When budgets are tight and hounds have needs, club members and community creatively come together in the spirit of the season.

By Emily Daily

Amanda Siegner, apprentice whipper-in for Fort Leavenworth Hunt, and FLH Colleen. Photo courtesy of Amanda Siegner

A little creativity goes a long way when it comes to club fundraising. Last year, Amanda Siegner helped launch a “Hound Angel Tree” to help offset costs and engage members with hound care at Fort Leavenworth Hunt in Leavenworth, Kansas. “Since our hounds are funded by the Army—we’re actually the last military hunt in existence,” she explained, “our non-profit (LFA) and membership stepped up to make the budget stretch.”

The Hound Angel Tree program give members of the community a way to donate items in need to the kennel in the name of one of their hounds. Amanda said it began as one of those “great ideas that you least expect.” It sparked in November of 2020, a few months after she and her husband, Michael, had moved to Leavenworth. She had been working on a one-year master’s program in Business Analytics at the University of Kansas and rode her first season with the hunt that year, while also volunteering at the kennels a few days a week to learn more about hound management. 

“I didn’t know if it would work, or even how it would work,” she said, “but Jackie Dunham, our kennelwoman and the only professional staff member of the hunt, had really taken me in and let me do a lot of work behind the scenes to understand why and how we did what we did in order to keep our hounds as happy and healthy as they can be.” 

“We put together a list of things that were needed in the kennel and then assigned an item to each hound,” said Dr. Steven Thomas, MFH, and Honorary Huntsman for the club. “We’d write, for example, ‘My name is Zorro and I get lots of cuts when I hunt so I’d like a bottle of peroxide for Christmas.’” 

Amanda made photo ornaments for each hound that the donors got, as well as one to hang on the Hound Angel Tree in the kennel. Last year the program brought in about $360 worth of needed items, some of which are still in use a year later.

“It was a lot of work for Amanda and Jackie, but they filled our kennel shelves and everyone had fun,” said Dr. Thomas. 

This year, the trio began preparations a little earlier and discussed ways to improve. “We used an Amazon custom gift list and didn’t assign specific presents to any hound,” Amanda explained. Price points ranged from $3 to $50 for items to benefit the kennel long term. She wanted to be conscious about asking “for things that don’t necessarily hit the budget hard one at a time, but when they add up over time, they are significant expenses.” Things like liquid joint supplement that makes a definitive difference in the hounds’ performance and well-being, but can burden a tight budget.

After announcing this year’s program December 5, hunt members, volunteers, and supporters from across the United States have “adopted” 27 of the 32 hounds and donated over $425 worth of items, including things like a new high-power fan for the summer, saline solution for wound flushes, treats, and, of course, joint supplement.

Amanda, an Air Force Veteran, and her husband, who is on active duty in the Army and deployed in Saudi Arabia, are well acquainted with the military and its inner workings, including how funding works for the hounds. “We are both acutely aware of how much red tape and tight purse strings there can be sometimes,” she said, “especially when it comes to something that could potentially be considered non-essential.”

Since their hounds are funded through the Army, main membership dues come through the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation). “The Leavenworth Foxhunters Association is our non-profit ‘arm’ that helps support the hunt, kennels, hounds and membership via fundraising and other activities, and the Hound Angel tree falls under that.”

Amanda began her foxhunting journey with Epp Wilson, MFH, of Belle Meade Hunt in Georgia. “I’m forever thankful for the day back in 2015 that I decided to email that barn in Thomson, Georgia. Starting my hunting days there with some of the best horses around gave me experiences that I will never be able to top, and an understanding of what it takes from the entire membership (human, horse and hound) to have a successful season.”

As a self-proclaimed history nerd, she found a special thrill in joining a hunt still tied to the military. For her, it is a truly unique experience she says she couldn’t find anywhere else in the country. “It’s also special,” she added, “because there are constantly new members, faces, families and horses. It is an incredibly inclusive environment that goes out of its way to welcome new members, even those without their own horses.”

This season, Amanda felt privileged to become part of the alternate staff team as an apprentice whipper-in. “To be given that responsibility and role has been exhilarating, and my Thoroughbred—Dutch Warmblood cross, Grace, loves it because she is happiest when she gets to turn, jump, and go on a moment’s notice. We’ll come back in after 14 miles and she will still be ready for more.” 

The Hound Angel Tree. Photos courtesy of Amanda Siegner