The sport of fox hunting has a long and storied history in the equestrian world. The horse and hound tradition originated in Europe in the sixteenth century and quickly came to the United States. Today, there are approximately 150 hunt clubs in the U.S., mostly concentrated in the eastern part of the country. The red coat-clad rider blowing a horn to summon a pack of baying hounds as they gallop through the forest is an iconic image – one that at first blush may seem at odds with Nevada’s history and landscape. But you might be surprised to learn that people come from all over the world to foxhunt in the Silver State.
The Red Rock Hounds is Nevada’s only hunt club. It is based at the Ross Creek Ranch north of Reno, which is also the home of its charismatic founder, Lynn Lloyd. Since it began in 1980, the club has developed a reputation in the international fox hunt community for the unique western twist that it brings to the sport. For one, due to the lack of fox in Nevada, the Red Rock Hounds hunt coyote instead. The arid landscape of the Great Basin adds an extra challenge, as horses and hounds must dodge sagebrush and cattle as they track their prey.
Lynn Lloyd is the leader of the pack, which includes 100+ Walker Coonhounds and dozens of horses and riders. Lynn is about as far from the posh stereotype of the fox hunter as you can get and she has an amazing story. She grew up in rural eastern Pennsylvania, the only horse crazy person in her non-horsey family. After high school she traveled to England by ocean liner and spent several months studying horsemanship. While there, she discovered fox hunting and something about the sport hooked her. Once back in the states, she became a riding instructor, but then decided to undertake a new adventure. At the age of 23, she rode across the country solo from Pennsylvania to San Diego. After she finished, she settled in Reno to start her own hunt club. The rest is history.
The Red Rock Hounds have been featured in articles and documentaries, and people come from all over to ride the hills north of Reno and hunt with Lynn. Yet, Lynn hasn’t let her fame go to her head. I spent a day at the ranch to find out how she became one of the most well-known huntswomen in the world and how she balances the pageantry of foxhunting with Nevada’s strong Western tradition.
Q: Where did your love of horses come from?
A: “The area in Pennsylvania where I’m from was all dairy farms. I remember the dairy farm closest, I was always spending time up there with the cows. I walked into the milk house and there was a calendar there of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and I knew immediately that I was going to ride horses and I was going to live in the West. I mean, it just came to me like that and I was probably four or five! I was just totally enamored with that. My first horse was from Sears and Roebuck. It was a pony, it was a year old, and it was a stud. It came with a saddle and a bridle. It was just the best way to learn how to ride. No instructors, no nothing. Just get bucked off and get back on.”
Q: Why did you decide to study horsemanship in England?
A: “The rule in the house was when you graduated from high school you’re out of the house. College wasn’t in my future. I didn’t want it. I had to learn something about horses, other than what I already knew. My mother had a friend who was the president of a private high school and they had horses. She said they always got their instructors from England. My mother told me that, so I promptly found out all the information about that place, how much it cost, worked, and was able to pay my freight across and pay my tuition. So I went to England and took this three or four month course. But for me the exciting part was, I got there and they did stuff like wrapped legs, body clipped, blanketed horses – stuff I had no idea was even in the realm of horses because I knew so little. After school was over and I graduated, I didn’t have enough money to get home, so I got a job being a groom for a woman who had four fox hunters, which is what introduced me to foxhunting.”
Q: You could have gone into any discipline so what was it about fox hunting?
A: “I heard the hounds go off. I didn’t know a thing about hounds but I heard the hounds go off and I said oh my god, I’ve got to do this. I went to work for this woman and I was her groom. She gave me an old retired horse – that was my horse while I was there – and he knew more about hunting than I did so he was my mount, and the days I was off I was allowed to go hunting with these local hunts. It was a fabulous education for me. So since 1969 I’ve never missed a season of hunting – somewhere, someplace, somehow.”
Q: What prompted you to ride across the country when you got home?
A: “It started with one day in the car. I’d look out the window and all I could do was picture myself riding a horse and jumping the fence. And I decided right then and there – and I was probably 10 – I’m going to ride my horse across the United States. I had to get my life lined out to do it… and you have to do that before family, children, or responsibilities. If it took me three years I didn’t care. It took me a year, but it didn’t matter. I started out with $700 in my pocket and figured I’d do whatever it takes to the end.”
Q: Would you ever do another long ride?
A: “I think we all have the same need, and that is for adventure and wanting to push ourselves a little bit. Do I need to do it again? Not necessarily. Because I think now for me, the hunting gives me that. Even though it’s certainly not a long ride, but hounds take you places that you wouldn’t even have gone before. You throw your hounds out and you learn the country pretty damn fast. So, I still have that need for adventure… and losing a little bit of control, if you will. ”
Q: How did you end up in Nevada after your ride?
A: “I put two horses, my dog, and myself in a truck and trailer and headed west and ran out of gas in Nevada. When you run out of gas you have no money. I mean you’re dead in the water! I looked around at all this land and said oh my god, I’ve got to hunt here! Plus, I couldn’t go anywhere. So I got a job right away. I was very lucky. I had my health and I had a profession. You don’t get any luckier than that. It was luck the whole way, let’s face it. You don’t do anything on your own ever. There’s always people giving you encouragement, all sorts of things that make it happen. So here we are. And I think I’m the luckiest person that ever walked.”
Q: How did Red Rock Hounds get started?
A: “I just got some hounds from California, 12 hounds and just started hunting them… and they didn’t work! Because they’re English hounds. English hounds are bred for England which is damp, wet, and these poor English hounds get out here in the desert and they just couldn’t do it, which isn’t their fault and is nothing against English hounds. But that was not the territory they needed. I said okay this isn’t working for me. I’ve got to find some different hounds.
A guy came to me with two Walker hounds and he wanted me to run them with my hounds because they were insisting on chasing coyote and he was trying to run bear and lion. So he brings them out, we hit a coyote, went for a little while and his hounds joined right in! He said ‘I’m going to shoot them.’ And I said, ‘Can I have them?’ because I saw what they were doing. He gave me those two Walker hounds, a boy and a girl. That became my whole breeding program for the Walker hounds that I now have.
These Walkers were just exactly what I needed for this country. They’ll go all day. They have a cold nose, which means it doesn’t take a lot of moisture, they can follow an old line. And they would go for hours and miles and they just had the heart. It was kind of like having a Thoroughbred as opposed to a Draft horse, that’s how different it is.”
Q: But not everyone was supportive of this new breed of dog in fox hunting?
A: “They were not acceptable by the MFHA, which is the Masters of Foxhounds Association of Virginia. So, I did the next best thing…I lied. Like crazy. Because I really wanted to be in the association because it gives you more credibility and you should support them! So, I just lied and right after that I got accepted into the MFHA and I pay my dues and so I’m part of the hunting community throughout the world. Now here we are 38 years later, the MFHA now is doing such a better job of accepting what I have. The MFHA is now accepting them, because the guys from the east all came out and saw it all working and said, ‘Okay, we have to change what we’re doing. We can’t demand that you have only English hounds.’ So we’ve changed their minds back east and I’m very proud of the fact that I was the first one stepping out to do that because I just lied.”
Q: Fox hunting is controversial, but when you go on a hunt you don’t always kill the coyote?
A: “Walker hounds were bred to run the game and tree it, so they’re not big on killing. So as a result, we don’t get much killing, but we get a lot of capturing, if you will… putting them to bay. And I just walk away. I take my hounds and walk away. Because I’m not keen on wanton killing. In other words, if I shoot a coyote then I should use it. That’s sort of my belief in life. And even though they’re vermin and people shoot them all the time and don’t use anything on them, that’s my personal philosophy. And if the hounds do kill them – that’s fair. No problem, I don’t try to stop them. But when they put one to bay and have no desire to kill it, I’m perfectly fine to tap the coyote and say tag, you’re it and move off. And the hounds are willing to do that, which is really cool.”
Q: Nevada is buckaroo country in tradition and culture. How does fox hunting fit in?
A: “Oh you want to know about the ranchers? [laughs] So I start my little business, bring in my hounds, and do all that. A number of the ranchers around me needed help bringing cows in, going the long loops. Well I’ve got pretty fit horses, and I ride fairly well – I’m not
bragging, I’m just saying I can stay on my horse. And so I could go out and round up all these cows and get them into where they needed them brought in. And a lot of my riders could help me. So all of a sudden, they’re looking at us in these little English saddles and our little fancy pants and they’re going oh my god, they can ride. That’s what it took. That’s all it took. Then they’re all about it.
The other thing I’ve found, because we hunt all over the west, the ranchers appreciate it when you get all dressed up in these costumes that you see. Because we’re
following the tradition of what we do. Cowboys have their own tradition. They are very proud of what they wear and they have their uniform so they recognized that.”
Q: There’s a perception of foxhunting being a little snobby. How do you keep it down to earth?
A: “By being the owner of the hunt. In the East it’s a lot more rigid. Well, I’m in the West and I can make my own rules! Anyone who hunts for the first time, I don’t care what they wear. They can come in their cowboy uniform or whatever, I don’t care. Because why would you spend all the money to wear what we’re wearing if you don’t like it? I’m not run by a board and so all the rules I make are kind of on the spot, if you will. Sure, we all have our do’s and don’ts but the do’s and don’ts are all about politeness and safety.”
Q: So what’s next for you?
A: “I’m a young 68. So I’m looking at this whole thing and going what is next? I got a pack of hounds, I’ve got a thriving business… Somebody has to take this over at some point. Who am I going to hand the baton to? That’s the next challenge and that’s a big challenge. I don’t want to be however old, can’t ride anymore, can’t do anything and still hanging on and not figuring out the future. So that’s where I’m at in my life right now and I think it’s very important at some point in your life that you have to start thinking about that. Do I feel like I can’t keep going? Absolutely not! I’m healthy, I’m keen, but I do have to let my mind go that way a little bit. Sure, I can sell out right now, but then what would I do? I’d have to go buy another place and start another dream. Money isn’t where it’s at. It’s what’s going to carry on.”
Learn More: https://redrockhounds.com
The Red Rock Hounds is in season from September to April each year, giving chase three days a week. Newcomers are always welcome.
Lynn also wrote a book about her cross-country ride. “Seven Sets of Horseshoes: An American Journey” is not available to order online, but you can purchase a copy through her.
Story by Samantha Szesciorka