Hark Forward!

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By Tommy Brannon; photos by Michael Gomez Photography

Hillsboro Hounds hosted a competitive hound performance trial on December 1-2, 2017 near Lynnville Tennessee. Johnnie Gray, Huntsman for Hillsboro, hunted the pack both days. Gray was assisted by his wife and first Whipper-In Leilani in organizing the whole hunt weekend. The pack consisted of hounds from six hunts: Cedar Knob Hounds (TN), Mells Fox Hounds (TN), Tennessee Valley Hunt (TN), Longreen Foxhounds (TN), Long Run Hounds (KY), and Shawnee Hounds (IL). Most of the hounds were Penn-Marydel or Penn-Marydel cross. Each hunt entered five hounds for the competition. There were over 100 riders each day with four designated fields. The masters of each hunt participated, as well as staff and many of their members.

This hound trial was part of the Masters of Fox Hound Association’s (MFHA) Hark Forward initiative.The Hark Forward Initiative consists of friendly competitions and events throughout the country during 2017 and 2018, including hound trials, horse trials, and joint meets to connect foxhunters and to raise funds for the renovations of the new MFHA National Headquarters in Middleburg, Virginia. This new headquarters is housed in an historic home that will need extensive renovation, but, when completed, will give fox hunters an opportunity to promote their sport and educate the public about what they do. All of the proceeds from this hound trial went to the Hark Forward Initiative. Orin Ingram, Joint Master of the Hillsboro Hounds, said that the fundraising was very successful with over half of the funds raised coming from donations over and above the cap fees.There was a lot of camaraderie amongst the fox hunters both on the hunt and at the various social events, such as the lunches and dinners.     

Johnnie said, “Putting together hounds from six different packs and hunting them proved to be six times harder than a normal day’s hunt.” The Hillsboro pack does not consist of Penn-Marydels, and the Penn-Maydels’ temperament and way of hunting was different from what Johnnie is used to. But his strategy proved effective. He loaded all of the hounds together in a trailer and spent quite a bit of time with them in the trailer, so that they could all get aquatinted and bond.

To add to the challenge, the fixture was in Cedar Knob’s territory, which is adjacent to the Hillsboro territory and Johnnie had not ridden across it often. Several of the Cedar Knob Whips, who knew their way around, assisted Johnnie and the Hillsboro staff in hunting the hounds. This very hilly country calls for a fit horse and rider, and most were up to the task.

The first day’s cast time was 9:00 a.m., with warm weather in the 60s. The weather continued so warm that the second day’s cast time was moved up to 8:00 a.m. to make scenting conditions better and make it easier on hounds and horses. Nevertheless, both days of hunting were spectacular!

On the first day, hounds were drawn through several coverts that proved to be blank, which may have been, in part, a good thing. It gave the pack a chance to get used to each other and to the huntsman. About two hours into the hunt, the Penn-Maydels did what they do best. They picked up a cold trail and tenaciously stuck with it, building into a crescendo of hound music! Everyone was off and running, with the pack giving good chase. The eventual winner of the hound trials, Longreen Leaf, was observed catching up with the coyote and rolling him over. The coyote turned on the hound and then accelerated his speed up and down the steep hilly countryside, with the pack in full cry, eventually giving them the slip.

Susan Walker, Joint Master and Huntsman of Longreen, said that she purposely rode with the fourth field the first day because her hounds are trained to stay with her and she did not want to interfere, wanting them to hunt well for Johnnie.  This proved to be good planning because Leaf stayed out in front of the pack. Susan was well positioned, however, to be able to bring up stragglers.    

Johnnie said that the second day was a little better, as the pack had learned to work together. There were so many views that many participants lost count.

There was one judge from each participating hunt, as well as several other additional judges. The judges rode with a Whipper-In or someone who knew the territory. Hounds had numbers painted on their sides for identification and judges had voice recorders to record a particular score and hound. When the hunt was over, each judge was able to transfer the oral record to the digital score and the scores were tallied on the spot. This has proved to be a very fair and efficient way to score a hound trial.

The categories scored were Hunting, Tailing, Full Cry, Marking, and Endurance. Scores were tallied in each category and totaled for both days. The overall best winners were:  Longreen Leaf, first; Shawnee Zin, second; Cedar Knob Archer, third; Rode Tree Kudos (Longreen) fourth; Mells Hailey, fifth; and Mells Axle, sixth.  

Many thanks to Michael Gomez Photography for the use of his photos from the hound trials. See more at his website: http://www.gomezphotography.com/

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