Epp Wilson carried the horn for the Bull Run Hunt/Blue Ridge Hunt Performance Trials. Liz Callar Photo

By Jean P. Derrick

Are you familiar with Performance Trials? Have you ever been to Performance Trials?

If you answered either of these questions in the negative, you need to remedy that void in your hunting life. I guarantee that you will be glad you did.

A Performance Trial is an event in which the host hunt issues invitations to various hunts to attend and enter a team of hounds, usually ranging from five to eight hounds. When the invitation is issued, the hunt is assigned numbers to paint or dye on each side of the entered hound. At the two-day Performance Trials, the hounds are hunted over a three-hour period each day and judged anonymously, usually from horseback and sometimes from car following vehicles, in the categories of hunting, trailing, full cry and marking. At the end of each hunt, judges’ scores are entered into a computer program commissioned by the MFHA and located on the MFHA home website. The program quickly tallies numbers in each category allowing the results to be announced within an hour and a half of the end of the hunt.

A Performance Trial is the perfect framework for a super party. Huntsmen, masters and foxhunters from multiple hunts gather together at the same place and at the same time (as opposed to a joint meet when there usually is only one other hunt attending). The host hunt puts on the dog (bad pun), offering delicious food and plentiful drink. The atmosphere is magical. The sport, offered by a pack of the best hounds of the entered hunts, is consistently at a superior level. Especially after the second day, when the mixed pack has gotten to know one another. The second day is when you ride your best horse.

Recently, Fred Berry, MFH Sedgefield Hunt, was appointed chair of the Performance Trial leg of the MFHA Championship Series. The MFHA plans to repeat Performance Trials every third year, rotating them with Field Hunter Trials and Joint Meets.

Bull Run Hunt and Blue Ridge Hunt hosted Performance Trials, Oct. 23- 24. Each hunt offered two vastly different meet sites which displayed the talents of the superb hounds entered by the eight competing hunts.

The Virginia Performance Trial was the fifth in a series of 10 Performance Trials coordinated by Berry which will culminate March 26-27, 2022, with the MFHA Performance Trials Grand Championship in Hoffman, North Carolina.

With eight hunts entered, the Performance Trial was at capacity. Though others hunts wanted to come, with each hunt entering a team of six hounds, twenty-four couple of hounds were the largest pack that the huntsman could fairly be expected to manage. Attending was (in alphabetical order), Blue Ridge Hunt, Bull Run Hunt, Deep Run Hunt, Farmington Hunt, Marlborough Hunt, Middleburg Hunt, Rappahannock Hunt and Thornton Hill Hounds. Thornton Hill Hounds and Marlborough Huntt brought their Penn-Marydel Hounds. The rest entered crossbreds.

Hounds competing in the Performance Trials in beautiful Virginia hunt country. Liz Callar Photo

Epp Wilson, MFH Belle Meade Hunt, was the trial huntsman and was guided by Tim Michel for Bull Run Hunt and Graham Buston for Blue Ridge Hunt.

“It was special and unique to get the chance carry the horn as guest huntsman in two vastly different territories,” Wilson said.

Bull Run Hunt’s trial day was at The Preserve, near Culpeper, Virginia. Master Mike Long and his wife Betty invited participants to The Preserve, which is a rolling, green expanse of corn fields and soybeans, some fields harvested and some not, interspersed with woodlands connected by broad manicured trails and dirt roads with hoof friendly gravel.

The Judges’ meeting was Friday night and held at Inskeep Hall, the clubhouse of Bull Run Hunt. They put on a spectacular heavy-hors-d’oeuvre cocktail party.

Each day the visiting hounds were mixed in the Bull Run Hunt staff hounds/horse trailer beginning at 8:15 a.m. leading up to the 9 a.m. cast. Each huntsman brought his entries and they were merged in the trailer with Wilson welcoming each hound with treats, praise and strokes.

That night, participants were entertained by Beth and Erwin Opitz at their home, High Thicket. It was an outdoor cocktail party with wonderful food, drinks and conversation.

Awards were announced, ribbons handed out. The top-three hounds of the first day were  Thornton Hill Hounds Zeus, first; Blue Ridge Hunt Kiwi, second and Middleburg Hunt Poppy, third. The three top hunts were Middleburg Hunt, Thornton Hill Hounds and Bull Run Hunt.

The next day, participants got up early and drove an hour and half north to Shannon Hill in Front Royal, Virginia. “I bought this property for foxhunting” said Blue Ridge Hunt MFH Jeff LeHew. The 500 acres is bounded by the Shenandoah River and adjoins other farms friendly to foxhunters.

One memorable moment was when the pack was spread out in front of us in a cutover hay field, studded with round bales, with Huntsman Wilson cheering them on galloping close behind, and every animal, hound and horse, was running as hard as they could.

On the second day the top three hounds were: Blue Ridge Hunt Newtown, first; Deep Run Hunt Sentry, second; and Middleburg Hunt Rosie, third. The top three packs were Blue Ridge Hunt, Deep Run Hunt and Bull Run Hunt.

Both trial days were remarkable because of the gorgeous settings of green rolling open fields and hills which offered good views of quarry and hounds. Both venues highlighted the importance of enough openness for the judges to be able to view which hounds were doing the excellent work.

Overall, for both days, the top three hounds were Middleburg Hunt Rosie, first; Blue Ridge Hunt Newtown, second and Deep Run Whisper, third. The top three packs for the two days were Blue Ridge Hunt, Middleburg Hunt and Bull Run Hunt.

Huntsman’s choice was Middleburg Hunt’s Rosie. As Middleburg Hunt Rosie also turned out to be the top hound for the two days, this underscores the accuracy of the judging, as well as the scoring program for Performance Trials.

See full results for the Performance Trials here.

Jeff LeHew, MFH Blue Ridge Hunt; Anne McIntosh, MFH Blue Ridge Hunt; Graham Buston, Blue Ridge Hunt Huntsman. Liz Callar Photo