May 24, 2019
MFHA Grand Championship Fox Hound Performance Trials
Foxhunters gathered for two days of hunting at the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) Grand Performance Trials, held November 6-7, 2018 in Fitzpatrick Alabama. There were more than 50 select hounds from 25 packs and about 125 riders plus followers from 40 different hunts. The competing hounds had qualified for the Performance trials by placing in the top ten in previous trials as part of the 2016-2017.MFHA Hark Forward trial season. The fixture consisted of several thousand acres of flat to rolling land and is part Midland Fox Hounds’ Alabama territory. Hunstman for the pack was Ashley Hubbard of Green Spring Valley Hounds in Maryland. (See MSHR July 2018 “Journey To Hunt Valley Maryland”)
A hound show and Calcutta (benefiting the Fitzpatrick Volunteer Fire Department) preceded the hunt, and hounds from the mid-south stood well. The judges were former MFHA Executive Director Dennis Foster and his British counterpart, Tim Easby, judging the dog (male) hounds and MFHA First Vice President and Jt. Master of Mooreland Hounds in Alabama, Leslie Crosby, along with Charmian Green from the UK, judging the female hounds.
Top hounds at the hound show included Longreen Future, the Penn-Marydel Champion; Aiken Vampire, American and overall Reserve Champion; Hillsboro Salty, English hound and Overall Grand Champion Performance Trial Hound; and Midland Saber, Crossbred and the overall Hound Show Champion.
Stabling in this very rural territory was provided by the masters of Midland Hounds: a “tent city” as good as at any “A show” accommodations, complete with lights and utilities, centrally located near the social events and both hunting day’s fixtures.
Tuesday morning’s fixture was the expansive farm of bird dog enthusiast Frank Rutland, with large grass fields adjoining neighboring cattle pastures, cropland, some small creeks and wooded coverts. The temperature was warm and rose quickly to the upper 70s, leading to a brief but soaking downpour which the field withstood cheerfully. Despite the warm conditions, hounds found a game coyote almost immediately for performance trials huntsman Ashley Hubbard
A blistering chase followed, pressing the pack and riders to keep up over several miles at a respectable under-three-minutes-per-mile speed. This coyote was accounted for close by a swampy area, allowing the guest staff, including whippers-in Sam Clifton, Rhodri Jones-Evans, and Darren Houser, and road whippers-in Dr. Andy Calloway, Justin Simpson, Robert Miller, and Boo Montgomery, an opportunity to bring hounds up for the next cast. This effort led to further sport behind another coyote, but with the thermometer approaching 80 degrees and the pack somewhat spread out, Hubbard chose to return to the meet just short of the allotted three-hour period.
After the day’s hunt, Mr. Rutland, along with Mr. and Mrs. Will Wilson, provided a true Southern buffet for the guests under the shaded pavilion next to his home. The building featured dozens of trophies earned by Mr. Rutland's champion gun dogs at field trials, and he gladly discussed his training methods and breeding program with the mounted foxhunters.
While the home team of Midland Fox Hounds performed well as expected, the top ten hounds from Day 1 represented six different packs from five different states, with another four hunts represented in the top 15.
On the second and final hunting day, hounds met at Tent City, again offering broad open fields edged by woody coverts and some wet areas. The temperature was a little cooler and, according to huntsman Hubbard, the hounds worked much more cohesively on their second outing together. A black coyote provided good sport on this day, leading the field on a steady run before going to ground in a large hole in a grassy field. A few hounds pursued their quarry below ground, allowing good opportunities for the judges to award Full Cry and Marking scores. The mounted judges all felt hounds had had a fair opportunity to be evaluated. As some riders and horses were still recovering from the previous day’s speed, Hubbard brought hounds in.
When asked about his experience carrying the horn for such an august event, Hubbard exclaimed, “It was awesome! I was really pleased with the hounds. There was a lot of variation in fitness, and in type of hound, as you would expect, and that was a factor on the very fast first day. But today they were truly a pack and hunted that way.” He selected Midland Bliss as the Huntsman’s Pick of the trials, commenting, “For her to run as hard as she did the first day and then still be up there running today - better, even - and put the coyote in - it was really something!”
Hounds from twelve different packs scored Top Ten individual placings – a testament to the ability of a good hound to hunt well in any country. At the end of the two days’ hunting, Hillsboro Salty ‘15 was the Champion Performance Trial Hound, with Midland Bliss ‘12 the Reserve Champion. Two outstanding packs (Hillsboro and Midland) traded places for the Overall Hunt title, with Midland taking the tricolor and Hillsboro second, followed by Shawnee Hounds (IL), carried by their outstanding Crossbred bitch, Zin ‘15; who placed sixth overall.
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