A noble sport dating back to the 16th century is more than just legend for Nancy and Michael Amato, who can be found in foxhunting season spiffily outfitted in their black Melton and scarlet jackets.
Nancy Amato, who has a lifelong love of foxhunting, beginning as a child growing up in Indiana, enticed Michael to give it at try in his late 40s. He said, “I was hesitant initially, then found the people very welcoming, and I liked it immediately.”
Nancy Amato found an Atlanta Constitution article with front page pictures including her uncle, an early foxhunter dating back to the 1950s, at Shakerag Hounds, which is the oldest recognized hunt in Georgia. It was established in 1943, when a group of enthusiasts started the Atlanta Hunt Club at Chastain Park.
Nancy Amato dreamed of foxhunting but had no opportunity. With no formal riding instruction, she jumped logs, ran barrels, and chased cows, until she was given proper “hunt-seat” instruction at Laughing Place Stables in Michigan.
She elaborated, “Fast forward to my wonderful husband, Michael, who thoughtfully sought to console me after my mother’s death in 1992. Little did he know, it would lead to horses for both of us. Learning that Shakerag was still in existence, we joined in 1993. Michael learned to ride (English) and jump. The rest is history. He even was able to wear my uncle’s scarlet tails to our Annual Hunt Ball!”
Now they “cub” (train young hounds) in September and begin the Formal Hunt Season from October through March. Hunting can be twice a week, plus Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. She explained. “Following that is mating and birthing season for the game, and we want the young foxes to grow strong and flourish.”
The Amato’s’ thrill to the “chase,” tradition and camaraderie alongside a little booze. Michael Amato said “We enjoy the passing of saddle flasks at Checks, each with one’s own concoction, typically port. Listening to the hounds’ voices and watching them work the cover, followed by a run, generally ends up with a treed or run to ground fox. Then we call off hounds and move to another area. Perhaps we will get up a coyote or bobcat to chase, coyotes being the most common.”
Nancy extols the thrill of petting and kissing horses’ muzzles or pats on the neck after a good ride. “I rather enjoy kissing the noses of our 30-plus hounds prior to the hunt when opportunity presents,” she said.
In terms of outfitting, members don gray and gold piped jacket collars, pinks/scarlet jackets for men, and black jackets for women, buff breeches, black boots with brown tops for gentlemen and black boots with black pattern tops for ladies. Nancy Amato added, “Always with a white stock tie secured with gold pin. On non-formal days, “ratcatcher” attire is a tweed or solid Earth-toned jacket, beige breeches, and brown boots for the men with a patterned four-fold tie. Our hunt typically starts at 9 a.m. and lasts three hours.”
Hunt breakfasts are hosted by rotating members with specialty cocktails, beer, wine, and Bloody Mary’s with an array of foods, non-related to breakfast on formal days. There are many social events like riding, non-riding and a formal Hunt Ball.
Nancy Amato concluded, “We have come a long way from the old days when foxes raided hen houses. These days, we mainly give chase. We hunt at the graciousness of landowners who grant permission. Our territory is called a ‘fixture,’ and seven are in a radius of two hours from our clubhouse/kennels. This rotation allows for breaks for landowners and game.”
The great reveal. Do Jews hunt? Michael Amato said, “Indeed, we have met, hunted with, and befriended many Jewish members over the years. Dating back to the 1950s, there were Jewish members riding two hounds. One of our current master’s is a Jewish gentleman. We have Jews who are elected and serve on our Hunt Committee, Board of Directors. Nancy was the club secretary for seven years and now Honorary “Whipper In,” a.k.a. Motor Whip, following the hunt in her vehicle.”
Although the Amatos continue their membership with Shakerag activities, due to their senior ages, they no longer own horses. And Michael still proudly wears Nancy’s uncle’s tails to the annual ball!