Hounds check in the beautiful Belle Meade country. Photo by Andrea Salvatore Hook.

The best-laid plans aft gang agleg (or aglog or agog or whatever). Green Mountain Hounds (VT) and Wentworth Hunt (NH) were going to descend upon the Hark Forward Aiken Drag Performance Trials on January 11 and 12, and bring all the ribbons back up to New England. In the event, our plans were defeated by three weeks of subzero weather and repeated snowstorms up and down the East Coast, and our hounds were not able to make the trip. However, even absent hounds, New England made a splash and – in our opinion – captured top honors in the all-important oyster-eating division.

This event, the first (and only – but more about that later) Drag Performance Trial in the Hark Forward series of events, was beautifully organized by Aiken Hounds (SC) with their huntsman, Katherine Gunter, and graciously hosted by Belle Meade Hunt (GA) at Master Epp Wilson's Foxboro Farm. This marks the third Hark Forward Performance Trial that I’ve been able to attend (after Millbrook in New York and Bull Run/Rappahannock in Virginia) and I can suggest that catching any or all of the rest of the events is well worthwhile. The energy and camaraderie engendered by this new initiative is infectious and inspiring.

We sent down our advance scouts Daun DeFrance, MFH, Wentworth, and Ann Wicander, ex-MFH, Wentworth, to the Aiken area last month to pave the way for the main body of the force. Sue Levy, MFH, and Linda Fernald of Wentworth, your correspondent and Andrea Hook of Green Mountain flew in as reinforcements just before the trials. With Andrea acting as our photographer and publicist, we made a fine appearance as a mounted contingent on both days of hunting.

The drag lines were expertly laid by Mike McCarthy of Middleton Place Hounds, enabling the judges and the fields to see and hear the action. The guest huntsman both days was Kami Wolk of De La Brooke Foxhounds (MD). A little rain discouraged no one and just improved the scenting. After the first day’s scoring, we all were better attuned at watching the individual hounds perform, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the winners deserved their accolades. Of course, if our hounds had been there…

While it’s all about the hunting, it’s not just about the hunting. It is so much fun to meet like-minded people from all over. We New Englanders were certainly out-distanced by the contingent who came from Woodbrook in the Pacific Northwest, but Sewickley from Pennsylvania got the prize for bringing hounds the farthest distance. We’re hoping their huntsman John Tabachka was not sidetracked by winter storm Hunter (ironic!) on his way home. Although she’s now in Maryland, I think that New England can lay some claim to Kami Wolk, ex-MFH of Wentworth, who carried the horn on both days.

New England’s biggest victory came at the feeding trough. Piles and piles of oysters – lightly steamed and delivered to the table on what appeared to us to be manure forks – were enthusiastically and systematically shucked and consumed. While we didn’t actually keep count, I am unilaterally awarding Wentworth the blue ribbon and Green Mountain the red ribbon. Surprisingly, even our oysters had a hunting flair. Who would have thought that the oystermen would also be huntsmen - the legendary hunt figures Bill Green and his son Jamie. Bill Green is a former kennel and drag man for Middleton Place, and he spoke at dinner about his experiences with hounds. New England can lay some claim on Jamie, formerly of Myopia Hunt in our neck of the woods, north of Boston, MA.

A final note: we’re going to try this again. Plans are afoot for the second Drag Performance Trial in the first week of December, just after most New England hunts end the hunt season. Hounds will be fit and ready to strut their stuff in the South!

Editor's Note: Many thanks to Joe Bills, MFH, Middleton Place Hounds, for contributing some details for this article.

Aiken Hounds' Middleburg Euro (Keswick Rasher x Essex Euro) was champion hound for the winning club. To view final results, click here.

To see the full schedule of continuing Hark Forward events, please click here.


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