Junior foxhunters from 13 states descended upon Lexington, Kentucky last weekend for three days of hunting, competing, sight-seeing, camaraderie, and making new friends at the Junior North American Field Hunter Championships (JNAFHC). Organized by Marion Chungo and Michelle Arnold, and hosted by MFHA President Jack van Nagell, his wife, Betsy, and the Iroquois Hunt, this year's version of the popular contest added a touch of racing glamor to its official events.

The excitement of new whip cracking and horn blowing contests gave participants a chance to display their unmounted field skills. In addition to recognizing excellent horsemanship, the Championships allowed our future leaders to form connections with their peers across the country and begin to appreciate our wider sporting community. 

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Juniors enjoyed dinner at the Iroquois Hunt clubhouse. Photo courtesy of Emma Rowe.

Dr. Jack van Nagell said, "In my opinion, there is no other event more important for the future of foxhunting or more deserving of support than the JNAFHC," and this vision was supported by a volunteer team of regional organizers, as well as excellent coordination by the local hosts in Lexington. Several days of thoughtfully planned activities kept the young riders entertained. Friday morning, all were invited to a special meet and greet with last year's Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup champion, American Pharoah, which impressed even some still-sleepy competitors who had arrived late the night before. Another Thoroughbred-related opportunity was a tour of the Fasig Tipton sales pavilion and horses being prepped for auction.

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JNAFHC riders Taylor Overman and Pippa Cook, Farmington Hunt, are impressed with American Pharoah. Pippa, 7, whose father Matthew is Farmington's huntsman, was the youngest rider in Kentucky. Photo by proud mom, Karen Overman.

Iroquois Hunt opened their kennels to the juniors and invited all to attend their Saturday meet, which was a popular option (and useful to those whose horses or ponies felt particularly lively with the weekend's cooler weather). Tours of local stud farms and a visit to Keeneland racetrack were also available. In the evenings, parties were held for the children and their families, featuring the inaugural whip cracking and horn blowing contests.

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Whip cracking winners: Henry Nylen, 2nd, New Market-Middletown Valley, Lee Dozier, 1st, Belle Meade (with MFH Epp Wilson), and Kenley Batts, 3rd, Red Mountain Hounds. Belle Meade will host the 2017 JNAFHC.

Henry Nylen, who finished second in the whip cracking (he also makes his own whips), representing New Market-Middletown Valley Hounds (MD), says, "I was very excited to go down to Kentucky. We stabled my pony, Cassie, at the Kentucky Horse Park. The next day we got to go see American Pharoah at Ashford Stud! In the afternoon we went to see the Iroquois Hunt kennels and that was great. The hounds are awesome and very nice. Next we went to a dinner and the hospitality was amazing by the Iroquois Hunt. The food was great and I met a lot of new friends. The next day, we went hunting with Iroquois. I went very fast and jumped over a lot of fences. The last day was the Finals. I had a lot of fun, even though I did not place. I can't wait to try out next year."

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Best Turned Out, Ainsley Colgan, Old Dominion Hounds. Ainsley was also Reserve Champion in the younger First Field division.

Another young rider who traveled to Kentucky was Sophie Bell, 11, of Old Dominion Hounds Pony Club in Virginia. Sophie finished third in the First Field, 12 and Under division at the Championships. She tells Covertside, "The most fun was on Sunday, being able to compete with other kids from all over, but the parties were really fun, too. The most challenging parts for me were in the finals, trying to pick up the dropped rail in the cow pen, because my horse is so tall, and trying to get the hand gate after I galloped him across the field, he was very excited after that." Asked about her favorite non-riding activity, Sophie says, "We got to go to Fasig Tipton and see the yearlings being presented before the sale and we got to tour the paddock and inside auction block. That was very interesting. I had a really fun weekend and can't wait to do it again on Chunk [her four-year-old Thoroughbred] next year."

The judges seconded the postive reviews. Liz Howard, Palm Beach Hounds Secretary and whipper-in, says, "It was amazing with what ease all the juniors bonded over their common love for horses, hounds, and hunting. From the first moment at the kennels until the hugs goodbye and promises of 'Facebooking' and 'Instagraming' each other, there was laughter, smiles and commingling between hunt juniors." Fellow judge, Katharine Byron, MFH New Market-Middletown Valley, added, "We really enjoyed all the kids and their mounts. They were spectacular, and the future of foxhunting should be bright with these sportsmen!"

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First Field, 13 and Older Champion, Claire Goff, Iroquois Hunt.

Howard added that the Championship itself, particularly the individual handy hunter rounds performed by the top ten finalists in each division, was a genuine challenge. She judged the First Field, 13 and Older group. "The juniors' abilities and horses/ponies' prowess and agility were put to the test on a course traversing steep inclines, stiff coops, stone walls, livestock and protected crops. They rode with skill and determination and the competition was quite fierce. The final ten were challenged with a course that most adults would shirk at, but they dropped their heels, gave their mounts their heads, threw their hearts over the fences and followed. All those who participated are deserving of praise!"

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Hilltopper Champion, Mary Katherine Leveridge, Iroquois Hunt.

At the conclusion of a successful (and exhausting) weekend, co-organizer Marion Chungo says: "What an amazing group of foxhunting juniors we all have just been so lucky to enjoy! These juniors have now made friends and the neat part of it — so have the parents. This will no doubt strengthen our foxhunting community. We have now all travelled home, and will go back to our hunts and support the children's participation."

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The Batts family, representing Red Mountain Hounds (NC), had a banner day. Their prizes included Cooper Batts - Spirit Award, Kenley Batts - Champion in the younger First Field division, and Trey Batts - 3rd in Hilltoppers.

The traveling format of this year's competition will continue in 2017, when Belle Meade Hunt (GA) will host the Championships. The JNAFHC founders, Mrs. Douglas Wise-Stuart and Mrs. Iona Pillion, said in support of the program's future, "It is with our deepest gratitude of the JNAFHC to the Iroquois Hunt and the President of the MFHA for hosting the 14th Annual Event. We have truly gone National with 33 hunts participating in 13 states. The future of foxhunting is well established and it is our sincere hope that next year's planned event at the Belle Meade Hunt will extend even further. The importance of land conservation can not be stressed enough."

Watch for more coverage in Covertside's print magazine. For complete results, please visit jnafhc.com.

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