Today’s post is from guest writer Audrey Hsia. Audrey is a Greyhound enthusiast. She owns Greyhounds, Hungarian Greyhounds or Magyar Agars, and Dachshunds. Audrey’s knowledge on Greyhounds and running sports is extensive. She has been a wonderful resource to me as I have expanded my knowledge on the caring and keeping of Greyhounds. I hope you all enjoy this post as much as I did.
Open Field Coursing, or OFC as it is called by most participants, is a competitive field sport for sighthounds in which the dogs are set on live, wild jackrabbits and judged on their ability to pursue the hares. Although competitive coursing in the United States dates back to about the 1860’s, modern open field coursing originated in the 1960’s with the founding of the National Open Field Coursing Association (NOFCA). NOFCA was and remains the primary sanctioning body for open field coursing in the United States, but there are several other smaller groups organizing coursing events as well. These include the North American Coursing Association (NACA) and The Coursing Conservancy (TCC).
No matter which group is putting on the coursing meeting, the format is largely the same. OFC meetings can be either one of two types: breed stakes or mixed stakes. Breed stakes, as the name implies, are stakes where only breed is competing against itself. Mixed stakes are open to all sighthound breeds that are recognized by the sanctioning body, and dogs entered are competing against each other regardless of breed. Stakes are advertised as either breed stakes or mixed stakes prior to the running of the meeting; that way participants can choose to run their dogs only in breed stakes, only in mixed stakes, or both types as they please. In order to make a valid stake of either type, there must be at least five dogs entered to fill all of the placements.
Before the coursing meeting begins, all participants will meet at a designated location, usually a restaurant or gas station located near the field where the dogs will be running. At that point, roll call will be conducted and if the stake is large enough (15+ dogs), dogs will be divided into separate fields with separate judges. Once roll call is complete the courses are drawn into trios or braces at random. Each dog in a course is assigned a colored blanket (yellow, pink or blue), which the judge will use to identify the dogs during each course.
After all that prep work is done, everyone gets in their cars and drives out to the field. With few exceptions, the courses will be run in the order they were drawn. The course that is up is called to the front, while all the other participants line up behind to form a gallery, which will help to flush out the hares as the line moves forward.
Once a hare is raised, the huntmaster will assess whether or not all the dogs are sighted on it and/or whether or not it is likely to result in a viable course. Assuming all dogs are sighted and everything else is promising the huntmaster will yell “Tally ho!” signaling to the handlers that they may release their dogs. The judge, who is either walking alongside the gallery, or perched on top of a hill or tall vehicle will then observe the course and score the dogs on their performance. The dogs are scored using a category scoring format with each category being worth a certain amount of points. Categories include things like speed, agility, and endurance, with extra points being awarded to dogs who touch, take or attempt the take the hare. Unlike traditional English or Irish coursing, American open field coursing places a fair amount of value on dogs making kills during their courses. In fact, most if not all American OFC titles require that the dog make at least one kill during its career in order to make champion.
Preparation for open field coursing is very labor intensive for the dogs and handlers. Due to the unpredictable nature of the sport, it is imperative that the dogs be as physically fit as possible. Courses can go on for several minutes, and the hares frequently lead the dogs into terrain that can be difficult to navigate safely. As such, the best thing a handler can do to prepare a dog for open field coursing is to bring it up from a young age in preparation for the sport. This means giving their puppies ample opportunity to explore and exercise on varied terrain so that they can learn how to use their bodies safely and efficiently while they are still young and haven’t reached their peak speed. As adults, daily conditioning is essential especially if your dog is not competing on a regular basis to help maintain their fitness. Brisk walks, road work, and opportunities to gallop are all very good ways to keep a dog conditioned for open field coursing.
Besides preparing your dog physically for an OFC meeting, there are many other things you need to prepare for a day in the field. Comfortable walking shoes are a must, as OFC meetings can go from sun-up to sundown if hares are not plentiful. Depending on the terrain, you may also want to invest in chaps or gaiters to protect your legs from thorns and weeds which you may encounter while trying to flush the hares from their hiding places. Dressing in layers is also advisable, as temperatures can fluctuate throughout the day. Investing in a comfortable backpack or hunting vest is also a must, as you will need to carry plenty of water for you and your dog, as well as snacks, a first aid kit, coursing blankets, extra leashes, slip leads, and a GPS or other tracking device if you choose to use one.
Overall, Open Field Coursing is a challenging sport, but for those who make the effort it is guaranteed to be rewarding in a way that no other sighthound sport can be.
Feature photo credit: Audrey Hsia