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Loudoun Fox-Hunt Leader Killed in Riding Accident
By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 1998; Page B08

Erskine Bedford, joint master of the nation's oldest fox hunt, was known as one of the most experienced riders in the rolling hills of Loudoun County's hunt country.

On Sunday afternoon, Bedford led more than two dozen riders from the Piedmont Hunt through the fields and pastures, as he had done several times a week for two decades. But what had seemed like a perfect day for riding ended in tragedy when Bedford's horse collapsed under him at full gallop -- apparently from a heart attack.

Bedford, 65, was thrown from the animal and killed.

"My father's passion, even long before he became a fixture in the hunt community, was the land," said Bedford's daughter Cricket Whitner, one of his four children. "He couldn't have written himself a better ending. He went to heaven with a horse."

Bedford's death shocked the area's close-knit equestrian community, which is reeling from a series of accidents in recent months.

In April, the joint master and huntsman of the Loudoun Hunt West, Bay Cockburn, 41, was partially paralyzed when he struck a tree while riding. And in February, 10 thoroughbred racehorses and 15 hounds were killed when a barn owned by another of Piedmont's joint masters, Randy Waterman, was gutted in an electrical fire.

The Piedmont, which dates to 1840, is the country's oldest fox hunt and covers about 90,000 acres. It is one of seven hunts in Loudoun and 25 statewide, according to Dennis J. Foster, a friend of Bedford's and director of the Leesburg-based national Masters of Foxhounds Association.

The Piedmont and other hunts in the United States, which have their origins in the English custom of rooting out the foxes that prey on sheep and other domestic animals, rarely result in killing their prey. The fox usually escapes the hounds by taking shelter in a hole. Animal rights groups, many of which protest the sport in England, say hunting is cruel to the foxes even if the animal is not harmed. Riders say they participate to enjoy nature and the thrill of the chase.

Foster said Bedford had been a joint master since 1979, helping to run the hunt's finances and dealing with local landowners. He also was the field master, a rider who takes the lead and ensures that the field is safe for other riders.

"He's an amazing guy, and he'll be hard to replace," Foster said. "He'd always make sure that if there was a rider on a horse that wasn't up to par or a new rider, he would take extra time with them."

Friends said that although Bedford was a successful stockbroker, most recently at a Fauquier County firm, his true love was riding and spending time outdoors.

"He always loved the land," said Peter Winants, director of the Middleburg-based National Sporting Library, who grew up on a Maryland farm next door to the one owned by the Bedford family. "I remember he often told me, 'I hate to leave the land, I love it so, but you have to be realistic, and you have to make a living.' "

Bedford spent every spare moment with the hunt or working on his Upperville area farm, Winants said.

"Erskine was the perfect southern gentleman," said Loudoun Supervisor Eleanore C. Towe (D-Blue Ridge), a longtime friend. "He was always courteous and mannerly, but he was never stuffy. He could speak easily to a group of farmers with manure on his boots and then he could . . . go to a party with the elite and be just as comfortable."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company