Open Field Coursing with Borzoi

[ Prepared and Distributed As A Public Service by The Borzoi Club of America, Inc. May 1998 ]

This pamphlet is intended to provide answers to some of the questions you may have about open field coursing with your Borzoi, and provide an overview of the sport.

WHAT IS OPEN FIELD COURSING?

Open field coursing in the United States is the formal, organized, coursing of live game. The game consists of wild jackrabbits native to the areas being hunted. This is the only form of organized live coursing available to the American Borzoi owner. Open field coursing is held only in the Western states where live game coursing with dogs is legal.

WHEN DID OPEN FIELD COURSING START?

In the early part of the twentieth century ranchers in the western plains found coursing necessary to keep the number of predators, i.e. coyotes and wolves under control. Rabbits were also hunted as the large numbers were destroying crops. The first organized open field coursing in the United States was in California in 1959. This was the Pacheco Hunt and was sponsored by the Borzoi Club of California.

WHO SPONSORS HUNTS?

There are two groups that sponsor the coursing meets with local and/or breed clubs that operate under their auspices. The National Open Field Coursing Association (NOFCA) was formed in 1973 and has governed events ever since. These hunts are held mainly in alfalfa fields near Merced, California. Native to this area is the black-tailed jackrabbit. In 1987 the North America Coursing Association (NACA) was established. These hunts are centered around Medicine Bow, Wyoming, where the white-tailed jackrabbit is the quarry. Hunting here is done on cattle range.

WHAT ARE TITLE REQURIEMENTS?

The two associations are similar in their title requirements. There are two titles that may be won. The first is the CC, or Coursing Champion. To earn this title the dog must score 100 points in competition. Of these points, ten must be scored in breed competition. The dog must also attain either one first placement or two second placements. In open field coursing it is necessary that a minimum of five dogs be entered. Perhaps the most difficult part in obtaining the CC for a Borzoi is the kill requirement. The dog must score either two Assisted Kills (AK) or one Unassisted Kill (UK). A jackrabbit, either variety, is an extremely difficult quarry for a Borzoi.

The second title that an open field dog may win is the Courser of Merit (CM). Along with the other requirements the dog must score 100 points in breed competition.

At the hunts the scoring is done by a single judge who assesses the dogs' abilities in much the same way as in lure coursing. Speed, agility, and endurance are the primary attributes that are sought. The main difference in scoring points between lure coursing and open field coursing is that the lure course is a passive course. The course is pre-set and nothing the dog does can change the course. The reverse is true in the open field. By their persistence and speed, the dogs directly control what the rabbit does. So in awarding points in the field a judge will give points to a dog that causes a rabbit to turn, or goes for a take (kill), or near take. In the open field a general rule is that the winning dog is the one that did the most work on the rabbit. All hounds are evaluated under the following maximum scale of points:

Speed - 25 points
Agility - 25 points
Endurance - 25 points
Take - 10 points
Desire - 15 points
Touch - 5 points

A pre-slip or release before the "tally-ho" can bring up to a 10 point penalty.

WHAT WOULD I NEED IN ORDER TO GO TO A HUNT?

First, you will probably want a small backpack. You will need water for your dog and a container from which your dog can drink. You will want some tidbits or energy boosters to give to your dog. Bring water and a snack for yourself. You will need pink, yellow and blue coursing blankets that fit your dog. You will want a good slip lead. If your dog is a real eager beaver on lead, you might want a choke collar for when you are not on the line. Six or seven hours of hanging onto a Borzoi that is pulling you over badger holes and sagebrush can give you a very sore arm.

SAFETY AND CONDITIONING

A first class emergency kit is a must, since hunts can range for miles and accidents are likely to occur a great distance from help. Be prepared for broken bones with splints, gauze, vet wrap and wound cleaning solution. Also have on hand tweezers, hemostats, sterile sutures, needle, needle holder, scissors, cotton, cotton swabs, antibiotic cream, styptic powder, surgical adhesive Nexaband tissue glue and eye wash.

Set up a good conditioning program. This should be extensive since the dogs need to be prepared for ultimate physical stress. The types of programs for conditioning are as varied as the people who are coursing their hounds. Diet should consist of a good quality kibble. Several months before coursing season, add extra quality protein and vitamin supplements.

Exercise for stress and stamina should also be started a good two months prior to the start of coursing. You and your dog will benefit by starting slow and working up. Walk for a couple miles three or four times a week for the first week. Gradually add road working at a slow trot for two miles the same three or four times a week. Gradually increase your speed and distance so you cover five to ten miles each time. Some people recommend speed spurts of 15 miles per hour. As with human exercise, you should warm up your dog the first mile and cool down the last mile. If you have access to open land a couple free runs a month in addition is a plus. Check your dogs pads frequently.

COURSING SAFETY

Safety is an ongoing process. The importance of safely negotiating barbed wire is of utmost importance. One way is to set up a three-strand barbed wire fence section. You will need an assistant to release your dog, once you have safely crossed the fence section. Position yourself as close as possible to the bottom of the fence and call your dog. The assistant releases the dog. Do not let the dog cross between strands. Lift the lower strand and coax him under. Repeat procedure until the dog only slightly breaks his stride as he passes beneath the wire. Dogs may still get injured so be prepared. Most hunts are held on non-fenced fields but don't take a chance. Some people only course in fields they have personally checked to be fence free. Most of the time Borzoi will return at the end of the hunt. Of course, there is that exception. Before setting off on that first hunt, teaching your dog a recall (come when called) is important. Some people recommend using a whistle or game caller such as a crow call or predator call. Again, practice at home with treats for reward. If all this fails, try to think as your dog might think as your walk, call and look.

IN CONCLUSION

Open field coursing is not for everyone. While precautions are taken, injuries still occur. The risks are real. The coursing of live game is a blood sport and if you are someone who is indisposed towards this, you will not like this form of coursing. For those who are not sure, most kills are performed quite a distance away. Borzoi, as a rule, kill swiftly. You may never witness a kill, as only about one rabbit in ten is ever caught. For open field enthusiasts, there is probably not a more stirring sight than a Borzoi in full chase, in the open field, with coat flying, doing what the breed was bred to do.

COURSING TERMINOLOGY

MOVEMENT - The manner in which the pursuing hound propels himself throughout the duration of the course. This is to include, but not limited to, the double suspension gallop, carriage, stride and agility in turns and terrain other than flat level ground.

SPEED - The rate at which the hound is capable of pursuing the quarry, in relation to the terrain on which the course is being run and the types and numbers of obstacles encountered during the chase. Speed is also to include the dog's acceleration capability. (Acceleration is defined as the hound's ability to regain his maximum speed once it is reduced due to a turn or an encounter with an obstacle.)

TECHNIQUES - The differences between strategies and methods utilized by different breeds and by different hounds of the same breed. This area also will include the degrees of intelligence and cunning displayed by various members of the different breeds while engaged in a chase.

QUARRY - The game being pursued by the hounds. All references to game shall be intended to indicate the jackrabbit.

ENDURANCE - Endurance shall be discussed in terms of limits as related to hounds in top physical condition, i.e., experienced and proven open field hunters. To utilize an inexperienced or poorly conditioned dog as an example would do a grave injustice to that particular breed.

ENTHUSIASM - The eagerness and determination a hound displays while in pursuit. This is not to be confused with endurance as that is purely physical. Enthusiasm is entirely mental.

DROPPING - The act of the hound attempting to catch the quarry. A successful drop results in a kill or take; an unsuccessful drop is called a trip.

FOLLOW - The hound's ability to stay with the quarry. This is not merely speed and agility, but also includes visual contact while negotiating turns, obstacles, and difficult terrain. Another aspect of follow is the hound's persistence in attempting to re-sight after the quarry has broken visual contract.

THE GALLERY - The spectators and competitors are usually requested to form a long line and stay abreast while walking through the fields in order to help raise the game.

THE GO-BY - While a hound starts at least a full length behind another hound but still is able to pass and move ahead of the other hound.

HEDGING - The act of a hound paralleling the chase by some 5 - 20 yards in an effort to make a take during an impending turn. Despite the appearance of a 50-50 chance that the quarry will turn to his side, many hounds who are skilled at hedging have an uncanny ability to guess correctly and often do so at the rate of eight or nine times out of ten.

HUNTMASTER - The official in the hunt who sounds the release and is in charge of all hounds and their handlers.

INTERFERENCE - The intentional disruption or impeding of a hound in the course by another hound. Bumping to get at the quarry is not interference.

NO COURSE - A course that terminates prior to certain prescribed time limits; this may vary from one organization to another, usually 25 seconds. This ruling also includes any situation in which the judges deem that a hound, due to interference, did not receive the opportunity for a fair evaluation.

PRESLIP - A hound being released or breaking away from his handler prior to the huntmaster sounding the release call, "Tally-ho."

RECALL - The hound's willingness, or lack of it to return to his handler's side after the course is completed. Many judges will penalize a hound if its recall is so poor as to delay the next course.

RUNNING CUTE - This term is not be to be confused with hedging, which shows teamwork and considerable effort. Running cute is, to put it bluntly, sandbagging or laying back and letting the other hounds do most of the work. Although hounds that are prone to run cute often show great cleverness, their efforts are usually rewarded with a poor score.

THE RUNUP - The sprint from the slips to the quarry.

THE TURN - The quarry is forced to deviate from its original line of travel at an angle which must exceed 90 degrees.

THE WRENCH - The quarry leaves its original line of travel by an angle of less than 90 degrees. This move may be a forced wrench in which case points would be awarded, or if the game turns at its own discretion and not as a result of pressure from the hounds, then no points would be awarded.

APPROACH - The angles and lines of attack assumed by the hounds which converging on the quarry. The approach is very flexible in some breeds while other are extremely rigid in their style.

BENCHED - The temporary or permanent retirement from fieldwork of a hound that is either physically disabled or physically inept.

REFERENCES
HOUNDS, HARES and OTHER CREATURES, The Complete Book of Coursing, by Steve Copold, published by Don Hoflin, 4401 Zephyr St, Wheatridge CO 8033-3299.
THE COMPLETE BORZOI, Lorraine Groshans, 1981, published by Howell Book House Inc.

Pamphlet Committee, Kathleen Kapaun, Chairman. Our sincere thank you to the following contributors to this pamphlet: Gene Hill, Roger (David) Skeldon, Karen Ackerman, Lynn Green, Lita Bond.

 

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