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Public invited to experience formal fox chase firsthand

The horns and hounds and horses that make up a formal fox chase are only images from an English storybook for most folks.

But this month, area residents are offered a firsthand trip into the sporting world, from the blessing of the hounds to the "Tally Ho!" of the huntsmen as they gallop across east Pasco farmlands.

The South Creek Foxhounds, co-founders of the Little Everglades Steeplechase, are opening the annual fox chase season with a public event at 10 a.m., Nov. 30 at the Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, that welcomes those with horses, and even those without, to join the inner workings of what has historically been an exclusive event.

"We just wanted to open it up, show people how it all works," said Karen Streaker, a spokeswoman for the South Creek club and steeplechase director. "There's just so much beauty to it, watching the hounds work. It's such a partnership between the huntsman and the hounds."

And then there's the pageantry. The hunt is led by experienced masters and their staff of experienced hunters. Each bright red jacket or silk scarf harkens back to some historic significance, and every blast of the brass horns signals something to the hounds and hunters.

But in modern times, visitors don't need to worry about the fox. Most fox chasing in the area is now actually coyote chasing, because coyotes now outnumber the traditional fox in east Pasco, Streaker said. And, she said, the sport has evolved from fox hunting to fox chasing.

At the end of the day, the fox _ or coyote _ is always allowed to escape.

The event on Nov. 30 will begin with the formal ceremony of the blessing of the hounds at 10 a.m. and will end with a traditional formal brunch at noon.

In between, visitors will be invited to ride their own horses behind the hunt, or may follow along in Tally Ho wagons. Streaker said organizers hope to make the event annual, and she said for people with out-of-town guests in for the Thanksgiving weekend, the trip would be a memorable alternative to more common diversions.

Opening the chase to the public isn't unheard of, Streaker said.

In Thomson, Ga., the Belle Meade Hunt has opened up its event for 34 years. Last year, according to Belle Meade's Web site, more than 700 visitors joined the chase.

The South Creek Foxhounds' opening meet is open to the public, but reservations are required before Thanksgiving by calling Michele Vogel at (813) 909-2353. The cost is $25 per person, and children under 12 attend for free.

For more information

The South Creek Foxhounds equestrian club's Web site address is www.southcreekfoxhounds.com. The site includes photos from past rides.

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