A bittersweet moment began the weekend at the Hark Forward Bull Run - Rappahannock (VA) Performance Trial. The kick-off competitors cocktail party started with a toast to the late great Benjamin Hardaway III. It had been announced that he had passed earlier in the day and Epp Wilson, MFH Belle Meade Hunt (GA), was moved to tears as he recalled their long friendship and the great gifts Mr. Hardaway had given to foxhunting in North America. Without a doubt Mr. Hardaway’s legacy is felt in almost every foxhunt in America. There will be many stories told about this grand gentleman and I am sure that this night he was enjoying the many toasts that were made to his memory.

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Performance Trial huntsman Epp Wilson, center left, and Bull Run huntsman Charles Montgomery. Photo by Barbara Smith.

The Bull Run- Rappahannock Performance Trial also coincided with a meeting of the MFHA Regional Directors, so it was a pleasure to have the likes of Dr. Marvin Beeman, MFH of Arapahoe Hunt (CO), Terry Paine, MFH of Santa Fe West Hills Hunt (CA), John McFadden, MFH of Delabrooke Foxhounds (MD), to mention a few of the hardworking and dedicated Masters that joined the party and the trial the next day. The seven hunts that had brought five hounds each to make up the 17 ½ couple Performance Trial pack were: Virginia's Bull Run Hunt, Farmington Hunt, Rappahannock Hunt, Thornton Hill Hounds, Deep Run Hunt and Blue Ridge Hunt, and Tennessee Valley Hounds (TN).

Friday morning dawned chilly, there was some dew and we were hopeful for a good scenting day. Hounds were put together quickly and as soon as Epp Wilson, guest huntsman, was satisfied that they were comfortable, hounds and riders were off over a coop at the top of the Feedlot parking area. We moved off into Quiet Shade, which is a favorite fox haunt, but today a large, good-looking coyote was viewed immediately by Boo Montgomery, professional whip and judge today. She will tell you that Ben Hardaway had a hand in it from above, as we had a good run down towards River Road, before he slipped away. I mention the coyote as Hardaway’s spirit animal helping us, as I also viewed a large coyote pacing the hunted fox later in the morning. He was a big, fast one running parallel to the dark red hunted fox. I watched as both ran across a big cattle field before disappearing into the pines off Feedlot Drive. The hounds never left the fox line but that coyote was watching! Later we switched onto another coyote somewhere in the pines and hounds flew back towards the mountain and the meet.

We ran one fox and three coyote this day and judges were able to get many Full Cry scores, as well as Hunting and Trailing ones. By 10 o’clock in the morning, it was close to 80 degrees and thirsty hounds were drinking from the automatic waterers with the help of their huntsman, and almost all the riders were equally thirsty. Some of us were also out of horse! It was a good first day. Friday night all were invited to the Serenko home in Culpeper, Virginia for a delicious Italian buffet. Ribbons for the day were handed out and we welcomed Penny Denegre, MFH of Middleburg Hunt (VA) to join the fun and present ribbons to the top three hunts for the first day.

Rappahannock Hunt hosted the next day’s trial at Jim and Debbie Massie’s home, Meadow Grove, in Amissville, Virginia. This lovely farm is just of Rt. 729 (Richmond Road) between Little Battle Mountain and Big Battle Mountain. Charles Montgomery, Bull Run’s huntsman, said at end of day that the hounds had run a rough figure eight up, down and around these two landmark Civil War-era hills.

Battle Mountain in Amissville was actually the site of the largest single Civil War military engagement in Rappahannock County. On July 24th, 1863, the Union Army was pursuing General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, as they marched south following their defeat at Gettysburg earlier in the month. Union General George O. Custer (yes, that Custer) attacked Confederate General Longstreet and Gen. A. P. Hill as they marched down Richmond Road. Custer had placed artillery on the shoulder of Battle Mountain and shelled Hill’s men. However, Confederate Gen. Benning returned and flanked Custer with 2000 infantrymen from Georgia and Alabama. Custer’s rear guard fought for two hours, allowing Custer to escape by cutting a road through the woods on the mountain back to Amissville. It was here at Battle Mountain that the Union Army‘s pursuit was stopped. It is interesting to note we were hunting in some of the very woods that Custer retreated through after his ill-fated attack on Confederate forces. General Custer was quoted as saying later it was the “closest call he ever had,” but I think history proved he had another that did not end so well.

According to Boo Montgomery, who was road whipping in the truck this day, three fox and two coyote gave the hounds, judges and all the riders a great time. The pack split at one point and the second field, ably led by Jim Massie, was standing at a great vantage point to listen to both groups on their quarry.

Beth Opitz, MFH Thornton Hill Hounds, was the only judge with one part of the split for about a ½ hour and she was able to get excellent scores on Full Cry as the hounds crossed the road before her. After about three hours the hunted coyote was viewed beside the stream at the base of the mountain opposite Meadow Grove. Huntsman Epp Wilson dismounted and searched the stream bed for signs of a kill, but wily coyote had slipped by the hounds and as we were still trying to put all hounds together it was called a day.

The Massie’s had put together a lovely hunt breakfast in the yard and closing remarks were made by David Twiggs, Executive Director of the MFHA. Scoring ran into an internet issue and ribbons were handed out later in the afternoon. Bull Run Hunt was top overall with Blue Ridge Hunt and Deep Run Hunt a close second and third respectively. Blue Ridge Tartan was the Huntsman’s Choice. It was an excellent day and all thanked Rappahannock Masters Oliver and Michael Brown for a great hunt.

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Blue Ridge Tartan won Huntsman's Choice. Photo by Sheri Buston.

Bull Run’s Talisman and Nicely were Champion and Reserve Champion Hound respectively. Nicely is a pure Fell hound, and along with Talisman, was bred by John Harrison, then of Toronto-North York Hunt (ON) and were drafted to Bull Run Hunt. John Harrison is now huntsman at Deep Run. He did an excellent job scoring and handed in a sheet that showed he had been right with hounds all day. I imagine he was as proud of these two hounds he bred, as was Bull Run’s huntsman, Charles Montgomery. Another interesting hound of note was Bull Run’s Damsel, which placed fourth in points overall. She was a draft from Johnny Gray’s Hillsboro Hounds (TN) and if you have read the previous Hark Forward report of the first Performance Trial at Tony Leahy’s Fox River Valley-Massbach Hounds, you will remember that three other littermates: Hillsboro’s Dagwood, Mill Creek’s Dallas and Fox River Valley’s Daffodil, all placed in the top ten. Damsel was another of this litter, all from a hound named Warwickshire Daylight bred by Charmaine Greene. It is incredible to see the excellence of a hound breeding come through so many different hunts.

And it is this last point that brings me full circle back to Mr. Ben Hardaway. No one has had more influence on the breeding of hounds in America than this gentleman. Charles Montgomery brought Bull Run’s Bellemaid to the Performance Trial with the hope that she would excel. She is a descendent of Ben Hardaway’s Midland hounds, Striker and Bliss, and she did them all proud by placing tenth overall. For a young unentered hound she did a terrific job and I am sure, made the old man proud! This is what huntsmen hope for when they breed hounds. As in racehorse breeding, “You breed the best to the best and then hope for the best!” Performance trials give all hunts a chance to see excellence in a hunting hound, and we see the results of certain breedings, such as the Hillsboro litter from Daylight. The fact that a litter has produced champions in four different hunts in different parts of the country is extraordinary and worth noting. It was certainly Mr. Hardaway’s dream to improve the hunting hound and these performance trials make it possible to continue to share ideas and theories for the benefit of all. The next Performance Trial is at Hillsboro Hounds in Nashville, Tennessee in late November. See you there.

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