with Horse and Hound

Thoughts on Field Hunter Competitions

nafhc14.winnerA competent horse and rider, confidently and comfortably crossing the country: what we all aspire to! Laurie Ambrose and Stretch, winning the Theodora A. Randolph Field Hunter Championship in Virginia.  /  Douglas Lees photo

The recently held Theodora A. Randolph Field Hunter Championship in Virginia is a unique competition. It differs from the more usual one-day hunter trial in which foxhunters ride individually over a course of obstacles, often including lead-overs, trot fences, fast gallops, and hold-hards.

In the Theodora A. Randolph Championship format (see Susan Monticelli’s report in separate article), field hunters are observed by mounted judges for several days during a series of actual foxhunts behind different packs of foxhounds. The judges’ task during these hunts is to select those horse/rider combinations they wish to see in a final day of competition. The finals, held each year at Glenwood Park in Middleburg on the morning of the Virginia Fall Races, consist of a mock hunt following a Field Master over a course of obstacles, and then individual tests similar to those in a hunter trial for the final ten or so selected.

While some avid and capable foxhunters believe that foxhunting is not a competitive sport and decline to participate, and while I can appreciate and respect their view, I also see benefits from these competitions. From one aspect, it’s a great value. If you want a hunting holiday in Virginia, you get to hunt with four different packs for an entry fee of not much more than the cost of a single cap at some of these hunts. And parties all week to boot!

On a more serious side, I believe that a smart field of horses and riders is a valuable image for all to see. In this day of sliding standards, the field of competitors—all properly attired and tacked—is a beautiful sight. It reminds us that there was a reason for standards of attire and etiquette. I even admit to enjoying the long-lost sight of the clean lines of sewn-in bridles—plain, flat, workmanlike, and richly glowing—de rigeur for those vying for Best Turned Out honors.

It’s also a pleasure to see highly competent horses negotiating the hunting field. At the finals at Glenwood Park someone asked me what the judges are looking for. I recalled what Thady Ryan, the late renowned Irish Master and huntsman told me one year when he was visiting the States and helping to judge the final day of this same Field Hunter Championship. His answer was very simple.

“I’m looking for the horse I would most like to ride across the hunting country,” he said.

Mrs. Theodora Ayer Randolph
So who is Mrs. Theodora Ayer Randolph—the namesake of the competition—some younger foxhunters might wonder. A niece by marriage to General George C. Patton, her own family name, Ayer, was internationally prominent in hunting and three-day eventing. Both the Patton and Ayer families are from Boston’s North Shore, home to the venerable Myopia Hunt Club. Miss Ayer married Dr. A.C. Randolph from Virginia, moved to Upperville, and was Master of the Piedmont Fox Hounds from 1954 until her death in 1996.

In her early years as Master, she is said to have hunted seven days a week. On Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday she led the Piedmont field. On the other four days of the week she could be seen in the fields at Middleburg, Blue Ridge, or Rappahannock. In addition to foxhunting—her main sporting passion—Mrs. Randolph owned top show horses, show jumpers, and racehorses.

A cash prize of $2,500 is awarded each year by the Bonnie Family (Mrs. Randolph’s family) to the Field Hunter Champion’s home hunt. Click for more information about this annual competition.

Posted October 11, 2014