What do you do when you have a Hark Forward Hound Trial with five of the best packs in the country - and you can’t find a fox - or a coyote? How do you score it? How does the scoring system work, when nearly all the scores are Hunting and Trailing - and only a handful of Full Cry scores over the two day event? How do you keep the participants happy and engaged? That was the challenge we had over the last two days. And here is how it went.

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A quartet of huntsmen: Marion Thorne, MFH, Genesee Valley; Bart Poole, Essex; Donald Philhower, Millbrook; and Codie Jane Hayes, Golden's Bridge. Photo by Karen Kandra Wenzel.

We scheduled this event nearly a year ago. Normally it would be good hunting conditions - cool and damp - not hot and dry. It was about 66 degrees at first cast and near 80 when we finished both days.

Our Millbrook hosts were first class - just like everywhere else we have been. Everything they could control went perfectly. Stabling, lodging, hospitality, fellowship, dinners and hunt breakfasts were all top drawer. It is one of the most beautiful hunt countries anywhere. The only things they could not control were the weather and the game.

We have all been there. We all want every day hunting to be a fun day with good sport. Any time we have visitors, we want it even more. If it is a joint meet we want it even more. And when we host a Hound Trial, with dozens of visitors from many hunts - we want it most of all. Every additional covert drawn blank is additional torture.

It is all the more painful for the hosts as they have been having good sport every hunt for the last month. Now, the big day is here and we can’t find a single critter to run - other than a bobcat that ran in a cornfield for about 15 minutes before going into a huge brier patch. There the hounds lost him completely. We did get three full cry scores during that run - thank goodness - but those were the only full cry scores for the first day.

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Epp Wilson, MFH, Belle Meade, and Hark Forward Hound Performance Trial Chairman; Barbara Smith; Sean Cully, huntsman, Rose Tree-Blue Mountain. Photo by Karen Kandra Wenzel.

We had high hopes for the second day of hunting. Our hosts changed the time from 8 AM to 7 AM to try to beat the heat and improve our chances. Hounds worked beautifully again - drawing all the best coverts - and drawing them blank. We had deer run through the pack early on both days. Not one hound tried to run them. Late in both days we had a deer jump up in the middle of the pack as they drew. It must have been really tempting for these hounds, who were hot and tired and wanted to run something as much as we did. They were all good. Not one hound tried to run the deer.

It is one thing to have deer broke hounds at home. It can be quite another to have them be deer broke away from home. Some hounds who are honest at home, may think they are on vacation – and that the rules have changed. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” comes to mind.

In spite of the lack of game, there were high spirits in the field. There was nowhere else we would rather have been. Old friends. New friends. Magnificent country. Outstanding hound work.

At the beginning of this article I said there were no foxes about. Let me qualify that. There were no four legged foxes about. But, there were plenty of two legged foxes - three of those were the lovely, classy and capable joint Masters of the Millbrook, Nancy Stahl, Parker Gentry and Lelee Brandt, and there were many handsome gentlemen there as well. And some of the most gorgeous horses were in the field. Great food and fellowship abounded from start to finish. There were many things to enjoy even when we could not find a coyote or fox to run.

The Top Ten

Guest huntsman, Charles Montgomery from Bull Run Hunt (VA), did his usual outstanding job hunting the hounds. Charles has been involved in the Hound Trials from the very beginning at Midland’s Fitzpatrick country in 1996. He has been instrumental to the success and the many improvements in the system. Millbrook huntsman, Donald Philhower, served as guide and all the Millbrook whips did their usual fine job, in their quiet and low-key manner. This is really important, as a noisy staff can make the visiting hounds even more nervous than they already are, and cause them to perform poorly or not at all.

Pack Results - First day only:

Rose Tree - Blue Mountain Hunt (PA)

Genesee Valley Hunt (NY)

Essex Fox Hounds (NJ)

Pack Results - Second day only:

Golden's Bridge Hounds (NY) 

Genesee Valley Hunt

Essex Fox Hounds

Overall Pack Results for the Two Days:

Genesee Valley Hunt

Rose Tree - Blue Mountain

Essex Fox Hounds

Top Ten Hounds for the Two Days:

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Overall Champion Essex Oatlands. Photo by Karen Kandra Wenzel.

Essex Oatlands

Genesee Valley Tempo

Golden's Bridge Pippa

Genesee Valley Hughston

Rose Tree - Blue Mountain Bridle

Essex Burma

Genesee Valley Hidden

Golden's Bridge Fortuitous

Rose Tree - Blue Mountain Watchman

Genesee Valley Telltale

Genesee Valley won the pack championship during the Centennial – in addition to winning it at this event.  And that was 11 years ago. That speaks volumes about the strength and consistency of their program.

Top ten is important for many reasons. These represent the top ten of about 400 total hounds in the five kennels who competed in this event. That figures out to the top 2½%. Every hound entered here is the cream of the crop. And the winners are cream of the cream of the crop. Another reason top ten is important is that these are the only hounds who qualify for the Performance Trial Classes at the Hound Shows.

Maybe - Maybe Not

Even Mr. Hardaway [Benjamin Hardaway, MFH and former huntsman at Midland Fox Hounds (GA)] says that no matter how good the scoring system is, we only get snapshots of the action. So, there is no guarantee that the first place hound is the best hound there. Maybe - maybe not. Any hound in the top ten is a wonderful hound. What the system does guarantee is that a bad hound can’t win.

We score them in the categories of Hunting, Trailing, Full Cry, Endurance and Marking. The totals of these scores determine the winners.

Huntsman’s Choice is another top honor. This ribbon is awarded to the hound that the guest huntsman would most like to take home. After the first day’s hunt, Charles was asked for a hint about his choice. He responded, “Right now I like all of them. This is the best pack of hounds I think I have ever hunted in my 20 years of hunting Performance Trial packs. They blended well instantly and hunted well together from the very first covert.”

At the end of the second day, Charles picked Genesee Valley Tempo. He explained to the crowd, “She was always busy - picked up the line going across the gravel road - on a good scenting day, that would have turned into a great run.”

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Genesee Valley Tempo, Huntsman's Choice. Photo by Karen Kandra Wenzel.

Charles had no idea how well Tempo had scored. He knew that she was drawing very hard all day long. “She got the line going forward when all the other hounds were going heel. She figured it out. On the first day there was one particular trailing event. She was feathering - she didn’t speak. Her sister came over and spoke a couple of times. But, they were not able to really follow it and turn it into a run. I like hounds who only speak when there is something that might develop into something.”

Here is another key point about Charles picking Tempo. Charles did not know the scores. He only knew what he observed in the field – from the many snapshots of action he had seen. The other judges saw some different snapshots.  And they, too, scored Tempo with high marks. The combined scoring of 10 judges placed her second overall. This is yet another validation of the scoring system. Every hound trial ends up with the Huntsman’s Choice going to a top scoring hound. What is different about this event is that we had so many hunting and trailing scores – and so few full cry scores. Some thought the overall totals might be skewed because of so few full cry scores. But, it seems that the scoring system worked just fine – even with this very different set of circumstances in the hunt field.

Charles also commented about the pack overall: "This pack melded together faster than any other pack of hounds I have hunted in a hound trial. They did a great job on the bobcat in the corn. Tuesday - first trailing event - one hound spoke - every hound came flying to him like a swarm of bees. It was a great thing to see. And it demonstrated how good hounds recognize good hounds. They had not only learned each other’s voices, they had learned who they could trust.

"It was an honor to hunt such a fine pack of hounds. Each huntsman and staff has done a fine job with their hounds. They were truly an all-star pack." Then Charles raised his glass and toasted all the huntsmen and staff present for all their fine hounds. As Chairman, I told the crowd, “OK. Charles wants to take Tempo home. I want to take all the rest of them home with me to Georgia. These are all great hounds. I am really impressed!”

Something New

This season we have an entirely new scoring system. It was developed by a team of passionate foxhunters who are also computer experts. Bud Eichel and Jeb Blount have done a tremendous job getting this system up and running. It took countless hours on their part, plus some full-time programmers, to get it done.

With this new system we are able to crank out the scores faster than ever. We gave the results about 90 minutes after the hunt came in. It is important that we announce the results while nearly everyone is still there. It is much better to receive the ribbons in front of one’s peers and fellow hunters than to drive home and read it online. The fellowship and good-natured ribbing and catcalls are big parts of what Hark Forward is about.

Come see for yourself! You are invited! We want everyone in every hunt to participate in one or more Hark Forward events. We have something for everyone - Field Hunter Championships, Regional Joint Meets and Hound Trials. You'll make new friends and support the exciting renovation of the MFHA's Middleburg, VA headquarters to highlight and promote our sport. Hark Forward!

For the full Hark Forward schedule, visit our website.

For complete results from Millbrook, click here.

 

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