It came down to the wire, but a local pony club chapter reaped fiscal benefits from encouraging junior participation in one of the Virginia Piedmont's most historic sports.
The Old Dominion Hounds Pony Club placed third in heated competition for the $10,000 U.S. Pony Club Foxhunting Challenge. The local club was nosed out by the Red Rock Hounds Pony Club of Nevada and the Blue Mountain Pony Club in Maryland.
ODHPC is centered around Orlean, Hume and Flint Hill, in Fauquier and Rappahannock Counties.
A total of 127 Pony Club members participated in the Challenge, together logging more than 1,000 hunting days. ODHPC won $1,500 for their third-place finish.
The sixth annual Challenge was created by and sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Martin Wood, joint-masters of Florida's Live Oak Hounds and past presidents of the Masters of Foxhounds Association.
“This is our way to give back,” Martin Wood said of the Challenge. “If we don't support and encourage young foxhunters, the sport will fade.”
Wood said that by turning the non
-competitive sport of foxhunting into something of a “challenge,” it sparked competitiveness among members seeking to one-up rival clubs.
“We have lots of regular foxhunting members” who rode with ODH already, explained ODHPC co-district commissioner Bonnie Barr-Briggs of Hume, whose daughter Brighton Craig is a fixture with the local pack. “But, more importantly, this challenge encouraged new foxhunters, kids who don't have any 'connection' to hunting, to try it out.”
Barr-Briggs said that hunt masters signed certification forms every time a new junior rider took part in a day's hunting. “There was a lot of writing involved,” she said.
A dozen ODHPC members regularly hunt with the pack, with twice that participating as “new hunters” to win the challenge.
The idea is to get young riders out of the riding arena and into the countryside.
Credit went to co-district commissioner Debbie Welch for encouraging riders to get out of the ring and into the field. . “She gets a little riled up about it, that her students are able ride up and down hill and be safe galloping cross-country. You can see the results,” Barr-Briggs said.
In addition to encouraging Pony Club members to try the sport, the prize rewarded members who hunt on a regular basis acting as mentors to the less-experienced hunters.
The award was based on a percentage measurement of total club members relative to members who participated in foxhunting. New hunters had to go out at least three times, with regular young hunters required to log at least nine hunts during the measured season.
Fourth place went to New York's Millbrook Pony Club, with fifth going to Maryland's Elkridge Harford Pony Club and sixth to the Silver Springs Pony Club on the Missouri-Illinois line.
The MFHA was formed in 1907 and is the governing body of organized fox, coyote and drag hunting in the U.S. and Canada. The MFHA’s main activities are the promotion of the sport, the publication of a Foxhound Stud Book and the recognition of organized hunts which have met its standards.
Details are online at www.ponyclub.org