The below article is in recognition of Fred Berry, MFH, Sedgefield Hunt, for the successful Performance Trial series which he organized and directed.  Not only were these Performance Trials a fundraiser for the hosting hunts, but the Championship also raised funds for the Association. 

After Retirement

By Josh Walker

Even after retiring, Fred Berry just keeps giving!

The Huntsman started his professional career with Sedgefield Hunt 35 years ago and built a legacy upon dedication to the sport and community that will last generations.

Fred Berry started his professional career with Sedgefield Hunt under the tutelage of Ian Milne. After 35 years there, he’s passing the horn. He began riding western as a teenager and eventually scored an opportunity with Sedgefield (Greensboro, North Carolina) as a kennelman during college. “In addition to the lucrative pay of $25 a week,” he jested, “I got to ride all the rank horses I wanted.”

Ian Milne, the namesake of the professional Huntsman’s lifetime achievement award presented by the Masters of Foxhounds Association, led the pack there as Huntsman at the time. Berry, a recipient of the award himself, and who most recently presented that prestigious award to Steve Clifton on the eve of this year’s Virginia Hound Show in Leesburg, Virginia, said studying Milne’s style in the field and sharing philosophies with him while learning to drink bourbon helped shape and enrich his induction into the sport, lifestyle, and community.

“It was a huge privilege coming up under him,” Berry said. It had been Berry’s first time in an English saddle when he took the job at Sedgefield, and the differences struck him as surely as the dirt did when gravity pulled. Nonetheless, “my first experience there was magic. I knew I’d found a place that suited me—being in the woods with animals and learning to ride English.” He rode in a crummy old flat saddle, as he remembers. His first thought at the time was that he was going to fall off more than he did from a Western saddle, and that it was going to hurt. A lot. “I did and it did,” he assured.

People donated rank horses to the hunt, he explained, and, from the get-go, it was his job to work them all and also learn to whip-in. “It was mostly: ‘Hey, here’s a horse. Get on and ride him,’” and it was all part of the fun, he said. “That’s how I learned about the discipline and adventure of it all; you know, the early mornings, the late nights, and the chores after chores after chores.”

And to hear Berry tell the tales of the past 35 years, well, everything still seems magic to him—the good, the bad, and the ugly. “I remember a long time ago, I was riding one of those rank horses, but that rascal would jump anything,” he recounted. “The hounds went running into a quarry, and I was so excited to be with them—but there was this five-foot metal gate right in front of us. We took about three strides to it, popped over it, and jumped into the quarry to see a red fox tumbling down the edge of the quarry and the hounds pouring over the ledge after him. It was an extraordinary image to see. But once the thrill of the chase had passed me, I realized I needed to get out of that quarry. I looked around and that’s when I saw that I didn’t need to jump that gate after all. I could have just ridden around it. I guess the point is, the adrenaline and the thrill of the chase—it’s magic. It gets you to accomplish things.”

While Berry credits Milne for keeping him propped up throughout the learning curve, he also taught him, through his hospitality and kindness, what makes the foxhunting community special. In the late 80s, Milne left Sedgefield to serve as Fairfax Hunt Club’s Huntsman in Reston, Virginia, and that’s when Berry took the horn at Sedgefield. The two stayed connected, and Berry always stayed with Milne and his wife, Brenda, during the annual Virginia Hound Show. The Milnes ceremoniously hosted a party for all the Huntsman arriving from every corner of the country every year, and it became a growing tradition that Berry remembers fondly. “It became the place to be at the Virginia Hound Show,” he said. “And that’s just one example of him being a part of the community and giving back. He introduced me to so many people and that was a great gift to me.”

About 20 years ago, Berry helped Sedgefield launch its own performance trials and modeled them after the Belle Meade Performance Trials. “It was fun. It added a new dimension, and everyone had a great time. It was also a great way to make money,” he said. To help him find his sea legs for the endeavor, Jean Derrick, Field Master at Belle Meade Hunt in Thompson, Georgia, initially became, in Berry’s own words, his Fairy Godmother, and showed him the ropes.

Fast forward to last September, the MFHA wanted to relaunch its Performance Trials series similar to the successful Hark Forward Series in 2018 which raised funds used to renovate the new MFHA HQ.  The Hark Forward series culminated with a Grand Championship at Midland Hunt (GA).  The late Ben Hardaway, MFH, had conceived the concept of performance trials in the 90s. The series, in its most modern form, was launched by then MFHA President Tony Leahy, MFH, Fox River Valley & Massbach Hounds. However, if the series were to live again, it would need a new chairman.

“I volunteered to run it and they said, ‘Go get ‘em, boy!’ And I did,” Berry said. “But I did it with the understanding that the money that those trials made—and you can make pretty good money—that that money stays with the hosts. I felt like I wanted to be the arm of the MFHA that gave back to hunts.” Nine regional hunts each hosted one performance trials, and at the end of it all, “I think it was successful.” Berry said. “Some folks would say it was wildly successful.” Each Performance Trials includes a judge’s meeting. During the competition, each judge rides along with the hounds, records their behaviors, and then inputs their observations into a computer to calculate scoring. During their meetings, they all get on the same page to ensure judging, and rules are fair and level.  “Instead of having the judges meeting before the pre- trial party, we did it with everybody there so we could all listen to it,” Berry said, recounting when Sedgefield hosted its leg of the series. “I learned that there’s a hunger among dedicated foxhunters to know more about the nuances of how hound behavior can steer the hunt. There’s a hunger for them to know what the hounds are doing and how to look at them better. It is like going to a sporting event and really learning the rules of the game and who the players are and really seeing it all, rather than just sitting back and drinking beer.”

Participants loved the enrichment. They told Berry they had learned more during that 20-minute meeting than they had in seven or eight years following the field. “For me, it was very rewarding and important in furthering interest in, appreciation of, and dedication to the sport,” Berry said. This summer, he officially passed the Sedgefield horn to first-year professional Randall Wiseman Carty, who started hunting at the age of nine, was a regular in the field by 12, and was whipping-in on her own by 16. “When I started whipping-in to Ian 45 years ago,” Berry said, “her grandmother was whipping-in with me. It’s in her blood.”

After three and a half decades of professional dedication to the Foxhunting community, Berry looks forward to traveling but won’t drift too far from Sedgefield. “There are a lot of Huntsman I want to keep working with, and one of them is Steve Clifton, who just won the Ian Milne award,” said Berry, who will also continue to whip-in to Randall Wiseman Carty (a current participant in the HSBF’s Professional Development Program 2022/23). “My wife and I just got back from Montana where we got a couple horses, and I’m just looking forward to being more free. But I also want to stay involved in the breeding program and the hunting program to help Randall build a super pack,” he said.