Horses, hounds and hundreds of spectators filled Hitchcock Woods in Aiken on Thursday morning to celebrate an annual tradition.
Visitors hiked nearly a half-mile to witness the Blessing of the Hounds, an event that is held each Thanksgiving.
Blessing of the Hounds honors the various traditions of fox hunting and its impact on Aiken's history.
The Aiken Hounds holds the oldest drag hunt in the nation.
This year's ceremony celebrates the Aiken Hounds' 106 season of hunting.
In a drag hunt, a cloth saturated with fox scent is dragged across the terrain, rather than a live fox, to create a trail for the hounds to follow.
Mounted riders follow the pack.
The Rev. Grant Wiseman and Deacon Jane Hostetter of St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church offered this year's blessing, asking the riders, the horses and the hounds have a safe and successful hunt.
"Bless us all especially our honest hounds and our horses," Hostetter said. "Finally, we beseech you to bless our Aiken Hounds and this hallowed Hitchcock Woods. Keep forever safe the souls of those who have galloped these forgiving trails in the past, in the present and into the years to come."
Crowds flooded the area near Memorial Gate and filled the hillside around the area where riders waited with their horses.
The event saw returning guests as well as new visitors like Marianne Yost.
Yost said she is a fellow hunter and rider herself who moved to the Aiken area a little over a year ago.
"I've hunted with many other hunts in different parts of the country and in other countries but never have I seen an entire town come out to support this wonderful tradition in such a wonderful forest," Yost said.
Linda Knox McLean, joint master of foxhounds with the Aiken Hounds, was happy to welcome guest and see such a wonderful turnout for a long-held Aiken tradition.
To McLean, the community coming together and the blessings within Hitchcock Woods are what Thanksgiving is all about.
"It's beautiful," McLean said. "To me, the woods have always been church. I just find the peace and camaraderie just beautiful. It's a great way to spend Thanksgiving morning."
The Blessing of Hounds
The Blessing of Hounds, kicks off the 2019-2020 hunting season for the Aiken Hounds, a group that has been around for more than 100 years.