Last January, Aiken Hounds (SC) hosted a Hark Forward Drag Performance Trial in the beautiful Belle Meade Hunt (GA) country. Because of the inclement weather up here in New England last year, Wentworth and Green Mountain Hounds were present, but only able to field an oyster-eating team; the hounds remained hunkered down at home in sub-zero temperatures. Belle Meade Master Epp Wilson took us aside and asked what could be done to help New England participate fully.
Hounds hot on the scent in Georgia: Green Mountain Earnest, 70, and Aiken Klinger, 73.. Photo by Allison Howell.
A Plan is Hatched and Executed
Sue Levy, MFH Wentworth Hunt (NH) and I answered that early December was the best time for us. Our season would have just ended; our horses and hounds would still be fit, and the travel weather less likely to be as brutal as January. When they – Aiken and Belle Meade - took us at our word and put it together, we just HAD to be there. Thanks to Wentworth huntsman Rachel Duffy, hounds from both of our packs were delivered safe and sound to the warm and sunny South, rested, fit, and ready to run. At the trials, Green Mountain Hounds (GMH) fielded 3 ½ couple (2 couple hounds and 1 ½ couple humans) and Wentworth had 6 couple (2 ½ couple hounds and an astounding 3 ½ couple humans). Aiken entered 2 ½ couple hounds and whole lot of humans - I saw a lot of those lovely green jackets.
Marking in the Darking
As a full-fledged participant, I got to see some of the inner workings, both mundane and exciting. As the sun was setting that first day, Katherine Gunther, Aiken huntsman and overall organizer for the whole event, painted the numbers on the hounds with stencils. Just as full darkness was falling, the Belle Meade field returned from their Wednesday outing, appearing out of the gloaming like a ghostly vision. For GMH member Nicole Rose, returning from hunting in the dark was an experience. At the judges' meeting Epp pointed out that performance trials are a unique opportunity to put your hounds in exactly the same environment and measure them against one another in the field, not the show ring. I dealt with all my concerns for the next day’s hunting in the usual manner, by imagining everything bad that could happen and thinking about it at 3am, because that is such a useful exercise. In my dreams all four of my hounds chased a herd of deer across I-20 with their GPS collars not functioning, to be forever lost in the Georgia pine woods and a shameful legend at Belle Meade.
Chanel’s got nothing on drag hunters for the variety of details in scent mixology, but there are two main types for the base: fox urine and anisette. Green Mountain uses anisette and the other two competitors use urine. While I’m pretty certain that any of the packs would follow either of the scents, so as to not create an obvious bias, both mixes were laid together by two ‘foxes,’ Mike McCarthy and Amanda Blake. Mike held his squirt bottle on one side of his horse, and Amanda to the other side, effectively separating the lines by six or seven feet. The judges were instructed that hounds on either line would be judged as correct. I’m not saying who lost the toss, but the contents of Mike’s bottle would turn the stomach of a skunk, while Amanda’s mix could be drunk by her if she were very thirsty. After the first day’s hunting, Mike tried to convince Amanda to switch bottles. It seems that he had swallowed some of the urine scent when a well-timed gust blew it back all over him when negotiating a coop. Needless to say, she demurred. We all owe a hearty thanks to both the wily "foxes" who performed so expertly.
Performance Trials huntsman Kami Wolk gives hounds a chance to cool off. Photo by Allison Howell.
A Balanced Pack
In all, seven couple hounds went hunting together. Seven couple may not usually be enough hounds for a live hunt, but it is pretty typical in the drag world, and I think that all participants and spectators can attest that they made a wondrous noise. The packs were amazingly well matched, even though including Penn-Marydels, American, and Crossbred hounds. The scoring is very detailed, with rankings for hunting and trailing, voice, full cry, and endurance. All packs had hounds in the top three of all categories, and the overall differences in the scores were small. Aiken Hounds were adjudged the Best Pack overall, Wentworth’s Vernon was rated Huntsman’s Choice by huntsman Kami Wolk of De La Brooke (MD), and Green Mountain had the overall Best Hound.
The Importance of Being Earnest
As much as us foxhunters hate to quote that “unspeakable/inedible” guy, in this case the allusion is apropos. Green Mountain Earnest '13 got the highest score overall, and we’re mighty proud of him. He is of the third generation of E-hounds, founded by Green Mountain Eclipse '03. He was sired by Green Mountain Blazer '12, who came from North Country Hounds (VT) and gave him his orange color. After the second day’s hunt all the hounds were pretty tired. When I went to collect mine from the draw yard I found that Earnest had already returned to his kennel and was resting quietly on the bench. We’re excited to have another generation in this line on the ground for next season.
Master Terry Hook and champion Green Mountain Earnest.
Veni Vidi Victus Sum
We came, we saw, we were conquered – by the amazing hospitality shown us by everyone at Aiken and Belle Meade. Three days of warm (by comparison) weather, the beautiful fixture, delicious food, and friendly conviviality near the year’s darkest time enabled us to return refreshed to our northern fastness. Speaking of refreshments, I suspect that the oyster population may need some time to recover from our depredations. I am sure that Wentworth won for sheer volume, but on a per capita basis I think Green Mountain gave them a run for their money. A hearty thank you to the Greens of Gullah Grub once again.
There’s a rumor afoot that there should be a drag performance trial up here next year. Imagine New England in October, with the trees ablaze and the cry of the hounds echoing from the hillsides…and maybe a lobster-eating contest?
1st: Aiken Hounds; 2nd: Green Mountain Hounds; 3rd: Wentworth Hunt
1st: Green Mountain Earnest; 2nd: Aiken Klinger; 3rd: Aiken Pigeon; 4th: Wentworth Vernon; 5th: Green Mountain Elliott; 6th: Wentworth Archer; 7th: Green Mountain Truman; 8th: Aiken Hippo; 9th: Aiken Batman; 10th: Green Mountain Ethan
Huntsman's Choice: Wentworth Vernon
Watch for information about the MFHA's Drag Hunting Seminar, planned for Spring 2019.