This is the fourth in a series of stories profiling the Class of 2010 for the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. Coming Saturday: Tim Hudson.
By KATHY GIERER
Five young members of the Midland Foxhounds Pony Club ventured all the way to Piping Rock, N.Y., in 1960 to compete in the National Pony Club rally. After the preliminary rounds, the buzz was about the early leaders.
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“Midland and whoever they are.”
Pony Club sponsor Benjamin Hurt Hardaway III swelled with pride that day as his oldest daughter, Page, and her fellow club members from the fledgling Midland club went into the heart of horse country and brought home the first-place trophy.
Hardaway, 90, is an accomplished horseman, but his lifelong passion runs with his beloved hounds. Hardaway’s successful cross-breeding of his July hounds with English hounds brought him world-wide recognition. His efforts took five years, but he developed a formula combining the strengths of both hounds to create a more efficient foxhunting animal.
Hardaway has received many honors. Saturday he will be inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame.
The Pony Club achievement sits atop Hardaway’s personal list of memorable moments.
“We were the oddities,” Hardaway said of his band of young riders. “We talked different, and we came the farthest. We walked the course that day, and I was worried to death. I’d never put my children through jumps like that before. We led after the written test. Next came the cross-country and then stadium jumping.”
As the competition progressed, the Midland riders continued to excel. “We won the whole thing,” Hardaway remembers. “When they went up to get the cup, I haven’t ever felt more pride. It was one of the highlights of my life.”
Proving ’em wrong
Hardaway’s dedication to his craft was legendary in foxhunting circles, but there were always doubters. Other regions of the country, such as Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania, had a much longer pedigree than Midland, Ga.
A young Ft. Benning soldier named Cliff Miller was one of the many hunters that Hardaway befriended. Miller hunted with Hardaway every Sunday while stationed on post. Miller’s father, Cliff Sr., lived in Virginia and was part of a group that doubted the Midland hounds could live up to the hype. He invited Hardaway and his hounds to make a road trip.
“I’d never taken my hounds to strange country,” Hardaway recalls. “We had a pretty good run. My hounds didn’t let me down. I left a good dog with the huntsmen, the steadiest in the pack. I later came to a lot of hunts in Virginia.”
Miller and company needed more proof. “He wrote me and said that two or three masters want to come visit you and see your hounds. He came down here and still wasn’t convinced. He said that no pack in America could run Turkey Mountain without running a deer. I told him my dogs would not run a deer. So we picked a date and I went back up there.”
After a long, successful hunt that finally cornered a particularly elusive fox, hunter Mike Marsh waved the white flag. “I told Mike I wanted him to get on his knees and apologize to my hounds. He said, ‘I want to apologize. Everything I heard about is the truth.’ He got down on his knees and told my hounds, ‘I believe. I believe.’ I do believe that was one of my proudest moments.”
Across the Atlantic
Also high on Hardaway’s list of memorable moments is an example of his world-wide legacy in the sport. About 15 years ago, Hardaway sent a pair of six-month old hounds to Cottesmore, a hunt in South England. The male named Elgin was renamed Hardaway by Cottesmore to honor him. In June 2009, Hardaway’s grandson, Halifax, won the Peterborough Hound Show. “It’s the biggest show in England,” Hardaway said. “Halifax was the finest looking hound I’ve ever seen.”
Hardaway’s son-in-law Mason Lampton shares his passion for the sport.
“The Cottesmore hunt has been around more than 100 years. It’s a great acceptance of Ben’s blood. Hardaway blood is now very much sought after. They’re calling for our bloodlines,” Lampton said.
“The English director of the Master Foxhounds Association awarded Ben a lifetime membership. They’ve never done that with an American.”
Aside from Hardaway’s personal memories, a scientific one is probably his greatest achievement. After being mesmerized by the cry of the hounds as a 10-year-old boy, Hardaway gradually began putting the pieces of what was to become a well-oiled breeding machine.
He began with the hounds themselves, slowly acquiring the ones best suited for foxhunting. He immediately knew that the July hounds were where he needed to focus. “They have the right disposition,” Hardaway said. “They pay attention and have the intelligence.”
Hardaway continued training and breeding his pure Julys until nature and greed derailed his plans briefly. “All of a sudden whitetail deer were brought into Georgia. It was all for money and the licenses they could sell. The deer population just exploded. Julys smelled deer. Their eyes turned red and they were gone. You can’t have a foxhunt with deer around. The hounds’ natural instinct is to run a deer.”
Up until this time, Hardaway had little use for the English hound. “They’d been bred for 300 years, but they’re less independent. They were too dependent on the huntsmen and didn’t have as much voice or enthusiasm,” Hardaway said.
But when faced with the deer influx, Hardaway decided to cross-breed the English hound and his Julys. “I was at a crossroads,” Hardaway said. “I was determined to keep as much of the July blood as I could.”
Cross-breeding wasn’t an overnight process. “After five years, I had an idea of what you could do. The formula I came up with has lasted me a long time: Five-eighths English, one-fourth July and one-eighth Penn-Merdale, another American strain.”
Hardaway’s legacy reaches three more generations. Daughters Page Flournoy, Mary-Lu Lampton, Susannah Hardaway and Ann Taylor grew up on horses. Mary Lu is married to Mason Lampton, Hardaway’s associate in both business and foxhunting.
“It’s been a constant in our lives,” Mary Lu Lampton said. “It’s something we do with the rest of the family. Following the hounds is very exciting. I started around the age of 11 and my sisters around 8.
“When my dad gave up riding, he said he didn’t think he could take it if I hadn’t gone on.”
Hardaway’s influence extends beyond his immediate family. Amy Massengale and her daughter, Amanda, have both benefitted from his guidance and generosity.
Amanda, a senior at Columbus High, began riding when she was 10. She’s now fielding offers from colleges offering equestrian scholarships.
“I went on my first hunt when I was about 10. I had to learn to respect the older members and their horses and follow the rules,” Amanda Massengale said.
Amy Massengale grew up around horses and worked around them from age 15 until she married. She currently runs the same Midland Pony Club that distinguished itself at Piping Rock 50 years ago.