They are the nation's oldest drag huntmen.
The Aiken Hounds has come to symbolize a standard of excellence and are interwoven deeply into the community's fabric and culture. The group will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this coming spring.
However, there will be a special ceremony recognizing an event on Nov. 28, Thanksgiving Day, that has brought national attention to Aiken. The Aiken Hounds' Blessing of the Hounds at Memorial Gate in Hitchcock Woods will be a century old.
“It's going to be bigger than usual, in terms of the number of participants and the number of people coming to watch,” said Linda Knox McLean, Aiken Hounds joint master of foxhounds, a position she had served in for the past two decades.
The event itself, the traditional stirrup cup, opening meet, and service will be expanded for this year's Blessing of the Hounds. Past masters will also be recognized for their contributions, said Knox McLean.
There will also be a special program for this year's Blessing of the Hounds.
“We're going to do the usual bestowing of the colors and the St. Hubert's medals,” said Knox McLean, who recently met with St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church's Grant Wiseman, who wanted to expand the service and make it more inclusive. The hunt itself will be honoring those who've played a prominent role in the success of the Aiken Hounds, everyone from past masters to those who have laid the drag.
This year's celebration will feature Aiken Hounds centennial merchandise, said Knox McLean.
The Aiken Hounds continue to hunt every Tuesday and Saturday, October through March in the Hitchcock Woods, and a book commemorating the hunt's 100 years will be edited by the author of “Foxhunting Adventures,” Norman Fine, and published by Derrydale Press. The release date for the book will be in 2016 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Aiken Horse Show in the Woods.
“It's our centennial this year, but it's the Hitchcock Woods' centennial next year,” said Knox McLean.
This year's hunt ball will be held at Joye Cottage.
Ben Baugh has been covering the equine industry and equestrian sport for the Aiken Standard since 2004.