Oak Grove Hunter Pace

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Article & photos by Tommy Brannon

The annual Oak Grove Hunter Pace and Timed Trail Ride had a new location this year: Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, north of Holly Springs, Mississippi. The Center is near Oak Grove’s hunt territory, and this was one of the few times that horses have traversed the trails at the Center. The Pace was originally scheduled for Saturday March 25, but rain and thunderstorms forced a move to the rain date, Sunday March 26, which was a warm, spring, sunny day.

There were 12 teams to ride the course, and participants were also treated to lunch on the grounds. Costumes were encouraged and these outfits added a touch of whimsy to the ride.

The 6.3 mile course was set over much of the 2500 acre former plantation and the trails were wide enough for the teams of two or three to ride abreast unhindered.

Midway around the course a refreshment tent was set up with water, beer and Champagne mimosas. One rider commented on how much his horse liked a cold beer, so one quickly appeared from the cooler, to help alleviate any possible anhidrosis.

About half of the course went through thick woods and the other half was in open spaces, with the trail mowed through the native flora grasses that are the signature “landscaping” at Strawberry Plains. The staff and volunteers at Strawberry Plains have put out a concerted effort to get rid of invasive non-native plants that have been imported from Europe and Asia. North American birds will not eat these plants, such as kudzu and Chinese privet, which plants can get out of control quickly and crowd out native species.

The idea for a Hunter Pace is to ride the marked course in an ideal time, simulated from a foxhunt “chase” in which the horse goes primarily at a working trot. The team coming closest to that time is the winner. There were awards also given for the ideal time, fastest time, slowest time, and best costume. Susan Gustafson, Mike Wills, and David Niewiemski won first place for closest to ideal time. Nicki Hutchens and Karen Campbell were the turtle (slowest time) winners. Lily Wells and Alli Gill were winners of costume class.

This is also the occasion at which Oak Grove Hunt Club passes out awards for Horse of the Year and Rider of the Year. Horse of the Year is Cain, a 20-year-old Quarter Horse owned by Dana Lackey. Rider of the Year is Kayla Eick.
Hunter Pace Teams:
1 – Susan Wilson and Barbara Henking
2 – Dana and Bill Lackey
3 – Nicki Hutchens and Karen Campbell (the turtle winners)
4 – Dawn Hinton and Deanna Lynn
5 – Susan Gustafson, Mike Wills, David Niewiemski (1st place, closest to ideal time)
6 – Sydney Pennington and Sara McCarthy
7 – Kailey Pennington and Joe Cappadona
8 – Lily Wells and Alli Gill (winners of costume class)
9 – Ed and Diana Carney
10 – Evelyn McGee and Hailey Lovett
11 – Shannon and Amada McGee
12 – Lea Ashford and Ashley Evans

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