Blistering hot weather has visited Virginia the past 4 weeks; while not unusual this time of season, the length of the hot spell, with temperatures hovering in the high eighties and even reaching into the low nineties, has proved miserable to man and beast alike, but it failed to deter foxhunters who entered this year's N.A. Field Hunter Championships.
On Monday, September 30, the 2013 Field Hunter Championships began at Keswick. Hounds met at Glenwood, a fixture in the neighborhood of James Madison's Montpelier, outside the town of Orange, VA. Contestants from as far away as Florida and Georgia traveled to compete in the event, as well as to enjoy early autumn hunting in Virginia. They were not disappointed; Keswick huntsman Tony Gammel provided a fine day of sport in the lovely rolling countryside as hounds ran across the nearby road, back again, and beyond the fixture into a scenic expanse of woods and cornfields. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed a tailgate as five contestants were selected for the finals.
Tuesday, October 1, hounds met at Owl Run Farm, Warrenton, home of Casanova Hunt's Jt. MFH Mrs. Joyce Fendley. Previously the home of Donna and Jack Eicher, huntsman at Rombout and later Farmington Hunt, the grounds include a
lake and a cluster of graceful weeping willows out front. The residence and barns all exude the charm of old Virginia Hunt Country - weathered stone, stout board and batten, low eaves and metal roofs. A special surprise awaited the field this morning when shortly after casting hounds, an eruption in a crispy cornfield revealed that hounds had encountered a black bear! Luckily, the pack obeyed their orders to ignore the bear as it beat a hasty retreat. The remainder of the morning proved quieter, and a tired field gathered under a tent to drink thirstily and devour a delicious crab dip among other goodies. This morning, six finalists were announced.
On Wednesday, October 2, Snickersville Hounds hosted the day of sport. The field gathered on Sunnybank Farm, the Smithwick estate, just outside of Middleburg. The farm is replete with history and character; it was here that Robert E. Lee's famous grey Traveller was born, and family diaries recount how the farm was raided by Yankees searching for silver and horses during the War. It was here, also, in the comfortable rambling farmhouse on top of the hill, that Dot Smithwick conceived of the idea that evolved into the Field Hunter Championships themselves. Today, the farm encompasses over 1,000 acres of woods interspersed with rolling fields, all separated with stone walls, coops, and rail fences. As huntswoman Eva Smithwick called to hounds to move off, they had not even left the fixture before hitting a line and in full cry the pack swept up the short hillside towards an outbuilding. It was a wonderful start to what proved to be a lovely day. Bringing up the rear of the field, landowner Speedy Smithwick was seen riding with a visiting friend who was overheard commenting that "the last time I hunted was 8 years ago with the United in Ireland, and it was the most terrifying morning of my life". To his delight, his day out with Snickersville was not a repeat performance!
The tailgate, held in a converted dairy barn and decorated with numerous historical articles from the Washington Times of DC, all having to do with foxhunting over the East Coast in years gone by, was a splendid affair and special thanks to Robin Strom of SH for her efforts. This day, eight riders were chosen for the finals.
Thursday, October 3. Piedmont Foxhounds. Turning into the long, winding driveway off Atoka Road, driving back into a rolling pasture bordered with a crumbling stone wall and ancient rider's gate, backdropped by the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and with only a few rooftops of working farms in the vale between, everyone sensed it was to be a special morning. Huntsman Spencer Allen first cast north before swinging a circle back to the meet, then west to where hounds were crying after a fox which a member of the field surmised, based on the hounds going out onto the end of a
submerged log, must have leapt into off it into the creek to make a timely escape. The field then descended a steep hillside before crossing Goose Creek and emerging on Crenshaw Road where many gallops later, another fox was put to earth and hounds roundly praised for their hard efforts. Hunting on, the field was treated to vistas of the fabled Thursday "Mellon Country", a canvas of unsurpassed beauty. Even a nearby cell tower had been encased in a silo, so as not to destroy the ambiance of this treasure of a countryside. Not content to rest on their laurels of a good day of
sport, not one but two tables heaped with food awaited the field upon their return. On this final day of competition, seven members were chosen.
The 26 selected riders:
Karen Russell, Julia Coles, Pann Drunagel, Mary Ann Ghadban, Orange County Hounds,VA
Joanne Norman, Deep Run and Bull Run Hunts, VA
Marilyn Ware, Deep Run and Keswick Hunts, VA
Jennifer Nesbitt and Nancy Wiley, Keswick Hunt, VA
Patricia Smithwick and Laurie McClary, Snickersville Hounds, VA
Kathy Noffsinger, Anna Billings, Patti Brantley, Live Oak Hounds, FL
Lindsay Kelley, OCH and Piedmont Fox Hounds, VA
Karyn Wilson, Larry Summers, Paula Michaels, Loudoun Fairfax Hunt, VA
Lissa Green, Jacey Wilkins, Piedmont Fox Hounds
Lamy Buck, Low Country Hunt, SC
Barbara Smith, Marlborough Hunt, MD
Eduardo Coria, Casanova Hunt, VA
Louisa Fisher, Belle Meade Hunt, GA
Andrea Gilman, Old Dominion Hounds, VA
Teresa Croce, no hunt affiliation listed
Twenty-four riders gathered at high noon for the finals at Glenwood. Under a merciless sun and in a scorching dry heat, six riders elected to be judged for best turn out and lined up to be inspected by the judge, Mrs. Penny Denegre of side saddle fame and Jt MFH Middleburg Hunt. Mr. Colvin (Gregg) Ryan, Jt. MFH Snickersville Hounds and Piedmont Fox Hounds, then took the field on a mock hunt across adjacent Sunnybank Farm. The entire field made a dramatic sight as they stretched out across the race course in a hard gallop upon their return. The riders then jumped a simple course of six fences; three away from the grandstand, a halt and a reverse of direction after the third, and a return trip back over the same three only towards the grandstand where each rider brought their mount to a halt before and after the last fence of their trip. Afterwards, eight riders were chosen for the final test which consisted of three fences, the
first of which a scarlet jacket had been laid over the top rail, then on to a drop jump, and another halt from a hard gallop.
Karen Russell, Lissa Green, Theresa Croce, Eduardo Coria, Jennifer Nesbitt, Marilyn Ware, Karyn Wilson, and Pann Drunagel were requested to ride the final test prior to everyone lining up to await the awards.
Congratulations are in order for:
Runner Up, Best Turned Out, Patricia (Trish) Smithwick, Snickersville Hounds
Trish presented nothing less than a stunning picture dressed in vintage canary breeches topped by a seldom seen bowler and thick black hairnet; her ensemble harked back to another era and she provided a welcome glimpse of sheer feminine elegance in her most proper of turnouts.
Reserve Champion for Best Turned Out: Eduardo Coria, Casanova Hunt
He may have been reserve champion of the fashion show, however, this gentleman will perhaps best be remembered for his generousity of spirit as he unstintingly offered to get nearly each and every gate for not one but for two days of hunting.
Champion Best Turned Out: Patti Brantley, Live Oak Hounds
Impeccable from head to toe, the only complaint that could be lodged against her was her failure to ride one of her colourful paint horses bred on her farm "Flying Colors".
Most Suitable: Marilyn Ware, Deep Run and Keswick Hunts
This was her first entry in the Championships and the two, Marilyn trim and elegant, her grey mount polished to perfection, were an eminently matched pair.
The Sportsmanship Award: Kathy Noffsinger, Live Oak Hounds
Kathy, on her smart grey, also positively beamed with pleasure all week long at her good fortune to be hunting in Virginia.
Reserve Field Hunter Championship: Karen Russell, Orange County Hounds
Riding an athletic dark bay, she handled both the course and the blood horse she rode with a gritty yet relaxed determination.
Grand Champion Field Hunter: Theresa Croce
Top Honors went to #28, Karen Mantz's 17 year old gelding Greyland Woods, masterfully ridden by daughter Teresa Croce (no hunt affliation listed in the program).