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.