Clay Bryant with Dakota, photo by Allison Howell Images.
By Angie Pell.
Years ago, Clay Bryant seemed unlikely to become a veteran fox hunter and achieve his centennial status. However, the dynamic duo of Clay and his trusty steed Dakota reached this milestone last year when Clay turned 74 and Dakota marked his 26th birthday. This amazing horse-and-rider combination has been hunting and jumping over fences at hunt clubs across North America for more than 22 years. They are still going strong.
Clay grew up in the small town of Newnan, Georgia. He had brief encounters with horses while attending summer camp during his middle school years, but, like many boys, he was more interested in football and basketball.
Clay attended Vanderbilt University then law school at the University of Georgia. He began practicing law in Athens, Georgia. Clay married Lynn, and they had a son, Clay, and daughter, Jenny. Clay wanted his family to enjoy the country as he had growing up, so he purchased a property in Oconee County, outside Watkinsville, Georgia. The house was one of the area’s oldest homes, and the property included a dilapidated mule barn. Over the years, they fixed up the home and spent weekends in the country.
One of Clay’s clients, Wyatt Porterfield, urged Clay to visit Belle Meade Hunt to learn about mounted hunting with hounds in McDuffie County. It piqued his interest, and after a little nudge, Wyatt convinced Clay to attend Belle Meade Hunt’s Opening Meet and spend the day following the hunt in the tally-ho wagon. With the excitement of hunting, the sights and sounds of the hounds working and watching the members galloping across the fields and over the fences, Clay recognized that this was a sport for him.
“I was hooked!” Clay said.
Clay and Lynn took riding lessons and enlisted the help of Epp Wilson and his brother Glenn, who leased them horses. A year after his day on the tally-ho wagon, he had outfitted his family with horses, a pony, tack, a truck and a trailer. He was enthusiastic about his new sport. Best of all, he could include the whole family. For Clay, it became a passion and way of life.
He converted the old mule barn into a stable and cleared and fenced the land for pastures. He moved a grand 1830 home from the Crawfordville area to his property. They took years to repair and refurbish the transplanted home. Following the proper order for horse people, they dealt with the barn first and the house second.
In 1998, Clay and Lynn divorced. During the next few hunt seasons, he moved his two mares to Foxboro, the Wilson’s farm. By 2000, his mares were ready for retirement.
Sharon Wilson told Clay about a horse that might be perfect for him. He was a beautiful black horse named Dakota, a young, one-quarter Thoroughbred and three-quarters Friesian gelding. He had been ridden by a young girl who trained and hunted him third flight and was now off to college. Dakota had been turned out for a year.
Clay liked Dakota immediately, but he wanted to continue to hunt first-flight. He needed someone to teach him to jump. Luckily, Epp and Sharon’s daughter Wendy took on the job. Wendy trained Dakota that summer and taught him to jump anything and everything. Clay took Dakota autumn hunting first-flight and he has been jumping anything you point him at ever since.
Clay with Dakota and Stephanie. Photos by Allison Howell Images.
About 10 years ago, a friend Connie Washburn, the wife of Dick Washburn, ex-MFH, Shakerag Hounds, invited Clay to come to Madison, Georgia, to meet some horse friends and to catch up with Sharon Wilson. They were going riding in the lovely Hard Labor Creek Park nearby. As fate would have it, Clay met Stephanie Nuesse. They became friends and started hunting at Belle Meade Hunt and Shakerag Hounds, both longtime members of their respective clubs. Clay was out of town with relatives Thanksgiving 2011, and he let Stephanie hunt first-flight aboard Dakota with Belle Meade Hunt. It was the first time he had allowed anyone to hunt his beloved horse. Dakota approved of his new rider and Clay agreed with his horse. Clay and Stephanie started dating shortly after and were engaged and married Thanksgiving 2021 in Honduras with their three adult children and four grandchildren.
In addition to hunting with Belle Meade Hunt and Shakerag Hounds, they have hunted with many clubs in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, New York, Canada, and many hunts in Virginia. Dakota went with Clay to the lion’s share of the trips.
Mounted hunting with hounds is more than a hobby. It is a lifestyle. Both Clay and Stephanie agree that those that participate in the sport are like family. They have extended and enjoyed hospitality not only for hunt people but also for their horses and dogs.
This year as Dakota, at 27, and Clay, at 75, have hunted all season, their ages add up to one 100 – and a little more. Congratulations and tally ho to Dakota and Clay!