People of the Piedmont is an ongoing portrait series spotlighting compelling individuals of the Piedmont. Captured in genuine moments through the lens and words of Ed Felker, the subjects are portrayed immersed in the pursuits that get them up in the morning and drive them all day.
The sport of foxhunting and the lifestyle surrounding it are undeniably important facets of Virginia culture. There is a rich history of foxhunting here, and the sport remains active with foxhunting clubs, called hunts, located throughout the state.
Each hunt has, among other things, a pack of hounds, a huntsman who is responsible for directing them, and whippers-In (or “whips”) who assist the huntsman. Professional whipper-In Lisa Tartaglia is the first assistant to the huntsman of the Middleburg Hunt, and foxhunting is literally in her blood. Her dad is a retired huntsman, her mom worked with him for more than 20 years, and Lisa has hunted her entire life.
In foxhunting, hounds are counted in couples. One couple is, perhaps obviously, two hounds. The Middleburg Hunt has 35 couple of hounds, and Lisa takes care of them. At home, that means feeding, walking, and cleaning up after 70 hounds. Out hunting, Lisa’s job is to keep the hounds safe. This can mean seeing them across a road, or finding any hounds that go astray and bringing them back to the pack. One can imagine how important the bond between Lisa and the hounds has to be. They must trust and respond to her.
Foxhunting, particularly in a densely populated and well-traveled area like Middleburg, can be a bit precarious at times. “The toughest times for me are when hounds are on or near a road and you’re riding in traffic and making sure hounds stay safe,” she said. And as the hounds must trust Lisa during these times, Lisa and her horse must trust each other absolutely.
Lisa depends on her horse to keep her safe while navigating road crossings in traffic, slippery trails, creek crossings, woodchuck holes, jumps, wire, low branches, and more, all while her attention is on the hounds. “I’m really focused on the hounds and my huntsman when I’m out hunting, so I rely on my horses to watch where we’re going,” she says. “That connection is really special.”
What she loves most of all, though, is watching the hounds work. “Each hound has its own special thing that it brings to the pack as a whole and I love watching that,” she says. “Some people hunt to ride, I ride to hunt.”