The latest MFHA Hark Forward Hound Performance Trial, hosted by Wicomico Hunt in Chestertown, Maryland, started in a whirlwind. Literally, Winter Storm Riley brought wind gusts over 70 mph, which resulted in travel restrictions on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and overturned tractor trailers that closed I-95 to the north. Many participants were delayed more than a day with the high winds and traffic problems. Jan Sorrells, MFH, Sedgefield Hunt (NC), and I, representing Bull Run Hunt (VA) and Marlborough Hunt (MD), two of the five judges, had decided to come a day early due to the wind warnings.
We met up with fellow judge and judges organizer, Alison Howard, on Thursday night for dinner and a lively discussion about hound trials. Head judge Fred Berry, MFH, Sedgefield Hunt, and Performance Trial Chairman Ed Fry, of Wicomico, were busy sorting out the storm delays.
Greg Thompson of Wicomico carried the horn for the performance trial. Photo by Janice Binkley.
Friday morning dawned with Winter Storm Riley’s full strength. The wind was ferocious, opening a stall door was almost impossible, and we began to hear of the problems other participants were having trying to arrive. Beth Opitz, MFH of Thornton Hill Hunt, had the roof blow off her puppy kennels, a fire started in a hayfield’s round bales from a sparking wire and a tree fell on a tenant’s moving truck! But she was still coming! David Twiggs, MFHA Executive Director, was stuck in traffic for over nine hours due to bridge and highway closings. Fellow judge Mitzi Cabeen, MFH, Smith Mountain Hunt, and the huntsman, Dan O’Toole, from Mt. Carmel Hunt, both travelling with hounds and horses, finally gave up and spent the night on the Western shore or went home after trying for 11 hours to get here. One half of the participating hunts decided to wait until Saturday to avoid long delays at bridges. For the brave ones who crossed the Bay Bridge in scary winds and beat the traffic delays, we dined on delicious prime rib, chicken marsala and Caesar salad at Garon and Donna Stutzman’s Muleskinner’s Lodge in Centreville, MD. We congratulated those who made it and shared stories and Moscow Mules in the lovely lodge. All looked forward to Saturday’s “hurricane hunt,” sure to test even Penn-Marydel hounds!
The winds had diminished slightly by morning. The sun came out and with an hour delay to help the Saturday arrivals, we trailered 40 minutes, to Starkey Farms on the Sassafras River near Galena, MD. Seven hunts had made the journey: Marlborough Hunt, De La Brooke Hunt (MD), Carrolton Hounds (MD), Mt. Carmel Hunt, Kimberton Hunt (PA), Red Mountain Hunt (NC), and Thornton Hill Hounds (VA). This was an all Penn-Marydel hound trial and we were expecting to hear some great hound music. The five entries from each club were painted, some collared and the guest huntsman, Greg Thompson of Wicomico Hunt, simply put the pack together and we quickly moved off to the first covert.
The enthusiastic Penn-Marydels were up to the challenging weather conditions. Photo by Janice Binkley.
Large open fields bordered by the river offered pine trees and thick brush along the shoreline. Hounds opened quickly on a red fox and, as Greg had hoped, the pack came together as one. This fox was turned back several times by the fields eager for a view, then ran into Greg Thompson’s horse, and soon after that slipped away in the thick brush. Hounds settled and we continued on, but the wind was still a factor. Gusting 30 mph, we could see white caps on the water and Garry Riggs, MFH, Red Mountain Hunt, told me at the breakfast, when waves are slapping on the shore the game “sits tight.” The next fox ran tightly in the thickets and marsh, never breaking out into the open. Viewed briefly by one judge and the riders in Garon Stutzman’s mule-driven carriage, this fox ducked back into covert and eventually was put to ground by the raucous and excited pack. We were able to get some great Marking scores. Greg Thompson said he could just see the fox, which the hounds were determined to get, but after much praise he remounted and called them away. But a few of the hounds would not leave the fox until Fred got off his horse and yelled at them. And as soon as the last hound was out of the hole, the fox bolted - to a chorus of delighted Tally–ho’s from the field. The Gone-to-Ground was the highlight of the day.
We called the hunt after several more short runs and returned to the Starkey Farm buildings for a hearty, delicious tailgate and to tally scores. We were to meet at dinner for the Day One results and another fun evening at Muleskinner’s Lodge. The jokes and wisecracks abound between huntsman when they get together, but Fred Berry’s “Smart Ass” award actually went to the Stutzman’s chef, Dave Perry, who was determined to hold his own with these foxhunters. We cheered and gave him a warm thank you for the food and fun! Beth Opitz, the sole woman huntsman, won the requisite horn-blowing contest and she was widely cheered by all in the room for her excellent Gone Away. Her closest competitor from Mt. Carmel Hounds, Dan O’Toole, graciously said he couldn’t come close and just bowed to her prowess. Doc Addis, MFH, Beth's dad, at the table with wife Happy and other daughter Anne, couldn’t have been prouder!
Thornton Hill took top honors on Day One. Red Mountain and Marlborough were second and third respectively. Every hunt had hounds represented in the top ten hounds in the categories, which are Hunting, Trailing, Full Cry, Marking and Endurance. These are combined to reach the Best Hound and top three hunts. Red Mountain’s Remus was Best Hound on Day One. Marlborough’s Vice Admiral also ribboned in several categories and the Thornton Hill hounds did Beth proud, with Zeus, Lentz and Utz receiving high marks. It had been a great day and tired foxhunters thanked our hosts again and left to get ready for Day Two.
The huntsmen, left to right: Greg Thompson,Wicomico; John Dean, Kimberton; Beth Opitz,Thornton Hill; Ben Swope,Carrolton; Tom Atticks, De La Brooke; Dan O’Toole, Mt. Carmel; Drew Daly, Red Mountain, Jason Cole, Marlborough. Photo by Janice Binkley.
Sunday was sunny and less windy, though gusts were still in the 30 mph range! We met at Chino Farms, the 5000+ acre farm of Dr. Henry Sears. Our gracious host welcomed us, wished us a good day and said to stay off the landing strip as his wife was flying home at noon! He has deeded a large parcel of the farm to Washington College in Chestertown, MD and every year Ed Fry hosts the Chino Chase, a foxhunt fundraiser for the College Equestrian Club that draws hunters from near and far. It is a beautiful fixture and we immediately found a fox on the Chester River shore. Hounds came together quickly, just as the previous day and we continued to draw towards the east along the water. Today we were getting solid hunting and trailing scores, as we paralleled the landing strip eastward. Once we turned back into the tall grasses, hounds opened and judges raced for full cry scores. This fixture yielded lots of fox and the field was treated to many views. At one point the huntsmen group, shepherded by Garry Riggs, MFH of Red Mountain, viewed four fox coming out of the same ravine. Grumbling that no judge was present, they were relieved that the scorers did arrive to get great scores as the hounds ended the day on another fast, all-on, full cry across the field back in the direction of home. As we were galloping toward a road and the clock was reaching noon, we called it a day when there was a simultaneous quick dismount and hound check. With all hounds on, we roaded back to the meet to again tally scores, put tired horses away and return to the 4-H Park for breakfast.
Hosted by Wicomico members Leo and Liz Courtney, chili, fried chicken, ham and all the fixings, as well as endless cakes, awaited grateful foxhunters who ate and drank as they waited for final scores. It was a long wait but well worth it for those who stayed. Thornton Hill earned top score overall, followed by Marlborough and Carrolton. Thornton Hill and Marlborough had three hounds each in the top ten hounds. Thornton Hill’s Zeus and Lentz were champion and reserve champion respectively, with Utz also top ten. When asked about her hounds, Beth Opitz said Zeus was by Bishop, her best THH hound, “…(he) is heavy Kimberton/Addis bloodlines. Zeus and littermates are super hounds - in front when on fast run, but can really get down and hunt when scenting is tough…Lentz is all Addis bloodlines. ...Utz is Golden’s Bridge (NY) bloodlines.” Marlborough’s Vice Admiral was third, Valor was fifth, followed by Vidalia, also in the top ten.
Thornton Hill Master Beth Opitz with Zeus, Champion Hound. Photo by Janice Binkley.
This sort of placing in a performance trial is one of the ways hunts and huntsmen can evaluate a breeding. All three of Marlborough’s aforementioned hounds and a fourth, Victor, are littermates, by Marlborough’s O’Jay out of Golden's Bridge Kelby. When I checked with Marlborough’s MFH Katherine Cawood, she said, “Both O’Jay and Kelby were outstanding hunting hounds.” To see the get of a breeding excel like this at a trial is gratifying to any huntsman. Another hound worth noting was Carrollton’s Korvette, who placed fourth overall. I saw this hound up front on the lead in every full cry run on Sunday and every judge had him placed numerous times. Red Mountain’s Remus was the favorite and top hound on Saturday in tough scenting conditions. Huntsman’s Choice was De La Brooke’s Vector. Greg said he noticed the hound due to his diligence and honesty, acknowledged to the delight of De La Brooke’s kennelman, Kami Wolk. Ribbons, silver trays and beautiful wooden sweat scrapers were handed out amid much applause. As the goodbyes were being said and plans laid for the next performance trial, everyone agreed it had been a fun, successful weekend, albeit a windy one! Master Beth Opitz said in a follow-up message to Thornton Hill members, ”While it’s nice to get ribbons the best part is getting together with fellow fox hunters." I think we all agree.
Of interesting note to myself is that our guest huntsman, Greg Thompson of Wicomico Hunt, who everyone thought did an excellent job in tough conditions, is leaving to assist MFHA President Tony Leahy, Master of Massbach and Fox River Valley Hunts in western Illinois. These two hunts hosted the first performance trial of the Hark Forward Tour last September. I was blessed to have been at Leahy’s and Wicomico’s and a few in between. Hound rrials are really fun and a great way for hunt clubs to support each other and to share ideas on breeding, membership, land conservation, to mention a few issues. We all face the same challenges and we need to come together as we move into the next generation of foxhunting.