Call 911 – These Hounds Are On FIRE! Photo of the winning hound #55 Belle Meade Bullet, by Allison Howell Photography

By Epp Wilson, MFH, Belle Meade Hunt, Thomson, Georgia

The Belle Meade Hunt Performance Trials were held Jan. 21-22 in Thomson, Georgia, another leg in the series culminating with the MFHA Performance Trial Championship March 25-27. The Belle Meade Hunt Performance Trials had a huge turnout.

“Over 100 riders were broken up into five different ‘fields’ according to the rider’s skills and interests, from walk-trot to gallop-madly,” said Fred Berry, MFH, Sedgefield Hunt and Chairman of the Performance Trial Series.”

The Belle Meade Hunt also welcomed a large contingent of juniors to the field for their Performance Trial.

“Every time I come to Belle Meade, I am truly impressed with so many things – particularly all the juniors,” said Chris Moll, judge, scoring expert and Whipper-in at Sedgefield Hunt. “Not only do you have a lot of your own juniors, but you also have juniors visiting from several other hunts across the country. You also have many three-generation families out hunting together. You all do an incredible job of getting juniors involved.”



The first day had a slow start with lots of drawing and hitting and missing. The judges got lots of hunting and trailing scores but no full cry scores. The hounds settled in well for the guest huntsman, Charles Montgomery, MFH, Mells Fox Hounds, and they drew nicely and worked professionally. Deer ran through the pack here and there, but no hound gave them a second look. Congratulations are due to the staff who trained and selected their hounds for this event.

In performance trials, the hounds need to learn to trust each other. They also need to sort out their positions. Are they quarterbacks, wide receivers, defensive ends, etc.? That’s the only way they can work as an effective team/pack. The ideal way to do that is to let them work together for a while – maybe 30 or 45 minutes – drawing and cold trailing here and there. Then, gradually work up to a line fresh enough to run.  Either way, the slow work at the beginning of the first day’s hunt helps them settle in with their guest huntsman and with each other.  This gives them a foundation for working together for the rest of the weekend.

Sure, it’s fun to have them hit a fresh line in the first covert.  But sometimes, they don’t all get away on that line together and they start strung out with too much distance from front-to-back of the pack. So, we had lots of drawing and hunting and pecking around time.

As the home huntsman and guide, we had drawn through most of our best coverts and had come up short. It was time to take a deep breath, double-clutch and draw on. With 35,000 contiguous acres of hunt country, we had plenty of coverts yet to draw.

But it’s hard to be patient at a performance trial. There were so many top hounds in the group and more than 100 of the keenest foxhunters – all in one place. It’s the highlight of our hunting year. Expectations are high.

Charles remained patient and methodical. Eventually, on the northwest side of Hawes Hill, one hound opened with more enthusiasm than before. Then another hound and another and, before we knew it, they were in full cry. This pack of top hounds is much faster than our regular pack.  They are the cream of their respective crops.

Scenting was good.  And the hounds were taking full advantage of it. Mounted whips and judges were racing to keep up.  Horses, hounds and people were satisfied after that 42-minute 6.4-mile run. We followed the usual protocol. Event President Kevin Keesee consulted with the masters of each hunt.  We loaded the hounds into the trucks and hacked home.



At 5 a.m., I sent the following email to the Belle Meade January Performance Trial participants’ inboxes. It set the tone for the day.

Good morning, Belle Meaders and Guests!

Better ride your best horse today!

I saved mine for today.

The second day is nearly always the better day – and after the barn-burning, 6.4-mile run we had yesterday – These Hounds Are On FIRE!

The conditions are good.  Actually, better than yesterday.

The hounds know and trust each other now – a big advantage over yesterday.

I don’t usually make specific predictions about any single hunt, but today, my prediction is for an earlier find and a longer run.







What a fine day hunting it was!

Belle Meade is not the easiest place to judge. Our huge contiguous hunt country gives you lots of running room, but large areas of thick pine forests make it challenging to judge. Fortunately, the hounds stayed in good country both days. That helped the judges get into a good position and achieve their goal of getting many scores in each category, giving every hound all the credit they deserve.

These fine hounds delivered. It was an incredible two days of hunting. Congratulations to Ryan Johnsey, MFH, and the Tennessee Valley Hunt team on winning the pack championship. All the scores are available here.

Guest Huntsman, Charles Montgomery, did a fine job dealing with various challenges.  He pointed out that the scenting was not as good on the second day. Weaker scenting helped the event by slowing the pack down so that the judges could get more scores and the fields could keep up more easily.

For Huntsman’s Choice, Charles’ pick was Thornton Hill Fishhawk.  This hound picked up the line when the rest of the pack had overrun at a turn.

“We have had great sport at each performance trial so far this season. The last two days of hunting have been the best of all of them,” Berry said. “The people, the territory, the hounds and the fabulous hospitality – well done, Belle Meade!”

Belle Meade Performance Trial Group Photo, courtesy of the Foxhound Performance Trials Facebook Group.

Due to popular demand, Belle Meade Hunt will host another Performance Trial on March 5-6.  All are welcome. There is room for two more packs.  Bring your best horse.  Better yet, bring two horses if you want to hunt both days.

Don’t forget to register for the MFHA Performance Trials National Championship in Hoffman, North Carolina, March 25-27.

Happy Hunting!


Event President and Head Judge – Kevin Keesee, Massbach Hounds

Guest Huntsman and Judge – Charles Montgomery, MFH, and Huntsman, Mells Fox Hounds


Rosie and Grosvenor Merle-Smith, Keswick Hunt

Nicolette and Joel Merle-Smith, Keswick Hunt

Boo Montgomery, Mells Fox Hunt

John Tabachka, Multiple Fine Hunts

Jennifer Buckley, Multiple Fine Hunts

Chris Moll, Sedgefield Hunt
Fred Berry, MFH, Sedgefield Hunt
Josh Bentley, Old Dominion Hounds

Participating Hunts:

Belle Meade Hunt

Bridlespur Hunt

Long Run Woodford Hounds

Mill Creek Hunt

Shawnee Hounds

Tennessee Valley Hunt

Thornton Hill Hounds

First Day Results Highlights:

1st Place Pack – Tennessee Valley Hunt

2nd Place Pack – Belle Meade Hunt

3rd Place Pack – Bridlespur Hunt

Day 2 Results Highlights:

1st Place Pack – Belle Meade Hunt

2nd Place Pack – Tennessee Valley Hunt

3rd Place Pack – Shawnee Hounds

Overall Results Highlights:

1st Place Pack – Tennessee Valley Hunt

2nd Place Pack – Belle Meade Hunt

3rd Place Pack – Thornton Hill Hounds

Top Ten Overall – These qualify for the National Championship and the Performance Trial Classes at the Hound Shows:

1. Belle Meade Bullet 2018

2. Tennessee Valley Headboard

3. Belle Meade Bismark 2018

4. Thornton Hill Fishhawk

5. Thornton Hill Ziggy

6. Tennessee Valley Wallet

7. Shawnee Foghorn

8. Tennessee Valley Hudson

9. Bridlespur Portia

10. Shawnee Gandalf

Enjoy this helmet cam footage of Sunday’s Performance Trial run.