"On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again, the life I love is going foxhunting with my friends, I can’t wait to get on the road again...." Apologies to Willie Nelson - we love foxhunting. We love visiting and hunting with other clubs. And we especially enjoy Hound Performance Trials. We get to see lots of great hounds in action. And we get to see lots of friends, old and new, from lots of hunts, all at one place. I can’t remember exactly how many times I’ve been to Hillsboro Hounds’ and Cedar Knob Hounds’ Tennessee hunt country – a half dozen or so – but enough times for it to be very familiar to me. This time was for the Hark Forward Hound Trial, hosted by Hillsboro Hounds.
Lynnville, Tennessee is breathtaking, with hills and vistas, fabulous coverts throughout, and great expanses dotted with immaculate farms and charming hunt boxes. We reached the Hooker family’s Hounds Ear Farm, where our horses would be staying, and Hillsboro’s first field master, Ted Thompson, greeted us and showed us around – the first of many times we were on the receiving end of exceptional, Southern hospitality. We were honored to keep our horses on such hallowed grounds as the incomparable Henry Hooker’s family farm; our horses, conversely, only cared about the grass!
Staying with Hillsboro Master Orrin Ingram and his wife, Lee Ann, was amazing. Lee Ann designed the house herself and it is perfect – so warm and inviting. The mud room bathroom even has muddy puppy paw print wallpaper on the ceiling. We were lucky to share these quarters with MFHA 1st VP Leslie Rhett Crosby, MFH Mooreland (AL) and Alastair Strachan, MFH, Eglinton and Caledon (ON), and his friend, Arlene Taylor, who whips-in there.
Thursday evening’s judges’ meeting and welcome dinner were held at their clubhouse, known as the Pavilion. It’s an old cattle barn with spaces between the vertical slats, presumably for ventilation for its original occupants. Today, those vertical slats make for a dramatic site after dark, when the light from within shines through, creating an almost heavenly aura. Inside the Pavilion, a massive fireplace warmed the airy space while a band was setting up on the stage beside the hearth. Tables were charmingly decorated with miniature board fence and coops, painted black, like much of the fence and jumps in Lynnville’s hunt country. A very large crowd was forming for the decadent meal and entertainment that would follow.
If you haven’t attended a Hound Performance Trial, we strongly recommend you join us. You already know how much a joint meet increases the energy and excitement of the event. Hound Performance Trials are like joint meets on steroids and Red Bull. The welcome party is always fun – seeing old friends – making new friends – the anticipation of great hound work and great sport. It is a lot like the energy of a crack pack of hounds when they come boiling out of the kennel on a great scenting day.
The Hillsboro Hound Trial drew a record number of participants for the Hark Forward series – 191 was the final count , with six hunts entered – Cedar Knob Hounds (TN), Mells Fox Hounds (TN), Tennessee Valley Hunt (TN), Longreen Foxhounds (TN), Long Run-Woodford Hounds (KY), and Shawnee Hounds (IL). Out-of-town hunts like Tennessee Valley brought as many as 25 loyal members to support their hounds. Hillsboro’s professional huntsman, Johnnie Gray, carried the horn for the mostly Penn-Marydel combined pack.
The proximity of their respective hunt territory presents a unique challenge for Hillsboro Hounds and Cedar Knob Hounds. Cedar Knob Hounds joint MFH Rob Caldwell described it like this: “Hillsboro is the donut; we (Cedar Knob) are the donut hole. They need us and we need them.” The leaders of both hunts deserve all respect and praise for making it work – it can’t be easy! The masters make a special effort to keep the lines of communication open – and resolve any issues early before they get large. Orrin explained, ”Rob and I have each other on speed dial. Any time either of us hears anything that could potentially be a problem, we talk about it and get it worked out.”Many people have memberships in both hunts. It was amazing to us that over the course of the entire weekend, we never heard a gnat’s whisker of a negative comment about the other hunt. Of course, that attitude of cooperation begins at the top – with the Masters.
A new Performance Trial feature was added this season: each hunt provides one judge. This is in addition to 3 or 4 experienced judges from other hunts. This change is really working well – even better than I expected. It is usually a huntsman or a whip. The huntsmen are particularly good – as they are used to watching the individual performances of their hounds. And the spirit of friendship and good sportsmanship prevails – especially during the bull sessions on the porch after the hunt. Each judge is going on and on about the great work someone else’s hound did that day. Often followed by, “How is that bitch bred?” It gets all the hound people thinking about what hounds they want to breed to. And that gets back to the first purpose of Hound Performance Trials – to provide a way to compare hounds’ hunting abilities in the field – apples and apples – same day, same scent, same quarry. This also helps us see how our own hounds are really doing. Sometimes we can drink our own Kool-aid so long that we don’t realize there is something better out there – and perhaps we ought to breed to it.
The other main purpose of Hound Performance Trials is for us to have FUN! And these events deliver FUN in spades! Friday’s meet was from the Ingrams' Briar Patch. There were 120 riders and 20 or more car followers. As at all Hound Trials, hounds were mixed in one trailer so they could get used to one another. First we put tracking collars on all of them. Hound Trial huntsman, Johnnie Gray, spent time in the trailer with all the hounds so they could get used to him.
Hillsboro Master Hill McAlister greeted everyone with his distinctive, “Gather Round Pleeeeeese. Gather Round Pleeeeese.” Then he described each field, introduced field masters for the day, and gave instructions for car followers and photographers. Introductions of hunts and judges would come at the dinner. We were burning daylight. First cast was at 9 am; it would get warm fast, so we wanted to find good game and find it early. Johnnie had the day planned well – which way to draw and guides for each judge.
At Hound Trials we always like to find good game early. We may plan to draw one covert blank to let the hounds settle in a bit. After that we usually draw the nearest honey hole. We want to get the hounds together on a good line so they can learn each other and begin to work together as a team. Friday morning, we drew good covert after good covert blank, until about two hours into the morning hounds found a good line and cold trailed it well enough to get to fresher scent – then we were off and running. Up and down and around those beautiful Tennessee hills.
About midway through the run we had a marking event. Orrin saw several hounds sight chasing the coyote. The front hound grabbed the coyote on the back leg. The coyote whipped around and snapped at the hound and they both tumbled. The coyote jumped up and took off even faster. And that hound resumed the race – probably thinking that he would wait for the cavalry to help him next time. That hound was number 15 – Longreen Foxhounds Leaf. They ran that coyote well for two more miles before losing him. We were able to get some good Full Cry scores. This is important as we had gotten mostly Hunting and Trailing scores up until that run. We returned to record scores and enjoy a lovely hunt breakfast courtesy of Tennessee Valley and Long Run.
Saturday’s meet was from Master Albert Menefee’s Fox View. At a distance, this side of the country looked a lot like yesterday’s country. As soon as we crested the first steep hill, we saw one of the many improved wildlife habitat areas that the Menefees have created. They had brought in experts from the Tennessee Resources to advise them on creating these habitat areas. In most of these areas, they had cut down the hardwoods and left them to rot. By removing the canopy of leaves, nature took over with briars and honeysuckle to make the foxiest coverts I have ever seen. Some of these areas were entire hillsides – 10 to 20 acres.
This is where they found their coyotes all day. I lost count of how many we ran. The sport was incredible. The hound cry was even better. Hounds worked well together. They usually work together better on the second day of a Hound Trial. The galloping was so long and hard that many had to pull up – especially those whose horses were not used to a territory that is so steep in places. We had good sport and good scores. Everything that Hillsboro could control was done very well. One less than positive element was that we had several hounds that had to be scratched for running deer. Only trusted, non-deer running hounds should be brought to compete at Hound Trials.
Thanks to the wonderful new computerized scoring program, we had the scores ready as soon as folks had finished lunch. Rob Caldwell, MFH Cedar Knob and Billy Haggard, MFH Mells and MFHA District Representative, greeted everyone and thanked them for the many ways they had helped make the weekend such a big success. David Twiggs told everyone more about the new ideas the MFHA has for getting our message out as foxhunters and conservationists. The new headquarters and its convenient location in downtown Middleburg will be a big part of how we tell our story. It is imperative that we tell our story and define ourselves – rather than letting antis and other unfriendlies define who we are and what we do.
At the festive breakfast - tables set for 150 people under a white tent - Billy announced that the total of funds raised for the MFHA Foundation had reached $61,000. The crowd cheered and shouted. Hillsboro is to be congratulated for hosting such a successful weekend. It was Herculean task – organizing kenneling, stabling and lodging for everyone. Leilani Gray was the main organizer. She was applauded for handling so many details so very well.
There are still plenty more Performance Trials on the Hark Forward calendar, so plan to join us in 2018!
To view complete results, please visit our website.