John Evans, center, leads the first flight of the Cochran Hunt Club. Credit: Jon R. Smith
After 44 years leading the first flight of the Cochran Hunt, John Evans is handing off that responsibility, but he is still riding in the first flight every hunting Saturday and enjoying every moment of it.
“I turned 80 and I thought it was time for me to ride back in the group and not have this responsibility. So, I gave it up as of last March,” Evans said. “I’m still in the first flight, I’m just not in charge, and therefore I can socialize more.”
For 70 years, Evans has been following this pack of Pennmarydel black and tan hounds with the Cochran Hunt Club in southern Chester County, PA. “When I first started, it wasn’t a club - it was just a pack of hounds,” he said.
Evans was introduced to riding when he was 8 or 9 years old and began fox hunting with the group when he was just ten. “I had the choice of a farmer’s horse that wasn’t being used that day and I could ride it, or, on the edge of Atglen, there was an older gentleman who bought and sold ponies. We would stop there, and if he had a pony he wanted exercised I could ride that pony that day, so those were my two choices.” Evans said. “We rode from there to the hunt and that would have been several miles, and when we were done hunting we rode back to that barn.”
Evans always preferred Thoroughbreds for hunting. “I enjoy the run and the jumping and the heart of the Thoroughbred horse,” he said.
He purchased his first horse at age 12, spending his savings of $33 at the New Holland auction. Getting the horse from his home near Quarryville in Lancaster County, PA to Cochranville for hunting proved to be a bit complicated, because his uncle had only a one horse trailer. The first time he hunted his own horse, his uncle took his own horse to a farm near the hunt the night before, and trailered Evans’ horse to the hunt the next morning. At the end of the hunting day, his uncle took his horse home first, and directed Evans to start riding for home. The plan was to pick Evans up along the route.
“I was part way home and it was getting dark. I could see headlights coming, thinking each time it was him. It finally was him, but I was thinking ‘I’m going to have to ride all the way home’. I was about half way by the time he came back and picked me up.”
The only time since then that Evans has not owned at least one horse was during his time in the army.
He made a home for his family on a farmette in the Willow Street area of Lancaster County where he still lives. Because he does all his own work maintaining his barn, he decided two years ago to cut back from two horses to just one, but that is all he needs to keep active in the hunt field.
For a time, he was joined in the hunt field by his son John Evans II. “He rode with me for about three years until he reached 10th grade, then football became his priority,” Evans said. “When he became a State Policeman he actually joined the mounted police and did very well. So his experience in riding really came through for him. He rode for three years as a mounted officer until he became a sergeant.”
Sixth Grade Teacher
John Evans spent 33 years as a sixth-grade teacher in the Lampeter Strasberg School District. During that time, foxhunting on the weekends was his chance to relax. “It just was a complete release, riding and being out in nature and the open air and so forth, and riding across the country. It just was kind of a complete relaxation mode for me. It’s still that way.”
Staying in the saddle and foxhunting keeps Evans active and gives him a hobby he enjoys. “I ride during the week to keep myself and the horse fit,” he said. “I think it has helped (me stay healthy), being out in the fresh air for several hours each day, plus riding during the week. I feel that’s been a benefit in calming myself down, relaxing, breathing out fresh air and so forth.”
Currently, the Cochran Hunt Club runs 28 to 32 hounds with 25 to 28 riders from children to seniors in the field on a regular basis. “It’s very relaxed, friendly, we’re very conscious of the land owners. We try very hard not to tear up property or offend any of the property owners.”
The Club hunts on Saturdays on land that is also used at times by the Cheshire Hunt. “We’re very lucky we’re on the edge of the Chester County Conservation Area and because of that wide-open area, we’re able to hunt there once a week,” Evans said. “Because of the Conservancy we still have a decent area to be able to ride on.”
Evans’ many years of experience in the field with the Cochran Hunt made him a natural to lead the first flight. Responsibilities of the position include taking the safest and best riding route when following the hounds, keeping the field from straying onto property where they should not be, and making sure someone stays with anyone who has fallen until they are remounted.
“The first flight field leader is like a job, seriously. You pay attention to the huntsman - where we are, making sure we’re not tearing up somebody’s property, that we're riding in the right areas, if there’s a spill, making sure we take care of the rider before we ride off,” Evans explained.
While he is no longer at the head of the first flight, Evans is still riding and jumping with them, not showing his age or slowing down for a moment. “I can’t remember a time I thought I was going to quit and give it up,” he said.