Jennifer Hansen, Woodbrook Hunt (WA) huntsman, concludes her report on judging at the Drag Performance Trials earlier this year in Georgia. She was particularly impressed by the special challenges of laying the scent line so that judges would have opportunities to observe and score hounds through the day.
The end of a line at the Drag Performance Trials. Andrea Salvatore Hook photo.
Hounds were noticeably more gelled as a pack on the second day and were all business as they moved off with guest huntsman Kami Wolk. The dragman for the second day was once again Michael McCarthy, who had moved off 30 minutes prior. He knew judges were hoping to see more hunting and trailing today in addition to the wonderful full cry they had viewed on day one. I know from experience that playing the role of the fox is no easy task, and Michael did a beautiful job laying the day’s lines so the field could stay out in the open while hounds hunted with beautiful cry through the surrounding woods. Judges galloped along the tree lines to record hounds' numbers and times whenever they came out into the open or to the woods' edge.
As a judge, I focused on finding positions to view hound work, so hounds would receive the scores they deserved for not only full cry, but also hunting, trailing, and voice. The way the scoring works makes it important for judges to spread out, so we record hounds at different time stamps, because the scoring program does not allow for multiple scores at exactly the same time.
After the first line, Wolk took hounds across a pasture and cast at its edge. They found the line swiftly and were running with strong cry. My guide Nicole Smith, a Belle Meade whipper-in, knew the country and had a good idea of where hounds would eventually come out of the woods. We rode ahead and positioned ourselves where we heard hounds getting closer to us, and sure enough I was in great position to record the hounds work, voice, and order as they chased the line across two coops to its end. When the hounds came running and crying out of the woods, those six couple sounded like they could have easily been double that. And it was not a surprise to see Aiken's Euro right out in front.
After a short wait for one hound to catch up and a beer break on the hill, we moved on to the third cast of the day. In my opinion this was the most beautiful line of the Drag Trials. McCarthy was able to use the landscape to his advantage, and hounds had had to slow and work to hold the line. Judges were able to view and score multiple times on this run. Haunch was viewed by judges and completely ignored by hounds, and the conclusion of the line at the Rock Dam, which is a Belle Meade landmark, was absolutely breathtaking. Master Wilson gave us all a history lesson about the Rock Dam, and I hope every foxhunter will one day have the opportunity to hunt with Belle Meade hounds and hear it.
Upon return to Boots Hall the judge’s cards were entered into the computer and the program worked its magic to tally the scores. Before results were announced, MFHA Executive Director David Twiggs and MFH Wilson spoke about the Hark Forward initiative, designed to build friendly competitions and events across the nation so foxhunters can celebrate great sport. Additionally, Hark Forward will raise funds for the renovations of the new national headquarters in Middleburg, VA.
The second day's overall top honors were awarded to Euro, followed by Aiken Lacrosse, Sewickley Deacon, and Sewickley Shilo. Euro led in all categories on the second day of the trial, and Deacon and Shilo both received considerably improved scores. Finally it was time to announce the overall champions. These results were quite similar to the second day results with Euro taking the top honor, Lacrosse reserve, and Deacon in third. Aiken Hounds was the top placing hunt, Sewickley Hunt second, and Middleton Place Hounds third.
Personally, I have had limited experience hunting with drag packs other than my home pack and this was my first performance trial experience. I think it was brilliant and a true representation of the sport. Belle Meade’s country could not have been more perfect for the Drag Trial—the variety of terrain and abundant water allowed for great drag sport. Michael McCarthy did a stellar job of laying lines to provide sport for hounds and viewing opportunity for judges. Hounds hunted a total of six lines over the two days and all hounds were viewed and received scores from the judges.
All the Masters, huntsman, and hunt members should feel very proud of the hounds they entered. Not a hound put a foot wrong and each chased the drag with great voice and enthusiasm.