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 jfhc 2 Photo by Dominique MorrisonThe 2023 Junior North American Field Hunter Championship. Photo by Dominique Morrison.

“The future of our sport and land”

The Junior North American Field Hunter Championship, or JNAFHC, founders Douglas Wise-Stuart, MFH of Old Dominion Hounds, and Iona Pillion from the Blue Ridge Hunt had a dream, “Bring children to new hunting countries and open their eyes to the fact that these playgrounds don’t just happen to be there for them by chance but have been nurtured and conserved for the perpetuation of wildlife, open space, and for those who treasure the natural world.”

 The Mells Fox Hounds, in southern Middle Tennessee, did just that when they welcomed the 2023 Junior North American Field Hunter Championship to some of the most beautiful territory ever devoted to the sport of foxhunting. The Juniors came for an epic weekend of sportsmanship, education, and camaraderie.

Plans were eighteen months in the making for this special event. Mells Fox Hounds had so many people come together to facilitate this Championship: Joint Masters William D. Haggard IV, Charles Montgomery, Gerald Robeson, Theresa Menefee, and Stasia Bachrach; staff members Boo Shepard Montgomery, and Clare Marie Pinney; and several hunt members who were on the Mells committee that was chaired by Jill Wallace. Hospitality was arranged for the families, and Juniors were provided with a clubhouse. Juniors were stabled together with 24-hour security. There was also a safety/emergency response plan that was implemented. All of the competition and hunting sites were within walking distance. 

The venue of the Championships. Photo by Patricia Branan-Wendell with Equestrian Influence.

The JNAFHC competition began modestly in 2003 between a handful of geographically close Virginia hunts and continued to expand its scope with Championships in Kentucky, Georgia, and now Tennessee. Juniors at the 2023 JNAFHC represented twenty-six hunts and fifteen Pony Clubs from across the U.S. and Canada. Juniors also came from new areas as far away as Massachusetts, Hamilton Ontario, Mississippi, and Kansas, giving our young foxhunters the opportunity to form deeper connections with the foxhunting community.

Since the beginning in 2003, over $35,000 has been donated to conservation organizations and efforts. Fast forward to 2021, and the JNAFHC became incorporated with a board of directors and recognized with a 501 (c)(3) designation by the IRS. During 2021-2023, individuals and organizations responded with extremely generous donations. This allowed the JNAFHC to further develop components of program and safety, with the goal of Junior scholarships planned in the future. These components include travel to and participation in the Championship as well as various projects and activities to further the sport of foxhunting and for the conservation of land. 

Juniors qualify for the Championship by attending a regional qualifier at their home hunt or a nearby hunt, and this is where the conversation and connection with the sport begins. It is through the tremendous efforts of the recognized hunts that host qualifiers, that Juniors learn the skills and are encouraged to participate.

At the Championship, Juniors are asked to complete a hack and a mock hunt. The mock hunt is where they are judged on riding skills, judgment, suitability with their mount, etiquette, manners, assisting with gates, respect for and being attentive to hounds, and neat and tidy turnout. If selected in the top ten, those Juniors ride an individual test made of about six to ten obstacles or questions that simulate situations you might find in the hunt field. This year’s test consisted of a drop rail, ditch crossing, creek crossing, opening and closing a gate, a Tally Ho, hand galloping, a hold hard, and a dismount. 

In 2016, the additional contests of Horn Blowing and Whip Cracking were introduced. One of the highlights of this year’s Championship was the addition of Hound Judging. Charles Montgomery, MFH and Huntsman for Mells Fox Hounds created an educational and fun experience for the Juniors to develop an eye for assessing hounds with different intended purposes in what could be varying country. They had the honor of judging hounds with Dr. Jack Van Nagell, MFH of Iroquois Hunt, Ryan Johnsey, MFH and Huntsman of the Tennessee Valley Hunt, and Stephen K. Heard, ex- MFH of the Hillsboro Hounds. 

jfhc 1 Photo by Equestrian InfluenceTennessee Valley Hunt Juniors from left to right: Lily Shewmake, Anna Foshie, and Alexa Shanks. Photo by Patricia Branan-Wendell with Equestrian Influence.

This year’s Championship was not without challenges. With everything set up and ready to welcome everyone, we were met with rainy weather on Thursday and terrific storms with extremely strong winds on Friday (which postponed the scheduled live hunt to Sunday). One of the temporary stabling tents blew down and all the horses from both barns had to be evacuated until the storms died down about five hours later. What an act of teamwork to get all the horses moved and reassembled the barn. Never underestimate the power of youth. It’s amazing to be around so many Juniors from so many different walks of life. Watching them come together, work together, and encourage each other with words and acts of kindness – all were great horsemen.

Thankfully Saturday morning came with warm temperatures and blue sunny skies just in time for competition day. The skill and preparation of all the Juniors was impressive, and the pool of top contenders was deep. They exhibited poise, professionalism, great horsemanship, and sportsmanship. 

jfhc 2 Photo by Equestrian InfluenceThe decor at the venue of the Championships. Photo by Patricia Branan-Wendell with Equestrian Influence.

On Sunday we awoke to another gloriously sunny day, and Mells Fox Hounds took the Juniors and guests on a live hunt across their beautiful country. Wile E. Coyote gave chase and smiles all around!

The location for the next Championship is in the works . . . stay tuned!

In the words of Dr. Jack Van Nagell, MFH Iroquois Hunt and past President of the MFHA, “This is the most important event for Junior foxhunters in the country… for the future of the sport and the land.”


 In the words of Mrs. Peggy Crane, a parent, “Sending my daughter out fox hunting was like sending her to finishing school, she learned what she needed to be successful.”

The results from the 2023 Championship are as follows:

Hilltopper 10 & Under

Champion – London McCalley – Dude – Lowcountry Hunt/Salt March PC **

Reserve Champion – Charlotte Wilson – Cowgirl – Belle Meade Hunt

3rd Place – Penelope Conlon – Juliet – Goshen Hounds/Redland Goshen PC

4th Place – Porter Pfister – When It Reins It Poe’s – Iroquois Hunt

5th Place – Finley Heagarty – Marra – Mells Fox Hounds/Cedar Knob PC

6th Place – Frances Counts – Sally – Tennessee Valley Hunt

7th Place – Cora Gans – Cherokee – Long Run Woodford Hounds/Bluegrass PC

8th Place – Josie Grantham – Dodger – Chula Homa Hunt

9th Place – Tristan Gainey – Willow – Mecklenberg Hounds

Championship ribbon Photo by Carla BabcockChampionship ribbon. Photo by Carla Babcock.

Hilltopper 11-18

Champion – Dot Daus – Mr. Popper’s Penguin – Camargo Hunt/Miami Valley PC **

Reserve Champion – Claire Lacey – Bentley - Lowcountry Hunt

3rd Place – Brooks Marie Sneed – Flynn – Hillsboro Hounds – Cedar Hills PC

4th Place – Isabella Henry – Flynn – Midland Foxhounds

5th Place – Abri Fleischli – Candy – Bridlespur Hunt/Gateway PC

6th Place – Riley Jones – Windy Isles Quiet Kate – Mells Fox Hounds

7th Place – Kinley Shewmake – Puck’s Wish – Tennessee Valley Hunt

8th Place – Addison Owens – Willy – Mells Fox Hounds – Cedar Hills PC

9th Place – Lilly Shewmake – Jaxson - Tennessee Valley Hunt

10th Place – Skylar Sitton – Razzle – Mecklenberg Hounds/Cardinal II PC

First Field 13 & Under

Champion – Wells Pfister – Landy - Iroquois Hunt/Bluegrass PC **

Reserve Champion – Scarlett Knull – Kismet - Keswick Hunt/Deep Run PC

3rd Place – Hanley Broadus – Night Out – Long Run Woodford Hounds/Keeneland PC

4th Place – Aurea Dove – Bow-Dacious – Long Run Woodford Hounds/Bluegrass PC

5th Place – Tessa Nolte – Dancer – Keswick Hunt

6th Place – Aiden Smith – Pony Pony – Norfolk Hunt/Norfolk PC

7th Place – Taylor Smith – Kiss My Sass – Norfolk Hunt/Norfolk PC

8th Place – Callie Hill – Fashion – Fort Leavenworth Hunt

First Field 14-18

Champion – Kathryn Sanford – Most Likely – Lowcountry Hunt

Reserve Champion – Samantha Manning – Good luck Molly – Snickersville Hounds

3rd Place – Sam Dozier – Bishop – Belle Meade Hunt

4th Place – Neilly Dozier – Luna - Belle Meade Hunt

5th Place – Zoie Sitton – Vixen - Mecklenberg Hounds/Cardinal II PC **

6th Place – Michaela Frye – Jerri - Fort Leavenworth Hunt/Mill Creek PC

7th Place – Alayna Myers – Jameson – Belle Meade Hunt

8th Place – Emalaine Cooper – Hook – Belle Meade Hunt

9th Place – Cian Yorba – Corey - Long Run Woodford Hounds/Keeneland PC

10th Place – Mary Sheehan – Dauntless – Lowcountry Hunt

 Hound Judging Award – Callie Hill - Fort Leavenworth Hunt

Whip Cracking Award – Taylor Smith – Norfolk Hunt

Horn Blowing Award – Sam Dozier – Belle Meade Hunt

Best Turned-Out Award - Callie Hill - Fort Leavenworth Hunt

Sportsmanship Award – Victoria Watson – Hamilton Hunt Club

** = High Point Pony Club Awards

jfhc 3 Photo by Equestrian InfluenceA Junior executing one of the many skills asked in the final round of the Championships. Photo by Patricia Branan-Wendell with Equestrian Influence.

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