Master of Foxhounds Epp Wilson is joined by others from Belle Meade Hunt as he walks the hounds forward Saturday for the Blessing of the Hounds. Shown, from left, are MFH Gary Wilkes, Nicole Champion, Luanne Durant, Wilson, and John Lemmon.

About 85 riders and more than 450 spectators enjoyed a cool afternoon Saturday for Belle Meade Hunt’s 56th annual Opening Meet.

“It went great. We had just the perfect amount of horses and riders and folks on the Tally Ho,” said Epp Wilson, master of foxhounds at Belle Meade Hunt.

Around noon Saturday, spectators began to gather at the Larry Knox Country Home on Wrightsboro Road in anticipation of the annual Blessing of the Hounds. At 1 p.m., the hounds arrived and were walked forward by Wilson and other hunt leadership and staff. Rev. Charles Broome, a Methodist minister, again this year provided the blessing and presented several riders with the St. Hubert medallion.

Traditionally, St. Hubert was the patron saint of hunters. Other highlights of the festivities were Virginia Wilson’s performance of the national anthem and the annual recitation of “The Belle Meade Toast,” which this year was delivered by Emalaine Cooper and Neilly Dozier.

With the Blessing of the Hounds complete, the hounds and riders departed and were followed by nearly 30 Tally Ho wagons of spectators. As in past years, the hunters participated in two simulated hunts where the dogs pursued a scented drag and were followed by several flights of riders and then the wagons.

Rain had been forecast but never materialized. Temperatures remained chilly, but Wilson was pleased with the cool weather for this year’s Opening Meet.

“We loved the weather this year. When we have to dress up in our scarlet coats, basically our military uniforms, it’s miserable when it’s 75 or 80 degrees,” added Wilson, as he pointed out it may have been a little chilly for those riding the wagons but all appeared to have a good time.

Wilson said there were more junior riders participating this year than ever before and talked of that significance.

“We had our regular group of homegrown juniors but we also had juniors from Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina,” said Wilson. “If we don’t keep the next generation coming on, the sport could die out. It’s very important to keep the next generation interested and we make them feel extra welcomed.”