I was honored to be one of the judges as the Elkridge-Harford Hunt and Green SpringValley Hounds hosted the first pure red fox performance trial, near Monkton, Md., on Dec. 4-5.
My fellow judges–Mason Lampton, MFH, Midland Fox Hounds (Ga.); Epp Wilson, MFH, Belle Meade Hunt (Ga.); and Tony Leahy, MFH, Fox River Valley Hunt and Cornwall Hounds (Ill.)–brought a lot of performance trials experience to the plate. But this one was truly unique.
Green Spring Valley’s masters–Duck Martin, Ned Halle Jr. and Sheila Jackson Brown–along with Elkridge-Harford’s masters–Liz McKnight, Tom Voss and Bob Kinsley–played host to the festivities. McKnight and Martin led the charge to a hugely successful conclusion.
Packs from Green Spring, Elkridge-Harford, Howard County-Iron Bridge (Md.), Keswick (Va.) and Rose Tree (Pa.) were invited to compete. Garrick Steele (MFH, Howard County-Iron Bridge), Jody Murtagh (MFH, Rose Tree) and huntsmen Geoff Hyde (Elkridge-Harford), Tony Gammell (Keswick) and John Tabachka (Green Spring) also judged, but they weren’t allowed to score their own hounds.
The scoring format was considerably different than other performance trials sanctioned by the Foxhound Club of North America and the Masters of Foxhounds Association. Very simply, the judges picked the top four hounds, taking into consideration hunting, tracking, speed and drive, and marking. The traditional scoring method would have recognized more hounds and hound traits, which this method did not allow. The other method also completely removes any subjectivity by judges.
Nevertheless, 30 minutes to compile scores was heaven compared to as long as four hours compiling the scores at other trials.
A Giant Mud Puddle
Both days produced fantastic hunting. On the first day, in Elkridge-Harford country, scenting was spotty, but all five packs, with nine hounds each, did extremely well.
We ran several foxes for short, fast runs the first three hours, and then on the second two hours two foxes blasted through the beautiful Elkridge country. On one of those runs, at the end of two hours, I had viewed the fox leave the covert and went with the lead hounds, scoring hounds as we galloped as fast as my horse Fargon could run.
We got a little behind as hounds quickly traversed a road with heavy covert and wire on both sides. After jumping an in-and-out across the road into the pasture, hounds were in full cry some distance away, but crossing in front of me.
I didn’t know it, but Mason Lampton, the other forward judge, and Tony Leahy, our huntsman, were right behind me. I was thinking, “What luck, I can just cut across the field and get back with the pack.” Here was a chance to get a score before Mason, who’d been one jump ahead of me most of the day.
There was a wet area in the middle of the field of short grass. I gave Fargon some leg, and he lowered his frame and sped up a notch. But the middle of the field turned out to be a drainage area for cattle manure, and we hit it full tilt, Fargon going down to his chest and I getting rocketed head first into the mud. I was buried up to my shoulders in black, nasty, smelly muck, and I’d hit hard on the top of my head. As I got my head out of the cow-pie mud, I looked at my horse, whose head was buried past his ears.
Fargon quickly recovered, thrashing around trying to get out. I felt him step on me while I was under the mud, but immediately he took his weight off my chest as if he knew it was me. He thrashed out of the bog and off he went, reins trailing. I crawled out only to see Mason and Tony grinning ear to ear.
Mason called back, “Don’t worry, I’ve got the score.”
Now I’ve eaten humble pie before but cow pie was definitely bitterer.
Minutes later, Turney McKnight brought Fargon back to me, and he looked like the horse from hell–my chestnut was black as the muck, with mud in his ears, all over his head, and only his eyes showing.
I didn’t know it, but I looked the same. We got back into the race, and I could see from the laughing and wide eyes as we passed car followers and riders that we weren’t a pretty sight. We also had a terrible odor that could be smelled from some distance.
Going into the fifth hour, judges, staff and the field were jumping line fences trying to stay with hounds. A few of us almost met our maker as we soared the fences.
The day ended with more than a few hardy survivors and all but two hounds on. From the start the pack responded to Leahy, hunting as if they belonged to him. With a substantial lead, the winning hound that day was Keswick Peanut ’03, a pure American hound (Bull Run Warlord 2000–Keswick Pineapple 1994).
Classic Red Fox Hunting
The second day, with Green Spring Valley, provided better scenting conditions and another gorgeous day in fabulous country. Both Green Spring and Elkridge-Hartford’s countries are beyond good. Both have members that are true riders who love the chase and have done their homework to preserve some of the best hunt country in North America, or the world, despite being surrounded by urban sprawl.
The first draw started slowly, with a large orange cat tally-hoed by a distinguished judge, huntsman and master who shall go unmentioned, unless you know who the next president of the MFHA happens to be. Hounds never took the line.
Leahy drew some heavy creek coverts, and hounds went to work as they pushed a fox out into open country, showing the beauty of a fox performance trials. Coyote trials have long, fast runs that often take you out of country or lose most followers. But the fox performance trial was classic red fox hunting.
Our pilot took us on blistering runs, sometimes circling as many as four times. As a judge, this was great for scoring. But it didn’t save the horses much because the Green Spring country is known for lots of big jumps over beautiful, rolling country.
As soon as a fox was put to ground, Leahy would take hounds to another draw, and off we’d go.
For the most part, the second day’s runs were longer. We did have a nice breather after the second hour, but then hounds picked up a fox along a creek with wide-open pastures next to it. They worked a red for sometime before it blew out of the covert across the open grass, with the pack in full cry behind. They passed the field in full flight with judges riding alongside hounds, scoring all the time. It was awesome.
The day ended with the fox put to ground not too far from a newly built house. The residents were standing on their porch, not a 100 yards from the earth, cheering hounds on. (Remember, this is foxhunting country.) Hounds marked beautifully.
All day, at every check, almost every hound was present. It was a tribute to the participating five huntsmen’s excellent choice of hounds.
The winning hounds were: Elkridge-Harford Toffee ’99, who was brilliant the second day, getting first-placed scores from five of the nine judges. Keswick’s Peanut ’03 was second–she excelled on the first day. Finishing a very close third was Green Spring Valley Pathway ’01, the most consistently scored hound over the two days. The only dog hound winner was Elkridge-Harford Teacher ’02, son of Toffee, who came in fourth.
Toffee was also the huntsman’s pick for the hound he would like to have for both days. Toffee is out of the Exmoor-bred Treason ’94 by Elkridge-Harford Badger ’90, who is 5