—and likely a feathered hat—and head to the main house, a 20-bedroom Georgian brick festooned in impeccably manicured clusters of ivy. Everyone meets out back on the pool deck, near a bar of fried chicken and crudités. But really, it’s all about the gathering of friends—and admittedly, those stiff Bloody Marys.