Blessing of the Hounds honors a timeless Aiken tradition on Thanksgiving Day
It was a clear, crisp morning Thursday when hundreds of people flooded into Hitchcock Woods for Aiken’s annual Blessing of the Hounds.
Blessing of the Hounds is one of Aiken’s major Thanksgiving Day public events. Drinks were served to onlookers as dozens of horses and riders filed into the presentation area for the blessing, a tradition over a century in the making.
Celeste and Tom Malinowski, who live in Cedar Creek, were attending the event for the first time.
“I’m hoping for photo opportunities,” Celeste said. ”…It’s just a perfect day. It’s gorgeous outside.”
With the Malinowski’s were Randy and Charlotte Collins, who had attended the blessing before.
“It’s one of the events that makes Aiken a great place to live,” Randy said.
The Collinses said they would be attending One Table in downtown Aiken, another public Thanksgiving Day event, for the first time after they left Hitchcock Woods.
The Haley family, who recently moved to Aiken from California, also attended Blessing of the Hounds for the first time. The Haleys said they had watched the event for many years on YouTube, and were happy to finally see it in person.
Blessing of the Hounds, which takes place at Memorial Gate (about half-mile trek into Hitchcock Woods) started at 11 a.m. after the horses and riders had assembled and the hounds were brought into the ceremony.
The event precedes the Aiken Hounds’ drag hunt in Hitchcock Woods. Rather than hunting actual foxes, a drag hunt involves using a cloth saturated with fox scent to leave a trail through the woods for the hounds to follow, while riders follow the hounds on horseback.
Aiken Hounds holds the oldest drag hunt in the nation. The sport pays homage to fox hunting and to hunting culture, which makes up a significant part of Aiken’s history.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, gratitude was expressed during the prayer for everything from Hitchcock Woods to the animals that were the spotlight of the event.
″…We beseech you to bless our Aiken Hounds in these hallowed Hitchcock Woods,” said Father Rhae Kelly of All Saints Anglican Church during the blessing. “Keep forever safe the souls of those who have galloped these forgiving trails in the past, in the present, and in the years to come.”