The Theodora A. Randolph North American Field Hunter Championships marked its 27th anniversary in 2015. Will Coleman, representing Keswick, was crowned champion of the large owner-rider division on his thoroughbred gelding Flying Aces, who is in his third season of hunting. Coleman hunts with both Keswick and Piedmont, and reminisces that he won the competiton on a horse called Big Boy about 10 years ago, "This is a great championship for foxhunters. Lots of good horses and good riders, and much more depth to the horses and riders than there was 10 years ago." He encourages people to take advantage of the opportunity, saying, "This is a wonderful week for the people to participate. Four great hunts in Northern Virginia. Kudos to all of the people who put in the hard work to make this happen, judges included."
Founded in 1989, the competition offers more than 50 contestants the opportunity to hunt several days with the premiere packs of Northern Virginia. This year heavy rain forced some cancellations and adjustments in the schedule. Monday's meet with the Middleburg Hunt was cancelled, and the Snickersville Hunt stepped up to offer a bye-day on Tuesday at historic Sunny Bank. Warrenton held its Wednesday meet as scheduled to the delight of the participants who found the day satisfying and challenging. Competitors were treated to another fine day with the Piedmont Fox Hounds on Thursday at Atoka Farm. Finally, Loudoun Fairfax Hunt jumped in at the last minute to round out the schedule with a fast and furious day on Friday from their kennels.
Judges invited a group of contestants at the end of each hunt to compete in Saturday's finals at Glenwood Park. Clad in formal attire, finalists were first judged on Best Turned Out. George Kuk of the Middleburg Hunt received the Best Turned Out Championship award, with Julie Matheson of Orange County selected as Reserve Champion.
The Loudoun Fairfax Hunt received the Sportsmanship Award and also was recognized as the hunt with the most representatives. Caroline Chapman of the Farmington Hunt received the award for the Most Suitable Horse and Rider Combination.
Competitors were led on a mock hunt by Judge Snowden Clarke. Following the circuit, Clarke and fellow judges Nina Fout, Leslie Hazel and Leah Palmer selected a smaller group to perform an individual test.
Coleman described the test as a "cleverly condensed handy hunter course, beautifully laid out and with perfect footing." The first exercise was a relaxed trot away from the group, several hundred yards to a brush in-and-out, followed by a canter to a small coop and then up a bank. Riders then halted, dismounted and led their horses down over a log, remounted and galloped to a wall, then sped back to the group, with a halt in front of the crowd. Mo Baptiste of Piedmont won the Reserve Championship in the owner-rider category.
Coleman complimented the finalists, "There was very good competition. Of the nine or ten horses picked in the final group, you would have wanted to ride every one."
Caroline Chapman of the Farmington Hunt received third place in the owner-rider group, followed by Amy Robinson of the Warrenton Hunt, Glenn Epstein of the Piedmont Fox Hounds, Mary Ann Ghadban of the Orange County Hounds and Jennifer Nesbit of the Keswick Hunt.
Tom Mannsman, representing the Piedmont Fox Hounds, received the highest award in the non-owner rider category on Scott and Christie Fitzsimmon's draft-cross gelding Toto. Reserve champion in that group was Amy Savell of Bull Run, riding Bull Run Joint Master Rosie Campbell's horse Dylan. Rounding out the non-owner rider finalists in third place was Teresa Croce on Karen Martz's Greyland Woods.
Hunting for the North American Field Hunter Championships took place Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with social events and receptions most evenings. The "Meet the Masters" reception, hosted by the Middleburg Hunt's Tim Harmon, was a highlight of this year's calendar, as was the annual cocktail party hosted by the McCormick's. Participants also enjoyed the screening of "Good Night Ladies: a Portrait of Nancy Penn Smith Hannum" with director Christianna Hannum, hosted by the National Sporting Library and Museum. The 2016 competition is tentatively scheduled for October 3-8, 2016.
Marcia Brody is a member of the New Market - Middletown Valley Hounds in Maryland. She was fortunate to be able to experience the 2015 competition with her homebred Cleveland Bay Sporthorse Magnific Daisey.