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Foxhunters Go Field Trialing


2015/04/03



By Tommy and Nancy Brannon

There are many similarities between foxhunting and field trialing. Both sports are horseback activities riding to hounds/dogs across open fields, woods, and varied terrain for hours at a time. In both sports the dogs are seeking their quarry – foxes, coyotes in foxhunting and in field trials, quail. The sports are all about how well the dogs/hounds perform at finding their quarry. Riders in both sports enjoy the cross-country riding and watching the dogs’/hounds’ performances. Both sports take place in the mid –south in the colder months of fall and winter, pausing in early spring when the weather gets too hot.

The players’ positions in both sports are similar and have their equivalent jobs. The huntsman in foxhunting and the handler in field trialing both train and control the canine hunters. The whippers-in, in fox hunting, and the scout in field trailing, ride ahead at times and assist in keeping up with the hounds/dogs. The field in fox hunting and the gallery in field trialing are groups of mounted followers out to see the action. The main differences are that field trials are a judged sport, whereas foxhunting is not and field trailers are watching one or two dogs in a brace, while foxhunters follow a pack of hounds. Foxhunters ride “trotting” horses and jump fences, whereas field trailers ride gaited horses and do not jump fences.  

So what happens if foxhunters, for whatever reason, are unable to enjoy their sport on a particular weekend, when field trials happen to be going on nearby? They go field trialing, of course!

On Saturday February 28, 2015, the folks at Oak Grove Hunt were scheduled to foxhunt at Holly Springs National Forest near Chewalla Lake. But the snow and ice storms of the previous week had felled several pine trees, blocking the access road for trucks and trailers to the “hunt territory.” Try as they might to find alternative access routes, nothing else was feasible. Having driven all the way down to Holly Springs, Mississippi, these stalwart foxhunters weren’t about to turn around and go home. They had to ride somewhere!

Master of Foxhounds Tom Brannon, who is also the publisher of The Field Trial Review, suggested that since the National Championships were still going on at Ames Plantation which was not far away - just across the state line,  why not join the field trial for the afternoon brace and watch some of the best birddogs in the country?  Splendid idea, they agreed! So the foxhounds were taken to Joint Master Peggy Hart’s farm near Byhalia, Mississippi, and they all hauled to Ames Plantation near Grand Junction, TN. It would be a new adventure for the children and lots of fun for everyone, except for the foxhounds who had to miss a hunt. 

They all rendezvoused at Bryan Hall on the Ames Plantation just in time to enjoy a great country lunch of chicken and dumplings, salad, fried apples, cake, and other goodies.  Then they headed to the parking area to saddle up for the afternoon brace at 1:00 p.m.  Off they went, riding three Halflingers, a Quarter Horse, and one Shetland pony – surrounded by a large gallery of Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited horses. 

Tom Brannon was asked if he planned to “post” in that English saddle. “Of course,” he said, although he often sat the slow, Western pleasure trot of his little Quarter Horse mare. Evelyn McGee, 7-year-old daughter of Oak Grove Huntswoman Amanda McGee, and her Shetland pony Blackjack were the diminutive ones on the gallery; but just as on foxhunts, they kept up with the largest of them, as did the Haflingers. The gallery was small enough so that the foxhunters got to see some great bird dog work and even three points, the last one from up front with the “big guys.” 

Raelyn’s High Cotton, under handler Allen Vincent, and Skyfall, with handler Steve Hurdle, were working that afternoon. It was an absolutely beautiful day: 41 degrees and mostly sunny at the breakaway. Raelyn’s High Cotton had six finds, one back, and two unproductives. He was picked up at 2:47. Skyfall had one unproductive and was picked up at 1:10.
Maybe there will be a time in the future when field trailers can come foxhunting!

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