What great progress we have made over these last few years in spreading the word about the Junior North American Field Hunter Championship! The list of participating hunts now reaches from coast-to-coast. And the list will surely continue to grow. This is especially encouraging as a major purpose of the JNAFHC is to impress upon young people the importance of land conservation—a mission we must all support to assure there will still be open countryside for coming generations to enjoy.
While the increasing enthusiasm for the JNAFHC is truly rewarding, it’s good to pause once in a while and remind ourselves why this program was started, what its goals are, and how those goals are achieved.
The original impetus was to provide a way for juniors to enjoy foxhunting, develop their skills, and, in the long run, help assure the future of this wonderful sport. That last point has far-reaching merit because today’s junior foxhunters will be tomorrow’s leaders in the ongoing effort to preserve our farmland and countryside. The JNAFHC organization strives to work with hunts across the United States to bring juniors together to achieve these goals and demonstrate how much these young people are valued among the hunting community. This entails organizing Qualifying Meets on regular hunting days to select the juniors who will move on to the Championship. The yearly Championship is an opportunity for juniors to meet other foxhunting kids from across the country and make what for many will be lifelong friendships. It’s also a time for the juniors to hunt, party, enjoy other fun activities, and compete to become the top field hunter team.
The Hunt Qualifying Meets feature four divisions: the Jumping Field, with separate divisions for 14 & Over and 13 & Under, and the Hilltopper Division, with separate divisions for 11 & Over and 10 & Under. Judges ride in the hunt field and observe the juniors. The judges are looking first and foremost for good foxhunting pairs of horse or pony and rider. Other things that factor into the judges’ assessment are: a clean, neat, and tidy horse or pony; a well-groomed rider; a safe rider; a rider who is having fun and enjoying foxhunting, and a rider who makes good hunting decisions.
On that last point, a wide range of issues, often unexpected, can come up during a hunting day. So the juniors may have the opportunity to deal with a variety of obstacles and challenges and the judges may then assess how a junior handles these situations. Proper manners are, of course, always important. For example, a junior may volunteer to wait with an adult rider who opens or closes a gate. A junior may offer to assist another rider who is having trouble with a horse or pony. Tack failures, lost shoes, unplanned dismounts—as we all know, there is no such thing as a “typical” hunting day and the judges must take many factors into account, most which can’t be easily quantified, when making their selection.
At the end of the Hunt Meet, the judges get together and talk about which juniors they believe should qualify for the Championship. Sometimes it will be all of the juniors that are having a great day. Sometimes there will be a junior, or the junior’s mount, that the judges feel had an off day. Wherever possible, we try to set up other Hunt Qualifiers in the same area so that the juniors not selected on one day can try again on another day. Ideally, we’d like to see every junior come to the Championship. Sometimes though, they just need another year of time in the hunt field. And that further points to the importance of maintaining this valuable program year after year, as long as there are still juniors who want to hunt!
Once the judges have made their decisions, they will announce which juniors have qualified and present them with JNAFHC rosettes, which they can wear on their jackets. Those selected may continue to hunt at Qualifying Meets—we encourage them to hunt as much as possible—and the rosette shows that the junior has already qualified and is not being judged. The judges also talk about the good, positive things they saw happening that day. They may also talk about things they would like the juniors to be aware of, to work on, etc. As knowledgeable participants in the sport themselves, the judges can further strengthen the juniors’ growing knowledge of foxhunting. And then there’s a tailgate and time to talk about the fun day!
As the season with hunt meets progresses, we reach the time for the Championship. The Championship is a weekend time of fun and companionship. Those able to arrive on Friday get together that evening for a snack. Saturday is Championship Day. Saturday night there’s a party with dancing, a horn blowing contest, a whip cracking contest and more time for foxhunting kids – and their families – to mingle and get to know each other. On Sunday, those who would like to hunt with the host hunt are invited to do so.
On Championship Day, Saturday, the action starts at 9:00 am with a Hack Class, set up in an open field with the judges in the center as their Division of riders ride around them. They are asked to walk, trot, canter, and halt—both directions. This gives the judges a chance to see their foxhunting pairs in action under controlled conditions. This is not a “horse show” in the conventional sense. Rather, it’s intended to determine how well-suited riders and their mounts are for the hunt field. So, for example, something like a wrong canter lead will not affect a child’s position in the Championship rankings.
Once the judges have had a good look at their field of riders and the juniors have had a little warm up, the Mock Hunt begins. The judges also ride in the Mock Hunt to evaluate their riders. There are four Mock Hunts, one for each division with four Field Masters. When the Mock Hunt finishes, the juniors and their horses or ponies go back to their trailers for a little cool down while the judges meet to choose their Top 10. Once the Top 10 list is announced, they begin their Final Test, similar to a Handy Hunter course.
At the conclusion of each Division’s Final Test, the Champion and Reserve Champion will be awarded trophies and awards.
Many of the juniors who participate in the JNAFHC are also involved in local Pony Clubs and participate in various shows and other activities. But the JNAFHC serves a unique purpose as it is dedicated solely to the skills required for the foxhunting field. This poses some challenges not faced by those competing and judging in the conventional show ring. But the expansive interest in this highly valuable program—which continues to grow every year—is testimony to its merits and fuels our commitment to remain true to the founding objectives.
We can’t thank you enough for your continued support and we look forward to many more years of rewarding results, both now and well into the future, through the benefits the JNAFHC brings to our foxhunting community.