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In the doldrums of the summer, it is entertaining to think back on the past season’s events - and look ahead to the next one. Enjoy this recap of the Belle Meade Performance Trials, then visit the MFHA website regularly and plan to attend upcoming events. These include performance trial dates (of course, subject to change) at North Hills in Burwell (NE) October 5 and 6, 2019; Moore County (NC) October 12 and 13, 2019; Belle Meade (GA) January 17 and 18, 2020; and Sedgefield (NC) March 28 and 29, 2020.

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Huntsman Cody Hayes heads out with the combined pack. Photo by Allison Howell Images.

It all started with a proposal of sorts. There was a mild stir beside the ring at the Virginia Hound Show May 30, 2018 when Epp Wilson, MFH Belle Meade Hunt knelt and asked Codie Hayes, professional huntsman of Golden’s Bridge Hounds, if she would be the first ever female huntsman for Belle Meade’s next Foxhound Performance Trial. Golden’s Bridge Master David Feureisen gave his blessing to the proposal, and Codie accepted. The rest is history.

The 17th annual Belle Meade Performance Trial was held January 18th and 19th outside of Thomson, Georgia, in the heart of Belle Meade’s 35,000 acres of contiguous territory. Trial president was MFH David Feureisen of Golden’s Bridge Hounds (New York-New Jersey). Trial huntsman was of course Codie Jane Hayes. There was a stellar panel of judges, including Casey Johnsey, wife of Tennessee Valley Hunt (Midsouth) MFH and huntsman Ryan Johnsey; Adam Feureisen, son of Golden’s Bridge Master David; Brenda Yost, professional huntsman Mill Creek Hunt (Mid-West); Darren Haeusler, former huntsman for Whiskey Road Foxhounds (Carolinas); Sam Andrews, kennel huntsman Live Oak Hounds (Southern); Chad Wilkes, huntsman for Saxonburg Hunt (Central); Joseph Hardiman, huntsman for Whiskey Road Foxhounds and Rosie Campbell, MFH Bull Run Hunt (Virginia).

The entered hunts comprised an impressive cross section of both talent and territorial spread—Whiskey Road Foxhounds from Aiken, South Carolina; Tennessee Valley Hunt, Greeneville, Tennessee; Mill Creek Hunt, outside of Chicago, Illinois; and Midland Fox Hounds, from Columbus, Georgia and Fitzpatrick, Alabama; as well as the host, Belle Meade Hunt, Thomson, Georgia. Each hunt entered a team of 8 hounds, and 20 couples were cast each day.

Normally, the better sport at a performance trial is shown on the second day, when all these hounds from disparate packs bond, and begin to honor each other and flow smoothly as a pack. This year the trial at Belle Meade was different—the first day was a classic, unforgettable hunt, for several reasons. First, the Gods of scent smiled, and scent was perfect all day. Dew point was right on the nose of temperature, about fifty-five degrees at its highest. Second, our huntsman Codie Hayes, led by Barbara Lee, senior whip at Belle Meade, worked magic.

The hounds were cast at 8:00 am across from the Belle Meade kennels, in the 100-Acre Woods. There are healthy, stout cows (and a few bulls) pastured here, and with the calving season, coyotes congregate. The MaCorkle Family, owner of the herd, complain regularly to Belle Meade’s Masters of the depredation of the coyotes, and the Masters react and respond by casting the pack first in this area on a day’s hunting. Quarry is almost always found quickly. Now, which way the quarry runs varies. This coyote on our first day obliged by streaking through well fenced territory, dotted with coops. The pack started trailing at 8:17 am behind Hall Sims’ Coop located on historic, Colonial era Wrightsboro Road. The hounds heated up at Dead Cow Hill, half a mile north of the site of the strike, bursting into full cry. And then poof, they were gone.

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Belle Meade's country was a perfect playing field for the performance trials. Photo by Allison Howell Images.

The pack just flat ran away from huntsman, whips and field. They were blazing. We played catch up the rest of the day, gloriously galloping through the heart of some of Belle Meade’s best hunt country. The coyote ran in a big clockwise swing, east and then south, leading the pack across Stage Coach Road, with its open hayfields, and then crossing Wrightsboro Road headed north, taking us through Grand Canyon and toward Vegeers, the western edge of the Belle Meade Country perilously close to the Interstate. Luckily, this coyote swung back from I-20, and ran back down the dirt historic Quaker Road, constructed in 1768, plunging south toward Little Creek, which runs half a mile behind the Belle Meade kennels, near Yellow Jacket Crossing. At 9:25 am Judge MFH Rosie Campbell was there at the end of the day: “The hounds came down from the woods, running from my left to right, and parallel the stream. Most of the pack jumped into the stream in front of me, and two or three came out on the other side, but then turned back into it. There was tremendous cry, and they accounted for him in the bed of the creek.” There were fourteen and a half couple hounds at the end.

Huntsman and fields, finishing this twelve-mile point, galloped up a scant minute later, and gave three cheers for the huntsmen before an extended flask break. Gone to ground was blown loudly and well by Codie Hayes.

Summing it all up for the first day, Sam Andrews of Live Oak observed, “The really good cold trailing bumped up to full cry and that pack was blazing. I saw number 77 (Midland Roxanne) and the number 4 (Tennessee Valley Opal) leading the pack, along with the four bell wether hounds Codie brought with her. It was good country with good jumps.”

Another judge, professional huntsman Brenda Yost of Mill Creek Hunt, stated “The pack did really great. Codie did a good job—she was vocal enough and got them across as a group.” The secret of success for this young female huntsman was her quiet presence and easy control of the pack. She led them, didn’t push them. She let them tell her where they wanted to go, and when they went, she cheered them on. Real magic, for 40 foxhounds who had just met each other that morning.

Saturday, I was jittery. The first day had been so great, I knew we were going to rock today too. There was a big field of around 75 riders and staff. Belle Meade member Tommy Samuels put on a splendid stirrup cup, and again we cast at 8:00 am across from the kennels. As things unfolded, this was not the day Friday had been, but good enough.

We trolled a long time on night lines. The huntsman picked hounds up and moved on several times. Scent, watching the hounds, was not nearly as good as the prior day. However, hounds hunted and even trailed vigorously until 9:13 am, when a view of a black coyote was radioed in by alert whip Terry Cooper at Hawes Hill. There was heavy fog—you could see drops of moisture in the air, and it was warm. The dew point was nowhere near the temperature, and there was a big storm coming in that night, which resulted in changing barometric pressures.

When the view was called in, Codie purposefully picked them up, roaded them to the line, and laid them on. The coyote had run across a dirt road sloping down the side of Hawes Hill, which leads on to Dooley Bottoms. There was a heavy, knee high carpet of dead blackberry bushes covering the hillside where the quarry had gone. In one cohesive group, the pack threw themselves through the brambles. You couldn’t see the dogs—all you could see was the briars moving as the pack surged underneath in full cry at 9:25 am (which ironically was the same time the previous day the hunt had ended). But like the prior day, this coyote, although found in a different place, ran almost the same path as the coyote the day before—straight north, and then west. Even though it was unknown territory to them, some of our visitors recognized the land marks we had past the day before—Valley of the Spleen, Grand Canyon, Loop Road and Turtle Crossing.

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Tennessee Valley Hunt Master and huntsman Ryan Johnsey keeps up with the action. Photo by Allison Howell Images.

This coyote however did not swing back south, but instead continued toward the Interstate, and at 10:11 am the decision was made to stop the pack in the hayfields off Three Points Road where roll call was held. All four fields (first, coyote speed, second, fox speed, third hilltoppers, fourth, walk trot) gathered, mingled and told their tales of the day. We had galloped 4.1 miles in this 46-minute run.

Judge Darren Haeusler observed, “It was great to see every hound hack to the first draw as a tidy pack and draw in difficult conditions without any sign or deer trouble all morning.” MFH Rosie Campbell agreed, commenting: “The second day the hounds did well as a pack—stayed together and drew together. The first day, some hounds were not as comfortable. If we would have had the same scent Saturday we had Friday, we would still be out there.”

Fifth generation huntsman Codie Hayes observed that the difference between the performance trials and her own pack’s work at home at Golden’s Bridge was one of “trust and knowing your hounds, as opposed to new hounds you just met. They did great, however. They took to me quickly, and I was really pleased about how they responded to me, especially since all of their huntsmen are men. I went down to the kennels and mixed with them at 7:00 am each day before the 8:00 am hunt, and I told them ‘Let’s go get a coyote,’ and that’s what they did.” Hayes also noted that the pack on the second day came out of the gate more cohesively, and had to work harder under more difficult scenting conditions than day one.

On the first day, Midland Fox Hounds was best pack, and Tennessee Valley second, but on the second day these two hunts swapped places. Overall, Midland Fox Hounds triumphed as the winning pack for the trial, although Tennessee Valley Bonfire won best hound. Huntsman Codie Hayes picked as her huntsman choice number 77, Midland Roxanne. “On the first day I noticed a small bitch who’s on fire—she hunted real hard.” Roxanne, as it turned out placed second of the top 10 hounds overall at this performance trial. At the final day two and overall award ceremony, held midday Saturday, Roxanne won so many ribbons that the crowd was chanting for her after each time her name was announced.

A charming story about Roxanne unfolded at this trial. When Midland Fox Hound Whip Robert Miller arrived Thursday evening at the Belle Meade kennels with his entered team of eight Midland Fox Hounds, Mr. Miller very generously announced to Master Epp Wilson that five of these hounds would be left behind when he departed, drafted from Midland to Belle Meade. Roxanne was among the intended drafts. Midland of course has very recently won the Hark Forward Grand Championship Foxhound Performance Trial in Fitzpatrick, Alabama, but very sportingly, none of the Midland entries at our Belle Meade trial had ever competed in a performance trial. The depth of the Midland pack allowed them to send these novices, who won the trial.

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The pack worked together to pressure the quarry. Photo by Allison Howell Images.

However, Mr. Miller’s reports of Roxanne’s great success to his Master Mason Lampton led Lampton to quietly call Wilson midday Saturday: “Epp, I’m sorry, but I just don’t think I can give that bitch away. I hope you understand.”

Wilson replied: “Mason, I completely understand. If I was you, I wouldn’t give her away either.” So it is that Ben Hardaway’s legendary statement (“If you ever get a good hound from me, an honest mistake has been made”) still rings true.

Summing up, trial president, David Feureisen stated “It was an honor to be chosen as president, and in my view, everyone who entered hounds at this trial should be very proud of them. I was also very impressed by the camaraderie of the fox hunters here. All the participants were rooting for one another, reveling and watching these beautiful animals work. These performance trials are not like other other competitions, but rather everyone pulls for one another and it’s one big happy family.”

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