The Hilltoppers participating in the eighth annual Junior North American Field Hunters Championship get instructions before the mock hunt that was one of the tests the 75 finalists undertook. The Championships were hosted by a northern hunt for the first time this year.
The eighth annual Junior North American Field Hunter Championship was held at Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Malone’s Doe Run Valley Farm, near Coatesville, PA on November 14. It was the first time that the event has been held in a northern hunt territory, with young riders representing eleven hunts taking part in the event.
During meets at five southern hunts and six northern ones this year, youngsters who entered the competition were observed in the field. At each of those dates, judges observed the riders in action in the field and selected those they felt were the best horses and ponies to qualify for the championship. The riders who qualified were invited to travel to Cheshire Hunt Country to take part in the Junior North American Field Hunter Championship.
A total of eleven hunts participated, with 200 entries leading to 75 qualifiers. “It brings so many kids together who love to fox hunt and that’s one of the main goals, the other is conservation easements,” said co-founder M. Douglas Wise. “We try not to limit our hunts to just those that have perfect territory like Cheshire. A lot of areas are facing development issues that really destroy the sport of fox hunting.” The event was also a fundraiser for two conservation groups, the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Cheshire Conservancy.
Gretchen Wintersteen and the ladies of Cheshire Hunt provided a complimentary luncheon for participants, parents and spectators. One of the event organizers is D.D. Matz, who was very pleased with the way the day turned out.
“What was really nice for me was to see a lot of the kids from Cheshire who really only hunt and to see them go out here and have to do some sort of show ring stuff. It’s helped their horsemanship,” she said. “I think it was really nice to have it up here. A lot of the kids who participated today probably would not have participated if it was in Virginia. Maybe next year they will, now that they’ve seen what it’s all about. The Virginians are familiar with it so they all made the trek up here.”
The day began with a mock hunt, with the field changing positions at the halfway point so that everyone had a chance to be near the front. The riders were broken into three divisions with non-jumping hilltoppers following their own Master, while the junior and senior first flight rode as one group over natural fences.
Following the cross country, each division worked on the flat, and the top riders were selected for individual tests before the final decision was made. Riders were judged by Mary Ellen DeRushchi, Gail Wofford, Jennifer Nesbit, Joseph Keusch, and Linda Reynolds.
The senior section of the First Flight for riders 13 to 18 was won by David Pawlak of Boyce, VA, riding Paris. This is the second year in a row that Pawlak has earned the champion award.
“I was a little worried coming in because of Michael Matz’s son who won it last year in the junior division. I was a little worried about him because his horse is really good,” Pawlak said.
Fourteen-year-old Pawlak, who rides with Blue Ridge Hunt and is in his seventh season hunting, was impressed by the Cheshire country. “I’ve never ridden up here. I think the country’s beautiful. It’s very beautiful scenery.”
In addition to fox hunting, Pawlak also events with a different horse. “My favorite thing about hunting is, it’s just fun. I really love to run and jump and stuff. When you add that in with having friends around it’s just fun,” he said.
Twelve and Under
Another Virginia rider was the winner of the First Flight junior section, for riders twelve and under, Sophia Vella on Curious George. Vella lives in The Plains, VA, and rides with Warrenton Hunt.
“I just love the sport, it’s so much fun - it’s a really good sport,” said Vella, who has been hunting four years.
This is her first season on her pony Curious George, and she was pleased with the way he went for her at the championship and through the season. “He’s really soft. He’s a good boy, he knows his stuff,” she said. “He’s really good in the hunt field, that’s his favorite thing.”
Pennsylvania was also earned a championship, with ten-year old Allison Herr winning the Hilltoppers division on her pony Shenandoah Supernova. Herr attends Unionville Elementary School and rides with Radnor Hunt. “I love fox hunting. It’s my favorite sport. I love the running and the jumping and I love the hounds,” she said.
Herr rides in horse shows but it is hunting that she likes best and particularly this type of competition. “I like this kind better because it’s like fox hunting. You get to go on trail rides and you get to see a lot of great wildlife and it’s fun to be with other horses and other kids,” she said.
While the Hilltoppers division did not have to jump, they may have actually had the most difficult individual test. Each of the ten top riders was required to open a gate, pass through and close it behind them, dismount, and then drop the top rail of a fence and lead their pony over it.
Herr was one of very few that managed the test without too much difficulty. “I didn’t know what to expect. My pony’s never done gates before. I was really impressed that he stood for it,” she said.