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Oak Grove Hunter Pace


Article & photos by Tommy Brannon

Riders at the Oak Grove Hunter Pace /timed trail ride had the opportunity to ride across the beautiful land at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center near Holly Springs, Mississippi on October 12, 2019. Strawberry Plains is a 2,600 acre nature preserve and the site of a former plantation, donated to the Audubon Society by the Margret Shackelford in 1998 just prior to her death. It is where the Mississippi Audubon Society holds its annual Hummingbird and Nature Festival every September. The facility also hosts many conservation and nature outings throughout the year, including bird counts and bird photography clinics, among others.

The original circa 1851 plantation house, aka the Davis House, has been restored and updated to provide a venue for weddings and parties. Oak Grove Hunt Club hosted an opera soiree, “Harmony for Hounds,” in July 2018 inside the Davis House and plans to hold another one in Summer 2020. [See article in the Mid-South Horse Review August 2018.]

The trails at Strawberry Plains trails are well groomed and inviting for both experienced and novice riders, as well as horses. They are wide enough for horse carriages or for riders in groups, and the footing is excellent.  The trails go through wooded areas as well as mowed paths in the open fields. These fields are purposely left fallow to encourage the growth of native grasses and plants, providing a natural environment for birds. Strawberry Plains has put a concerted effort into removing invasive non-native species of plants, such a kudzu and Chinese Privet, that North American birds will not eat. These plants can engulf a wild area, as there is no natural balance in nature to keep them in check. 

Thirty seven riders in teams of two and three had a cool sunny day to enjoy the timed trail ride. The course was marked by colored surveyors tape – well enough that nobody got lost!  It rained the night before the event, which softened the ground a bit, but did not make the footing slippery. All in all, the conditions were absolutely right for a fun ride! About half way through the course, riders could take a refreshment break; a stand was set up with champagne, Mimosas, water, and soft drinks, plus apples for their horses. 

An optimum time, which was not revealed to the riders when starting the course, was predetermined and the team that came closest to that time, either faster or slower, was be the winner. Teams had to guess at the best pace, and not tarry too long at the Mimosa bar, to try to achieve what they thought would be the optimum time. Many teams passed other teams on the course, some more than once.

Teams were encouraged to don costumes for both rider and horse and some were quite elaborate, clever, and whimsical. Alli Wells and Peyton Murray painted their horses Toti and Card like a Zebra and a Giraffe, calling themselves the Safari Girls. David Misenhelter and Jeri Bechard wore their mounted police uniforms, riding Jax and Tough n Go, for the team named “Under Arrest.” Peggy Hart and Sandy Hudson, riding Sky and Cooper, put a team together they called “Opposites Attract.” Peggy turned out in fox hunting rat catcher and Sandy and Cooper blanketed and feathered as a Plains Indian.

The optimum time to ride the course was 1 hour 32 minutes. The winning team, consisting of Roger McBride on Zip and Martie Ackerman on Flash, came in at 1 hour 30 minutes. The Safari Girls clocked in at 1 Hour 34 Minutes to place second, and “Under Arrest” placed third with a time of 1 hour 38 minutes. All top three teams were amazingly close to the optimum time.

Prizes were also awarded for the fastest time: Nicki Hutchens on Caspian and Nancy Williams on Chief at 45 minutes, as well an award for slowest time of 2 hours 20 minutes by Dawn Hinton on Mae with Susan Wilson on Shadow.

Oak Grove Hunt Club has been providing the sport of fox hunting since its founding in 1946. The season runs from October through mid March, with several hunt locations (fixtures) in both Mississippi and Tennessee. Guests are welcome to hunt with Oak Grove. Contact the secretary Dana Lackey at 901-359-7945.

For more information about Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, visit:

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