"They were thrilled to have me 'home,' " Ryan said of the Dublin win. "But it was fun to represent Loudoun" at the competition, which is akin to the old National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden in New York. "Dublin is an enormous international show," Ryan said. "Huge tradition."
More on Loudoun Hunt
* Established: 1894
* Masters: Harry Wight, since 1994, A.K. Shreve III, since 2003
* Hounds: American
* Territory: About 25 by 18 miles square in northern Loudoun County
* Split: Loudoun and Loudoun West split in 1994.
Back to the U.S. days after the Dublin win, the 37-year-old quickly got to work at the Leesburg kennels of the Loudoun Hunt. He replaces outgoing huntsman Larry Poe, son of longtime Virginia huntsman Albert Poe (and nephew of the legendary Melvin Poe, see story, this section.)
"We're pleased to have Noel with us," said Loudoun joint-master Harry Wight. "He's already handling the hounds well, and we've had good sport, even this early in the season."
Ryan, who also sells real estate through Long and Foster, and is a commercial sporting and nature photographer, said he's pleased to handle the Virginia pack. "It is a pleasure to come to Loudoun," Ryan said. "The people here have such enthusiasm for hunting, and conservation. I love the attitude. And it's refreshing to know that there is still great hunting territory available, even in Loudoun County."
Ryan said that, most of all, ardor for the country life, for hounds and hunting, reminds him of home. "In Ireland, you can go into the shop in your hunt clothes after a day out," he said. "People in many places (in the world) would look at you funny if you go around in riding clothes. It's like that around here, too. You can go into the market in your hunt boots and no one thinks anything of it. It's a way of life."
Growing up in the field
Ryan was brought up in rural County Limerick in southwest Ireland. His father, an avid horseman, bred and trained racehorses and foxhunters, taking his young son out with the nearby Stonehall Harriers and County Limerick Foxhounds nearly as soon as he could walk.
"We hunted on foot, too," Ryan recalled of his youth, saying that the Desmond Otter Hounds provided hours of exercise each Sunday. He recalled one notable day the hounds took them 21 miles into the countryside. "You see more venery on foot, really. There's places you can get to on foot that you can't get to on horseback." The reverse holds true, Ryan quickly added, about hunting on horseback versus hunting on foot. Naturally, "you can go farther, faster, on a horse."
Ryan admitted that his elementary and secondary schooling suffered somewhat, at the hands of hounds. "My mom was a school teacher," he said. "She was slightly opposed when I'd skip class to go hunting." It didn't stop him, Ryan admitted.
Ryan's first hunt service job, at age 21, was kennelman-first whip to the York and Ainsty in Yorkshire. Crossing the Irish Sea into England for work did not bother the footloose young Ryan. "I wanted to see the world," he said. "Hunting was a way to do it."
After three years in Yorkshire, Ryan headed east, much farther, landing in 1994 at the Ellerslie Foxhounds in Australia. His dad had died that year, his mom two years previous, so nothing, Ryan said, was "holding" him near home.
"I saw the opportunity to travel" still using the international passport of foxhunting, Ryan recalled. "My hobby was going to take me around the world."
And it did. Down Under, Ryan worked a season at the Ellerslie, near Melbourne, for a season before leapfrogging once again east to New Zealand for an extended busman's holiday whipping in to a harrier pack, riding out with 17 others, and contemplating his next move.
Ryan headed east again, to the U.S., signing on as whip for the Fauquier-based Orange County Hunt in 1995.
Immediately, Ryan felt at home. The rolling Piedmont reminded him both of Australia and Limerick, he said, and abundant game made for fantastic hunting. "It is beautiful here," he said. "I love how the landowners and conservationists work to keep the countryside open. Like at home."
Orange County's famed red-ringnecks provided Ryan's first experience with American Foxhounds, along with English and Crossbred, one of three primary hound breeds used for foxhunting. Ryan said, previously, he had hunted primarily behind "old-fashioned" English Foxhounds. He soon found, though that "the American hound is as good as any in the world. I'm a big fan." In terms of voice and drive and bidability, Ryan found much to like about the sleek American hound.
Ryan stayed at Orange County for three seasons before taking a job at the Misty River Hounds, in 1998 a relatively new pack in northwest Arkansas. Ryan hunted the Crossbred pack on mostly coyote, his first experience behind the larger, faster quarry. "The hounds were good," he said, adding that the pack pretty much "cleaned the boards" at the southern and central hound shows the years he was there.
After three years at Misty River, Ryan moved to the Radnor Hunt in Pennsylvania for two seasons. That, he said, was his first, "and last," experience with Penn-Marydel hounds. "You can quote me on that," he said with a chuckle. "Give me a good American hound any day."
This spring at Loudoun Ryan gets his chance to return to the American hound breed that he's grown to admire.
"I really like the hounds at Loudoun," he said. "I'm thrilled to take on a pack that has so obviously been well-handled and well-trained."
"The hounds are doing great," said joint-master Wight. "They must be a very tightly controlled pack, since our territory is limited. We're innundated by Toll Brothers (new home construction and development), so our territory has gotten chopped up. Noel is doing a fantastic job keeping the pack under firm control.
"Everybody seems to really like Noel, too," Wight added. "He's personable, knows everybody and everything. He's a good addition to Loudoun."
Ryan may be reached regarding his photography at (540) 229-6635.