Horses, Hounds, and High Hopes:
The Beginnings of the Santa Ynez Valley Hunt
One could say that the history of the Santa Ynez Valley Hunt goes back 10,000 years, to some of the earliest human settlers in the valley. The coyote, whose scent is our principal quarry, so amused the Chumash that they deified the animal as the Great Trickster. The wild boar, whose scent provides our other quarry, has been supplying sport for cowboys with hog-dogs and ropes ever since grizzly bears disappeared in the last century. (The present strain of wild pigs is a hybrid of domestic and feral stock, including Russian Boar introduced here, in Big Sur, and on Catalina Island in the 1920s.)
The transition by a small contingent of local sportsmen from western saddles to flat, and from hog-dogs to hounds, can be traced to the 1960s, when the all-western Santa Ynez Valley Horse Show added a second, all-English day to its annual weekend show. In 1969, the Santa Barbara County Riding Club started holding its bi-annual hunter trials at the valley's Midland School, over a course built by Wolcott Schley and Nancy Carter. It wasn't long until an entire generation of local junior riders had become accustomed to jumping cross-country over solid fences (and their parents to building them).
The missing ingredients for an organized foxhunt were acquired in 1971. That summer, a seminal dinner party was attended by Wolcott Schley, Nancy Carter, Louis and Helen Netzer, Gene and Niki Evans, and Virginia and Rod Erickson and their daughter Lisa. The decision of that group to form a "real" hunt was abetted by Charlie Wheeler and Dr. Bob Lawson, both of whom had been original founders of the Los Altos Hunt.
Dr. Lawson arranged for the drafting of four couple of Arapahoe and Mr. Stewart's Cheshire English hounds from the Los Altos Hunt. (The pack still carries some of the blood of Dapper, Deputy, Sinner, et al.) Before long, the pack was rounded out by lead-hounds Rebel (donated by Pat harrison), Clyde, and our foundation Walker Hound Ace.
At Charlie Wheeler's insistence, hunting rights to the Santa Ynez Valley were secured by registration of the new hunt with the Master of Foxhounds Association in 1972. Some of the early landowners included Midland School, the Phillips family, the Hansen and Schley families, the Bill Shannons, the Perkins family, the San Lucas Ranch, the Harrison family, Heather Sorenson, Cliff Solem, Jay Lucian, and the Woodstock Ranch (before it was developed).
The first huntsman was Pat Harrison, a dedicated night-hunter who had been introduced to foxhunting by a relative, the author of the hunting classic, "The Pink Coat." Nancy Carter, who had hunted with West Hills in the days when the hills west of Los Angeles were still open country, rode whip, as did the hunt's first master, Wolcott Schley. His chief qualification was owning a stock horse handy enough to whip a hound off of a deer. The first field master was Mark Weaver, a local schoolteacher who was literally taking Nancy's advice that the hunt field was the best place to learn how to ride. Pat's brother, Jack, who refused to ride in other than cowboy gear, laid the drags (but was always careful to stay well out of sight). Virginia Erickson was the honorary secretary.
Early riders in the field included David and Pam Webber, Al and Charles Linquiti, Jay Lucian, Joe Kenworthy, Helen Netzer, Gene and Niki Evans, Rod Erickson, Tab Hunter, Cruz Phillips (who also whipped), Jim Finch, Jack Miller, Barry Capello, and Dr. Lawson. The second year, Joe Kenworthy, who had hunted with the Spring Valley Hunt, became one of the best field masters the hunt has seen, and new members included Clark, Jan, and Duster Phillips, and Brooks and Kate Firestone.
In the early years, the hunt paid its way with an annual horse show, two annual hunter trials, an annual combined training event, and an annual hound show (hosted by Lois Sidenberg). Paneling and training and caring for the hounds were all done by enthusiastic volunteers. (Less enthusiastic - but equally dedicated - volunteers even ensured that the hounds had a steady diet of donated "flesh.") The original kennels (a converted chicken coop) were rented from Ankar Johnson on Ballard Canyon Road. Eventually, after much discussion about whether people could be induced to pay such a large sum, a subscription of $50 a year was imposed.
Gradually, as contact was made with other hunts, the growing membership adapted to the arcane formulae of proper foxhunting. In 1974, Brooks Firestone became joint master with Wolcott Schley, and gave the hounds a new home at his Rancho Arroyo Perdido. The two masters were to share duties as huntsman for the next ten years. Recognition by the MFH in 1974 was celebrated by the first hunt ball, held at the newly completed Firestone Winery. The following year, the winery also became the site of the first hunt races. In 1977, the hounds were relocated to a kennel on Rancho San Antonio - a move which also made it possible to develop a large new hunt territory on the neighboring Bar-M, Weber, and Buell ranches. In 1979, Joe Kenworthy began his term as a third joint master.
In 1981, Joe Kenworthy decided to retire from the hunt field, and David Webber replaced him as one of three joint masters. Wolcott Schley continued to serve as huntsman until 1984.
At a general members meeting held August 1, 1985, the structure of the Board of Directors changed so that club members could become more active in the organization and leadership of the club. At that meeting the membership voted for a Board of Directors made up of David Webber, Brooks Firestone, Penny Allen, Steve Lyons, Nancy Carter, Al Linquiti, Wolcott Schley, Clarke Phillips, and Dick Pauley. Between 1985 and 1989, various members took their turns as MFH, including Jan Montgomery, Clark Phillips, and Penny Halverson. Jan Phillips carried the horn, followed by Rich Jochim.
In 1989, Steve Lyons and Tom LePley joined David Webber as joint masters. Midway through the 1989-1990 season, they asked 20-year-old Natasha Hunt, a former Los Altos Hunt member who had been whipping in for SYVH, to carry the horn. Natasha served as huntsman for ten years, during which time she developed her superb style of hunting the hounds, culminating with SYVH being judged reserve champion at the Western Hunt Challenge Tour in 2000.
In 1993, Tom LePley retired from service as a master, and founding member Nancy Carter was appointed a joint master, a position she held until moving to Idaho in 2001. Audrey Elliot also served as joint master from 1993 until 1995. In 1997, Nancy and Steve were joined by former Los Altos and Red Mountain Foxhounds (NC) member Paul McEnroe, who with his wife Tina had purchased a portion of the former Rancho San Antonio and began to develop Rancho La Purisima as a premier cattle and horse-breeding operation. In addition to keeping the original fixture open for hunting, Paul and Tina built a fine cross-country course, which soon became the venue for the annual hunt race weekend.
During this period, the hunt leadership worked hard to increase the club's hunt country. In 1998, Steve and Cindy Lyons purchased land in Los Alamos. Hunt operations were professionalized considerably with the hiring of Martyn Blackmore, its first professional huntsman, in 2001. Martyn and his wife Sue, formerly of the Mr. Jeffords Hounds in Wyoming, are originally from England, where Martyn served as first whipper-in or kennel huntsman for the Essex Foxhounds, the Hursley Hambeldon Foxhounds, the East Sussex and the Romney Marsh Foxhounds, the Tiverton Staghounds, and the Dulverton East Foxhounds. Martyn and Sue moved to Lyons Kick-On Ranch in May 2001, and new, state-of-the-art kennels were built there in the months to follow.
Within a month of arriving at Kick-On Ranch, Martyn drove to the Virginia Hound Show and returned with a trailer full of hounds from the Blue Ridge, Toronto & North York, Fox River Valley, Fairfax, and Old Dominion hunt clubs. These clubs kindly drafted to SYVH hounds with good English bloodlines. The careful breeding program with these bloodlines was recognized at the Western States Hound Show held at Kick-On Ranch in May 2003, where SYVH Welcome won Best of Show.
The Los Alamos fixture has continued to grow, as the hunt cultivates friendly relations with surrounding ranchers and as SYVH hunt members Jeff Couch and Lindsey and Jimmy Dominguez bought an adjacent parcel. The country in Los Alamos now comprises over 8,000 acres. Steve hopes that members and friends of the club will acquire any neighboring ranches that become available to help secure the land for the pursuit of our sport for years to come.
About The Land