Buck Smith’s Option
Part Twelve

By Tom Word

    Headstrong hunted out his hour boldly, showing at good places, far enough ahead, on course, and searching, not just running. When they neared the bear-trap segment after the last road crossing, Kyle and Buck dreaded the opportunities for Headstrong to disconnect in the last miserable segment of difficult country. But somehow Headstrong made it though the ten minutes of misery and showed again at the creek; then he rimmed the bean field beyond. With a nod from the judges, Buck rode ahead of them to be able to take charge of Headstrong before he reached the dual lane highway approaching the nuclear plant entrance. Then time was up. Another hour as good tomorrow and Headstrong should make the callback to the two-hour finals. Little had been seen of the bracemate.
A half dozen trucks and horse trailers were gathered by the checkpoint leading into the plant. The judges dismounted and walked into the trees to relieve themselves of morning coffee, and so did many in the gallery of fifty riders and Kyle, Buck and Hardie, who asked,

    “How did he do?” Buck said,

     “ A good job. Another as good tomorrow and he’ll get called back.” Kyle nodded agreement.

    “He ran the kind of race they like here. Wide and independent, true all-age. He never came in from behind, never came back from the front to hit me in the face, laid out there searchin’. I liked it.”

    Hardie Dillard was still a novice, but during his time riding workouts with his dog, Kyle and Buck had given him the basics, so he could take in the essence of Kyle’s cryptic description. Kyle watered Headstrong and put him in a compartment in the dog trailer.

    “Let’s get ‘em on the line,” John Russell bellowed at the nodded suggestion of the senior judge.

     Two white pointers,which appeared identical to Hardie Dillard, were led by their scouts to a gap in trees that was the start of the second morning course.

    “Let ‘em go,” said the senior judge, and the dogs sprinted up the hill through the opening and into open country marked by tree lines separating bean fields just harvested.

    Kyle, Buck, and Hardie rode together at the rear of the gallery. Hardie peppered the handlers with questions about the course, the dogs down and their handlers, the judges. He was obviously into the sport. Buck hoped it would not be a short-lived enthusiasm. He had seen many new owners become wildly enthusiastic, only to lose interest completely after a few disappointing performances. But Dillard seemed to him most likely a stayer—he was fascinated by the game overall and its disparate characters, human, canine, equine, and not just by his own dog.

    Gallery riders made it a point to ride up and introduce themselves to Dillard and congratulate him on Headstrong’s performance, which made him feel good. His new roan also drew compliments. Other mounts in the gallery spanned the gamut in quality, everything from fly-bitten ponies ridden by small children to shiny show horses ridden by stylish ladies with the hair piled up beneath riding helmets and their dainty feet in high boots like those Dillard had often seen at the foxhunting clubs in Northern Virginia and elsewhere in the fashionable patches of the east. Hardie somehow liked this eclectic crowd better than the look-alike high-toned set around foxhunting enclaves. The riders here were from every walk of life, farmers, blue collar tradesmen and craftsmen, entrepreneurs, college professors, doctors, lawyers, you name it. All they had in common was a love of big running bird dogs and smooth striding saddle horses and unpretentious fun.
As the filed-trial party descended into the flatlands of the second morning course, with its big bean fields surrounded by patches of hardwoods, Buck thought of all the great performances he’d seen here over the years. Most memorable were the three years in a row when House’s Rain Cloud dominated the competition, with rawboned Mike Mathey handling and Joe Don House, Cloud’s breeder, scouting. Mike fished for catfish in the Tennessee River when he was not working dogs—not a sports fisherman, but a commercial one, putting out thousands of hooks tied to floating bottles each fishing day, then retracing his route in his outboard to retrieve the catch.

To be continued in Part Thirteen.