The Low Country Hunt has hosted the Plantation Hunt Weekend only the last four years but already it has established a reputation as the “go to” event for Foxhunters. Following their first soiree, I read a review that was so enthusiastic that I put it on my list of events for the next winter. The following January, when I called one of the Masters to enroll, it was already too late and they were over-subscribed. No room at the inn. The third year, I was on the list, fully paid and my mount unexpectedly went three-legged lame the day before we were to load up. This year, the planets aligned and I rode at the 2011 Plantation Hunt Weekend in lands surrounding Walterboro, South Carolina.
Walterboro is located northwest of Charleston, north of Beaufort, inland about twenty miles from the coast, in an area known as “The Low Country”. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the primary cash crop was rice; the clearing of the tidal swamps and the construction of earthen levees necessary for the cultivation of rice is still apparent and it is through these rich agricultural lands that the Hunt chases fox, coyote and bobcat. Rice requires alternate periods of wet and dry and as a result, many of the rice fields are located along rivers to take advantage of the tidal flow which pushes water through the floodgates and into the ditches.
A Google Earth shot of Airy Hall Plantation shows the remaining rice fields and earthen levees over which we rode.
An informal trail ride at Airy Hall Plantation was the prologue to an extravagant weekend, played out in three chapters.
Riders set out on the trail ride under the dappled sun and shade of Live Oaks and spanish moss.
Charlotte rides her horse across a levee with the rice fields as a backdrop.
Returning to our trailers, we tended to our horses then headed up to the Plantation House for a Low Country Boil, a traditional feast of coastal seafood that encourages all to get close to the table to shuck oysters and pretension.
Airy Hall Plantation, owned by Buck and Frankie Limehouse, hosted the first evening's festivities.
Guests arriving for the Low Country Boil gathered on the landing where the lawn meets the Ashepoo River.
The sun set over the marshes and river, giving way to a full moon.
Guests hunkered down over the tables to enjoy bushel after bushel of steaming oysters, followed by a Frogmoore Stew a.k.a. Low Country Boil, consisting of sausage, shrimp, potatoes, corn and special seasonings.
The evening ended with a display of fireworks.
Chapter One: Hayne Hall Plantation, Round O, South Carolina
Informal Hunt – Ratcatcher
A Tenant House at Hayne Hall, perhaps two hundred years old, is nestled under enormous Live Oak Trees.
Hayne Hall is open with grassy savannahs perfect for grazing livestock.
Low Country Huntsman Anthony Gibbs races down the dirt path to meet his hounds on the other side of the woods.
Hunting at Hayne Hall was scheduled for mid-afternoon and the forest was dappled with late day sun.
Barry Limehouse and his daughter, Morgan, nephew and great-niece of Joint Master Melinda Shambley (in the green jacket), share a quiet moment at a check.
Hayne Hall owner Parker Tuten hosted a bar-b-que complete with homemade whiskey, grilled wings and a bonfire. Homemade whiskey brought to the party in addition to what was already there had unlikely names of "Apple Pie" and "Honey Pecan". Apple Pie was redolent of cinnamon.
Don't be fooled by the large grill into thinking this was just any down home gathering. Wings were accompanied by liver pate, crab stuffed deviled eggs and choice of wines.
The temperature dropped abruptly to the low 30's after the sun went down and a fire kept party-goers warm.
Chapter Two, Poplar Grove Plantation, Ravenel, South Carolina
Formal Hunting was scheduled for Poplar Grove Plantation the following morning at 9:00. The temperature had dropped to the teens the night before and had not risen appreciably when hunting began. A wind picked up to further chill hunters and horses.
The First Field gathered under the oaks then left slowly behind staff and the Huntsman to watch the casting of the hounds into the far woods.
Joint Master Melinda Shambley and Chris Bates (on the grey - the owner of the barn where my horse was stabled) lead the non-jumpers into the field.
The Whipper-In brings his hounds around to rejoin the pack.
Whip and Hounds.
Huntsman Anthony Gibbs, having been told the hounds are running toward a busy road, rushes to head them away.
Huntsman and staff, followed by the First field, move on to recast the hounds.
The Second Field follows behind the First.
Unfailingly gracious, Melinda Shambley led the Third, non-jumping Field. Ordinarily she would have been in the Huntsman's pocket but she had recently injured her arm and needed a more sedate ride.
At the end of the hunt, the Huntsman dismounted to gather his hounds and return to the Meet.
Anthony Gibbs and his American hounds.
Back at the trailers, which the organizers had thoughtfully arranged in a circle to cut the wind, yet another wonderful feast.
With the temperature hovering in the thirties, and a stiff breeze, the picnic lunch was eaten with gloves on. It was very, very cold but the atmosphere was very, very warm.
Seen at the Meet - South Carolinians take their hunting and food seriously.
Pausing to catch their breath after putting away hounds, Huntsman Anthony Gibbs and Huntsman Tot Goodwin of Green Creek Hounds, Tryon, North Carolina, pose for a portrait.
Poplar Grove Plantation is managed by Jimmy Howard, formerly with the City of Charleston Fire Department, known fondly as "Sparky".
That evening, Airy Hall Plantation hosted a cocktail party, which over at 9:00 P.M., allowed everyone to retire and prepare for the early morning to follow, hunting at 9:00 A.M.
Chapter Three: Airy Hall Plantation, Green Pond, South Carolina
An early morning equestrian event necessitates hours of preparation and travel. Unless you have a groom to get up at the crack of dawn to prepare your horse for you to simply mount and take the reins, you yourself need to set the alarm, pack up, check out, travel to the barn, clean the tack (which you didn’t have time to do yesterday), groom the horse, tack up, blankets on again, then load and travel to the Meet. And so it was that my friend and I checked out of the Comfort Inn in Walterboro, South Carolina at 5:45 and headed over to the barn.
Parking spaces at roadside hotels aren't usually laid out to accomodate an extended cab truck and stock trailer. Fortunately, there was plenty of room overnight at the back of the Comfort Inn for all of the hunters' trailers and trucks.
Temperatures had dropped into the teens again overnight. One of our stable-mates arrived in the morning to find that water had dripped onto her leadshank overnight and frozen it into a stiff weapon.
The Gatehouse at Airy Hall Plantation.
With almost one hundred people hunting over the weekend, there was a never ending line of trailers leaving the main road for the Plantation.
The allee of Live Oaks leading to the House and Stables, a breathtaking entrance to the Plantation.
Yes, it was really, really cold and there was frost on the meadow.
Frost is evident on the ground, but the day was considerably warmer with the sun shining. By noontime, temperatures were in the fifties.
Countering the chill requires desparate measures.
First, Second and Third Fields gathered in the Hay Field after an hour of running bobcat.
Riders made several passes over levees to keep up with the hounds. Levees dropped off into water on both sides and some whispered that American Alligator lurked below. Were they kidding? I don't know, but there was a huge tanned Alligator Hide in Airy Hall Plantation House.
Huntsman and staff gather up the hounds one last time to return to the Meet.
Members of the Low Country Hunt and their families served an Indian luncheon to out-of-town guests to close out the weekend.
Guests, members, families and staff gathered around the pool to listen to final remarks and thank-yous from the Organizers.
Masters Melinda Shambley (l), Nina Burke (middle) and Senior Master Dr. Mark Shambley (r) made closing remarks and thanked their members for an organizational tour de force. Not to be overlooked, however, is the graciousness of these three people. When thanking Melinda for the weekend, I told her how extraordinary it had been, to which she replied, "Well, then we did our job". Southern hospitality, in their domain, means "what can we do for you"? Thanks to all for a great four days.
For more information about the Low Country Hunt, visit: