Coursing With Finesse
By Jacqueline O’Neil
Imagine attending an all-breed coursing field trial with a name and theme, such as the Fullerton Cup (in honor of the most renowned coursing Greyhound that ever bounded across the British Isles). The site, part of a Thoroughbred horse farm, is green and well manicured. The sweet smell of grass soothes your senses. During the opening ceremony, bagpipes and drums set the mood. Club members cook barbecue or chicken with a Southern flair. The lunch break is a relaxing social event, complete with music (jazz this time) coming over the public address system. The trial ticks along like clockwork and culminates with the presentation of the stately Fullerton Cup to the Best‑in-Field winner.
What? You've been there and done that? Then you must have attended a trial that was hosted by the Southeastern Greyhound Club. This creative club hosts four trial weekends a year. Each weekend features not only a theme and a special trophy, but original methods for staying on schedule while keeping the dogs and their owners comfortable. "We try to put on something special and make every trial a nice social event, as well as a sporting activity," says SEGC president John Parker.
According to Parker, good organization and plenty of willing workers are the main ingredients to putting on a fine field trial. Add a dash of ingenuity, stir the mix and you might cook up something similar to the SEGC’s latest innovation: a paddock canopy, screened on three sides, where the hounds can cool off mentally and physically. Since they cannot see the lure, they do not get excited enough to waste energy just before their run.
A paddock that is master‑wired for sound is another SEGC creation. A club member, armed with a portable microphone, keeps things on schedule by calling up the courses. Then that member checks to make sure the dogs are waiting under the canopy and that they will be ready to run when the huntmaster calls them to the line.
Besides the Fullerton Cup, other all‑breed coursing trials offered by the SEGC include the Old Mill Stakes, which offers a cup honoring the Club's picturesque site, Old Mill Farm; the annual Run for Rescue, a trial where a portion of each entry fee is donated to Greyhound adoption efforts; and the Southern Turf Classic, which features a Kentucky Derby theme (and the entrants are invited to sip a mint julep in honor of Best in Field).
Sounds like a lot of activity for one group, doesn't it? But four coursing weekends a year represent just a fraction of what this young club accomplishes.
The Southeastern Greyhound Club was founded in 1992 by a few active Greyhound breeders. In 1996, they added coursing to their program. The club now has more than 200 members and enough willing workers to keep the trials, and several other projects, running smoothly.
How did a single‑breed club become so successful in such a short time? "By offering a variety of activities and social events," says Parker. "We try to be a multi‑interest club with a little something for every Greyhound owner."
According to Parker, the club grew tremendously when its members recruited people who had adopted retired racing Greyhounds. One such person is Billy Wright, whom Parker calls the club's "patron saint." Wright owns Old Mill Farm and he lets the club hold its events there. Most of the club members own retired racers. Many of the members serve as rescue volunteers. The charming lunches set to music (a welcome feature at every field trial) serve as fund‑raisers for Greyhound rescue. Club members who aren't involved in coursing do the cooking. The profits go to Greyhound Pets of America – Atlanta/Southeastern Greyhound Adoption.
Pet therapy is another club project. Members regularly take their dogs to nursing homes and assisted living centers. The program is expected to include children's hospitals in the near future.
Parker says SEGC’s monthly newsletter is the club's uniting force. It keeps members aware of upcoming events, acknowledges the group's workers and educates the members on a variety of dog‑related subjects.
The Greyhound Gala, the club's annual holiday party, is a dinner dance held at a hotel. Plaques of appreciation are presented to people or organizations that have helped the breed. The social aspects of club membership are not the only things emphasized at major events. Having fun and learning more about the breed are both priorities.
Monthly meetings are held in a restaurant or a country club's meeting room. These meetings include dinner, an educational program and work. It takes plenty of planning to host competitive events, and this is where most of the organizing is done.
The only thing left to do is set up the trials. For some clubs, this can be a harried and hurried affair that begins before dawn. However, that just would not fit the SEGC's style. "We usually go out to Old Mill Farm on the Friday afternoon before the trial," says Parker. "It's a good reason to leave work early, go to a beautiful place in the country and set up without rushing, while enjoying the company of fellow dog lovers."
Jacqueline 0’Neil is a regular contributor to the AKC GAZETTE and the author of several dog books. Her most recent work is All About Agility.
AKC Gazette September 1998