Thursday, December 2, 2010

Coursing in England

I want to tell the story of an American greyhound that competed in the 2005 Waterloo Cup in England. I finally have photos and videos to accompany the post, but first I must educate you about coursing. Most greyhound and other sighthound owners have heard of lure coursing, but in England they course actual hares.

Live hares? Rabbits? My knee jerk reaction was one of disapproval. My opinion was that lures provided perfectly good coursing for greyhounds and using hares was not necessary.
However, I learned that fields were specifically set aside for hares. Normally considered a pest, hares were often shot or poisoned. Coursing enthusiast themselves, farmers or estate owners would protect hares for coursing clubs. They accepted the damage the hares would do to crops and even planted winter cereals for the hares to use for food and shelter during the colder months.

The coursing fields are familiar to the hares and are lined with tall grass or scrub brush that provide the escape for 90% of the hares. Sir Mark Prescott, who is the dean of the British coursing community, said "We take care of the hares year 'round -- we protect them from the gun, poachers, poisons, and disease, we plant crops sympathetically to them, and all we ask of them is that they run like smoke once or twice during the coursing season, with a 90% chance that they will escape unharmed."

The greyhounds run in braces (pairs) and are slipped (turned loose) by a professional slipper. It is the slipper’s job to make sure the hare is in good physical condition as he passes the blind and ensures the hare has an adequate lead of 100 yards. Each hound wears a red or white collar and the judge, on horseback, raises a red or white handkerchief to signal the winner. The winner moves on to the next round. The judging is based on awarding points to the dog that wins the run up (the race to the hare)and then for turning the hare. Unlike a lure, the hare changes direction based on the position of the greyhounds. No additional merits are awarded to a greyhound that catches a hare. Everyone wants the hare to escape… except maybe the greyhounds.

Unfortunately, the Waterloo Cup, around since 1836, has been a target for animal rights activists for many years and they finally succeeded in passing a ban on hunting that took effect February 2005. While I understand animal rights activists wanting to protect the hare, the ban has had the opposite effect. Once respected and taken care of, the hare is now shot and poisoned by the thousands.

Please enjoy the following videos of greyhounds demonstrating their original purpose. I promise not to post any videos of any courses resulting in a hare being caught.

Do you remember Basso Profundo from my Greyhound Downs 101 (Click Here)? He was the winner of the 2005 Waterloo Plate and 3 other stakes in his rookie year. Basso ran 16 courses that year and won 15 of them. He was imported to the United States in 2006 and lives on the farm I sometimes spend the weekend at. Here are some of his runs from the 2005 Waterloo Cup. He is the white and black greyhound.

Do you remember Hardy Admiral from my Greyhound Sits 101 (Click Here)? Admiral was the runner-up in the 2005 Waterloo Cup and won the Roecliffe Invitation Stake. He ran 19 courses and won 15 of them. An interesting fact is that, other than the Waterloo Cup winner (Shashi) Admiral's littermates were the only other greyhounds to defeat him in coursing. That is one heck of a litter! Here are some of his runs from the 2005 Waterloo Cup. He is the black dog.

You may not approve of coursing and that is okay. I am not debating the subject. I simply wanted to give you some background before telling the story about Evie, the American greyhound.

Videos courtsey of Michael Ferris and Karen Frederick.


Robin Sallie said...

There are at least two American organizations that use live hares.

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Yes, that is correct. I do prefer the English and Irish varieties that I am familiar with (not sure if there are other forms) because I do like the emphasis on providing the hare with an escape.

John said...

Jen, American coursing is similar to the open coursing in England in that the Western jackrabbits (which are actually also hares) that are coursed in the open land that is their natural habitat, and they have escape options just as the brown hares in England do. The American coursing folks don't keep as detailed statistics on escaped hares as the Brits do, but it is believed that the American jackrabbits escape as often as the British hares do -- about 90%.
Thanks for putting so much work into this series. Coursing under rules is something that every Greyhound owner should be educated about -- it's what brought the Greyhound breed down the centuries to us. Had there been no coursing Greyhounds, there never would have been racing Greyhounds (or show Greyhounds for that matter).

Lauren said...

Nice photos and description!

I'm one of those who has mixed feelings here. If the hare is protected in every way possible (ie: the slipper ensuring that the hare has the 100 yards head-start, or ensuring that it has a means of escape,) then I think this is quite the intriguing sport.

If the hare, though, is destined to fail, then I just can't support this.

On a side note, I think Bernie would go NUTS here. He would love this!!!

One of my favorite movies, Snatch, has a scene in which they do hare coursing in England. In the movie, the hare escapes :-P

jcp said...

Nice informative article. It is an interesting dilemma. I think it is generally true that animals that 'partner' with humans (ie serve some human purpose) are more successful from both an evolutionary standpoint and from a quality of life standpoint. I think it is safe to say that dogs live longer, have a higher quality of life and more success as a species than their non-domesticated canine cousins. Although the lifespan of a cow may be shorter as an agricultural animal, they are certainly more genetically successful then they would be in the wild and I would think healthier.
In some ways it is almost ironic that we debate at all the morality of raising hares for coursing and whether they have any opportunity for escape. The cows and chickens and farm raised fish used in dog and human food have no opportunity of escape. If humans were to step out of the animal equation all together wouldn't we have a few flee bitten dogs running through the fields chasing hares to a wild and violent death. On the other hand, since we are in the equation, what duties do we have to the animals we partner with to ensure their deaths are humane and not violent and wild?
It is an interesting topic with no really easy answers IMO.

agilesiberian said...

maybe this is a stupid question, but as a fancier of dogs bred to run away from me at top speed and not come back (aka Siberians), I'm wondering how you catch the dogs at the end?

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

The greyhounds generally just stop after the hare disappears and someone runs out to get them.

Elaine Summerhill said...

Thanks Jen for posting these videos. There are some differences between the American coursing of hares and the English coursing of hares. However, I would say that the capture rates are about the same with 1 hare in 10 being caught by the hounds. As in England, the hares run on their home grounds and they know where they can escape the pursuing hounds. They are not running mindlessly in a blind panic. I've seen them hug fence lines, using the fences to elude the hounds. I've seen them dive under structures in the field that the dogs cannot get under. I've seen them stop running and as the dogs blow by, the hare sneaks off in a different direction and the hounds never see them.

I feel I need to correct what may be a misconception. All hares that are coursed in either England or the US are WILD animals in their natural habitat. They have not been domesticated and they are not "raised" for coursing. What the landowners in England provide is the cover in which they live and escape predators (fox, etc.).

jcp said...

Thanks for the followup Elaine. I'm learning a lot from this post! Good Topic Jen.

Katie said...

I have to admit that watching the videos made me a little uncomfortable. Elaine's comment about the hares not necessarily being as stressed as I thought they must be did make me feel somewhat better.

But watching those hounds do what they were designed to do was something special.

Elizabeth said...

Is there anything better than watching a dog do what it's bred for? We get the same animal rights issues with earthdog. I think it's strange to ban such things when hunting isn't banned. I mean what if you were using Greyhounds on your own property in a natural hunting scenario? Maybe they should just make stew out of the rabbits that are caught. Then everyone is happy.

houndstooth said...

I've seen some amazing videos of hare coursing before and I admit, I think it would be fun to see it live just once in my life. I am really curious to see where this series of posts will lead now!

jet said...

I've seen the Irish coursing with whippets, the dogs are muzzled so the hare has more like a 99.5% chance of escape. Greyhounds can kill even while muzzled but it would increase the odds of the hare surviving.

We don't have hares in Australia as far as I know, only bunnies, who are significantly slower by the looks of it!

John said...

Just to follow up on some of the comments -- all of which were good, I thought -- I want to echo what Elaine has said about the hares. I have traveled to England and Ireland to watch coursing since 1998, and have seen probably a couple of thousand courses, most of it the open coursing of England. The hares are marvelous creatures, and I can attest that they sure don't have the look of blind panic or being "terrified", which is the favorite usage of the animal rights folks. The hares evade predators (foxes, hawks, etc.) almost every day of their lives, and calculating evasion is second nature to them. Nature has given them the ability to see almost completely behind their bodies when they're running, and it's fascinating to watch them accelerate as the Greyhounds get closer to them. They are far more agile than the Greyhounds and have more stamina, and it's not at all unusual to see them still running strong when the Greyhounds are slowing to a trot. Coursing under rules is definitely "fair chase," to use an old sporting term, and it is truly thrilling to watch the contest between the hares and the Greyhounds. No artificial lure can test the athletic abilities of a Greyhound like a hare can.
The few hares that are killed are put in a game pouch, and at the end of the day the gamekeeper may either keep them or give them to the other staff members who have helped with the day's meeting. They are either cooked for the people or fed to the dogs -- it's considered proper respect for the game.
Coursing was definitely a good deal for the hares, and it's sad to think of the thousands of them that were once protected that have been shot or poisoned as crop pests since coursing was banned in England.
Stay tuned -- you're gonna love the story of Evie, the American Greyhound who ran in the Waterloo Cup.

Charlie and Sheila Blanning said...

It's good to see a complicated sport explained so well. Jet, you do have hares in Australia. Until the mid-1960's coursing was an important sport in Victoria. It continued in South Australia until quite recently. If the hares have disappeared since coursing ceased, it proves a point.

Yvonne said...

Excellent stuff Jen..

great photos

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Great comments everyone. Love the additional information from our expert readers. Thank you. Part 1 comes out on Sunday.

John said...

The most "expert reader" we have -- and it's great that he tuned in -- is Charlie Blanning. Charlie has been coursing most of his life, was the Keeper of the Greyhound Stud Book before he retired a few years ago, and knows as much about coursing as anyone alive today. He writes wonderfully about Greyhounds and coursing, and perhaps if we're lucky he'll chime in with some behind-the-scenes stories on how Evie came to be invited to run in the Waterloo Cup.

Honey the Great Dane said...

First - thank you so much for coming over to visit Honey's blog and leaving such a nice comment!

I am so impressed with what you've done with your greyhounds. I have great respect & admiration for people who go against the stereotype and are dedicated enough to show that any dog no matter what size, shape or breed, is capable of anything, if you put in the time & effort to train them. That was what frustrated me so much when I first got Honey and kept being told by everyone that you can't train Danes to do anything, other than as 'beauty queens' for show or couch potatoes!

By the way, while we're on the subject - it's not true that Greyhounds can't sit, is it? A friend was telling me yesterday that one of the instructors at the RSPCA training school here was saying that! I couldn't believe it. It's just a stupid myth & misconception, isn't it? Greyhounds can be trained to sit, can't they?

Very interesting post about coursing. While I don't like the idea of hunting animals for sport in general, I do think that when organised as you've described, it is actually reasonable and no more different than the hare's chances to survive in the wild. I also think it's a bit hypocritical considering all the awful things that Man has done himself to animals in the wild, in the name of sport or selfish gain - humans have done far more damage in worse ways!

Hsin-Yi (& Honey the Great Dane)

gyeong said...

Like many people, I have mixed feelings, but if it's as described, it sounds fair for all, and probably very exciting to watch.

Yvonne said...

Your Blog is so glad all your followers can see the benifit that coursing brings to the hare population.

Sadly over here the "antis" get the press and the tale told is very one sided.(Ireland)

Its been banned in England now and the hare numbers have plumeted.

You are most certainly welcome to any pictures I have on my blog and my smugmug site............spread the word how wonderful the greyhpound is!

ps....I love the way your followers talk to you...........wish mine would!

John said...

Yvonne, great to see you on here also -- your Greyhound and coursing photography is wonderful (those are Yvonne's still shots on Jen's first installment). No one tells the story of the coursers' respect and concern for the hares better than you, through word and picture and video. Yvonne's blog can be seen at for those who want to learn more about the park (enclosed, with escapes for the hares) coursing they do in Ireland. There are also some open coursing photographs on her blog.

Yvonne said...

Thats very kind of you to say that John

I must admit to a prference to Park Coursing....I prefer to have the hounds muzzled.

The one thing that runs through the whole of Irish Coursing is the love of the Irish Hare.........There is always a support for every hare to make his escape. and all clubs take great pride in the care of hares and their safe release back into the wild

cindi said...

Yes, to be very clear, as I'm sure everyone is realizing - the hares [or jackrabbits here in the US] are wild. They're not the cute fluffy little house pets many are familiar with.

It's also not an easy sport at all. I'm sure John & Elaine & Charles will agree - the chances of a dog actually catching a hare/jack are *very* slim. They're whole goal is to avoid predators! And in case where a hare is caught, it is quite a quick death. [Though unless you're generally used to deer hunting or something similar, it's still quite shocking to see IMO.]

For agilesiberian - In the US, the dogs are generally trained to come back after they're done running. In the UK, the owners have people help retrieve the dogs after they're done.

Sam said...

Loved it. Watching a dog do what it has been bred to do (over thousands of years) is always a thrill to me. Sight hounds flying, scent hounds baying, sleddogs pulling, herding dogs, well, herding.

We will never stop or silence the 'antis', nor should we. Freedom of speech is fundamental. Fortunately, most people still have a tablespoon full of common sense and still appreciate real dogs doing real jobs.

Thanks, Jen

greytblackdog said...

Seriously - look at the eyes on those dogs in the pics. They are so engaged and locked in on that hare. What an amazing sight to see dogs do what the breed was meant to do.

Elaine Summerhill said...

@ Honey the Great Dane - I'm surprised no one has answered your question re: Greyhounds & sitting.

Yes, they can sit and they sit very nicely.

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Elaine, I did answer the sit question on Honey's blog. I figured all the regulars here knew. :-)

jimmy monk said...

It was poetry when Shashi picked up the hare on the final course in 2005.