Written by Victoria Peace
Photos by Joanne Maisano
Between training puppies, caring for hounds and maintaining the kennel property, a huntsman rarely has a spare moment. However, for Stephen “Reg” Spreadborough, the demands of the job are worth it. He lives by the philosophy that “if you put your heart and soul into something, you get the reward.” And his reward is seeing a group of smiling faces behind him after a successful day of hunting.
Originally from Hampshire, England, Spreadborough did not grow up hunting. His mother rode when she was young, but Spreadborough says that he never really took to it. Instead, he and the other boys from his village spent their weekends racing and jumping their motocross bikes.
Spreadborough was first exposed to the world of hunting as a young adult when he started attending Hampshire hunt meets. At the time, he was working as a mechanic and a welder. However, he developed a keen interest in the sport and started volunteering behind the scenes. When a position as a kennelman opened up with a pack of hounds in Berkshire, Spreadborough jumped at the opportunity. After just one season, he was asked to step into the role of whipper-in. But there was one problem: Spreadborough had never ridden a horse.
So, before accepting his new role, Spreadborough was taken out cross country to jump hedges and ditches. While that may seem like a terrifying introduction to riding, he survived. According to Spreadborough, the motocross days of his youth were actually good preparation for foxhunting. In both sports, the terrain might be unfamiliar, but, he says, “you just have to keep jumping.”
After spending four years whipping-in, Spreadborough received a call from former Orange County huntsman Adrian Smith, whom he had met and befriended at the Hampshire Hunt. Smith asked Spreadborough if he would be interested in coming to the United States and offered him a position as the first whipper-in for the Orange County Hounds. Spreadborough accepted the offer, arrived in 2001, and has been here ever since. Eventually he succeeded Smith as Orange County’s huntsman, and this year will be his 16th in that role.
Most days, Spreadborough arrives at the Orange County kennels at 6:00 a.m. or earlier to start the feeding, care and exercise of over 90 hounds. During the hunting season, he takes around 20 couple (40 hounds) out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Although foxhunting is a seasonal sport, Spreadborough’s work never lets up; there’s a steady rotation of tasks depending on the time of year.
In July, he starts legging up the hounds (improving their fitness), and hunt trail rides commence. After a few weeks of this, mounted exercises begin, which allow the younger hounds to get acclimated to the horses. In August, the staff starts hunting to give the less experienced hounds a quiet, low-pressure introduction to the sport. And finally, in September, cubbing season commences. In Virginia, foxhunting season runs from September until the end of March. But even after the season ends, there’s no downtime as spring marks the arrival of foxhound puppies.
When he’s not hunting, caring for hounds or maintaining the kennel property, Spreadborough builds coops, mends stone walls and clears trees from Orange County’s territory.
“What you do shows, and what you don’t do shows more,” he says.
Spreadborough loves the Orange County hunt because there are “great people running it,” and everyone is passionate and committed to what they’re doing. He appreciates that the territory encompasses rolling hills and woodland, with “a little bit of everything.”
The Orange County hunt was founded in Orange County, New York, in 1900, but since 1905, its members have been hunting in The Plains, Virginia. The hunt’s 71-acre property has been entered into a permanent conservation easement, meaning that it can never be subdivided or developed for commercial or industrial use. The hunt remains dedicated to protecting and preserving Fauquier County’s open spaces.
Spreadborough loves that foxhunting is unpredictable. “It can’t be scripted,” he says. “You do the best you can do on one given day, and you look forward to the next.” He compares it to skiing—you never know what condition the slopes are going to be in each day until you get out on them.
At this point, you may have picked up on Spreadborough’s passion for extreme sports like skiing, motocross biking and foxhunting. During a trip to New Zealand, he even added skydiving to this list. He had always been interested and decided to look into it on a whim. The next thing he knew, he was 15,000 feet up in the air.
Although his work can be challenging at times, Spreadborough finds enjoyment and excitement in bring a huntsman. This enjoyment is contagious and makes the hunt more fun for everyone. In fact, Spreadborough hasn’t found many people who have discovered foxhunting and haven’t fallen in love with it.
“It doesn’t matter what you do,” he says, “for the rest of your life, hunting will always be there calling your name and telling you to come on back.” ML
This article first appeared in the December 2021 Issue.