Old Dominion Hounds hosted the 16th annual Junior North American Field Hunter Championships on November 10 as the finals returned to Virginia for the first time since 2015. Determined children from hunts across the country braved blustery winds and cold temperatures to contest the judged mock hunts and individual tests at the Albert P. & Katherine Steedman Hinckley Memorial Hunter Trial Field near Orlean. As always, the weekend included evening social events, awards, and the opportunity to hunt together for fun in support of the JNAFHC mission.

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First field competitors head out on the mock hunt. Photo by Joanne Maisano.

Founded by Mrs. Douglas Wise Stuart and Mrs. Iona Pillion, joined in recent years by Marion Chungo and Michelle Arnold, the junior championships' goal is two-fold: to teach children the importance of land conservation, and to enable like-minded foxhunting kids to meet each other. The organization had donated over $35,000 to land conservation groups which support the participating hunt clubs. The competition, including four riding divisions this year, as well as the Spirit Award, Best Turned Out, and whipcracking and hornblowing contests, adds some rivalry and excitement to the mixture.

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The Smith brothers (older brother Charlie not pictured) represented Norfolk Hunt at the finals, with Taylor placing seventh in his division. Photo by Joanne Maisano.

For the $75 entry fee, children were encouraged to hunt as often as they could at qualifying meets hosted through the year by Mooreland (AL), South Creek/Palm Beach/Four Winds and Live Oak Hounds (FL), Midland and Belle Meade (GA), Fox River Valley and Mill Creek (IL), Long Run Woodford Hounds, Camargo and Iroquois (KY), New Market-Middletown Valley and Green Spring Valley (MD), Norfolk and Myopia (MA), Moore County and Red Mountain (NC), Chagrin Valley and Rocky Fork Headley Hunt (OH), Rolling Rock, Radnor, and Cheshire (PA), Low Country, Camden, and Aiken (SC), Hillsboro (TN), Loudoun Fairfax, Farmington, Thornton Hill, Blue Ridge, and Piedmont (VA), and Woodbrook (WA). 

More than 100 children were selected at these qualifiers to participate in the championship weekend. For the first time, the Hilltopper division was split into two age groups, following the practice for the First Field Division. Each section began the day with an under saddle class to get the horses warmed up, before following a field master and heading out under the eye of mounted judges. Once the group returned from this ride, judges conferred on their choices and the top ten riders were called back to complete individual tests. For the Hilltoppers, this included leaving the group for some distance up and downhill, crossing a water obstacle, and negotiating a swinging gate. The First Flight horses navigated a winding course over fences around the rolling Hunter Trial Field course.

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Sydney Pemberton, competing aside representing Middleburg Hunt, once again placed in the top ten. Photo by Joanne Maisano.

The judges this year included Katharine Byron, MFH, Cameron Sadler, MFH, David Twiggs, MFHA executive director, Mary Jo Moloney, Ashley Twiggs, Heather Heider, Michelle LaClair Johns, Rachel Wilkoski, Jennifer Queen, Kim Ginn, Rita Kaseman, Lisa Heider Eifler, Megan Northrop, and Barb Strang. Best Turned Out, sponsored by Charles Owen, was judged by Emily Melton, whipper-in at Howard County-Iron Bridge (MD) and went to Clayton Heider VanPelt of Loudoun Fairfax. The Lynda Johnston Perpetual Spirit Award was presented to Henry Nylen of New Market-Middletown Valley. Each division also recognized the highest-placing Pony Club member, who received a wash bucket full of barn and grooming goodies.

The overall division winners were Ashleigh Currier of Belle Meade on Quint in the First Field 13 and Over; Gavin Sacco of Live Oak on Toffie in the Field Field, 12 and Under; Ella Johnson of Orange County on Isadorable, Hilltoppers 11 and Over; and Ashby Hunt of Blue Ridge on Scout, Hilltoppers 10 and Under.

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First Field 13 & Over Champion, Ashleigh Currier of Belle Meade, receives congratulations from Iona Pillion, David Twiggs, Mrs. Douglas Wise Stuart, Michelle Arnold, and Marion Chungo. Photo by Joanne Maisano.

After everyone had a chance to put their ponies up and get warmed up, the festive competitor and family dinner was held at Alwyngton Manor, where whipcracking and hornblowing champions were selected by Camargo huntsman Andy Bozdan. The next day, all riders were invited to hunt as guests with Old Dominion.

For a list of complete results, please click here.

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