The Belle Meade Hunt’s February Performance Trial is usually a competition of the top cross-bred hounds in the country, the Ferraris of the hound world. Think Indianapolis 500. Think Daytona Speed Week. This year the Sedgefield Hunt was invited to bring our straight Penn-Marydels to the party. Needing an adventure and missing our friends at Belle Meade, we gladly said yes. It was a big road trip for me, my wife, Elaine, and Chris Moll, one of our whips.
Belle Meade is an inspiration, a vibrant center of high quality hunting with a real sense of family. Multiple generations ride together, kids abound, staff is fantastic, and everyone is super friendly. Add a dose of competition and you have the makings for a fine time.
But if you are going to Belle Meade with Penn-Marydels adjust your definition of success. PMDs are bred for nose, cry and tenacity, not speed. Not speed. We don’t catch coyotes, we exercise them. But the beauty of a performance trial is that when you get the top hounds from different packs together the hunting can be spectacular. Our goal was not to win, but to have our hounds help make the hunting louder and more continuous. We were going down to help those poor beautiful hounds from Belle Meade, Midland and Hillsboro. Chris was also going to help with the scoring. He is in high demand at performance trials as an expert in the computer scoring program.
It was a thinking foxhunter’s kind of day. Scenting was tough and the hounds had to work for everything they got. It was a good day to have a few PMDs. One time it took about 15 minutes to get the hounds laid on a view, but away they went. There weren’t screaming runs, but the pack kept the game moving. I wanted to think the PMDs had something to do with the quality of the sport.
And the judges did, too.
After the scores were tallied, there were four Penn-Marydels hounds in the top ten hounds and Sedgefield was top pack. Holy cow. Incredible. This doesn’t make sense. It can’t last.
The second day was different kettle of fish: cool, damp, lots of stinking coyotes. It was a day for crossbreds. It took a while, but Charles Montgomery, the huntsman, hammered the hounds together behind one coyote and the game was on. We ran very fast and very hard. The power and beauty of quality crossbred hounds was on full display. At one point a group of mainly white hounds swept past and they were so impressive. After two hours Michael Hoffman, the president the competition, called a meeting. He felt that the judges had enough scores to fairly judge the hounds, and since most of the horses were nearly worn out they stopped the competition. And the judges went back to the meet to start scoring.
But Epp Wilson doesn’t stop.
The judges may have had enough, but Epp hadn’t. And after the judges left he asked a rhetorical question to the field, “Would ya’ll like to keep on hunting?” (Easy for a guy with spare horses in the trailer out on the road to ask.)
Then he says, “Tell you what, I can get us some fresh hounds from the kennel.”
And he did. It wasn’t long before we were at it for another couple of hours, ripping thorough the pines. It was great. I was thankful for the fresh Charlie Lewis sent me, a lively thoroughbred.
A word about Jean Derrick, Belle Meade’s Field Master: That chick can ride. To say the second day was fast is an understatement. But Jean was never more than a hoof beat behind the huntsmen. And she is so gracious, always trying to make you feel good, even when your hounds aren’t winning ribbons, like ours didn’t the second day.
The cross-bred hounds pretty much swept the second day’s scores. And since the second day counts more than the first, they dominated the final scores. But, there were two Penn-Marydels in the top ten. And Budweiser was 4th hound overall. Pretty cool.
We hated to leave, but after lunch (another great meal) we headed back to North Carolina. We had to be in the woods the next day for a regular hunt. After two and a half hunts in two mornings we were stiff and sore when we got home that night. But what a trip! Hats off to Masters Epp, Charlie and Gary and the rest of the Belle Meade team for putting on such a great event.
Huntsman: Charles Montgomery
Judges: Michael Hoffman, chief judge and president
Place Hound # Team
1st Bluster 31 Belle Meade
2nd Symmetry 24 Belle Meade
3rd Keystone 51 Hillsboro
4th Budweiser 6 Sedgefield
5th Lifeguard 34 Belle Meade
6th Lottie 45 Midland
7th Junky 17 Hillsboro
8th Interest 25 Midland
9th Raymond 53 Hillsboro
10th Mailbox 61 Sedgefield