Reprint Updated 11/99

What is it and How to Get Ready, Set And

AUTHOR: Dixie Howell-Hirsch

    Three muscular athletes dressed in yellow, pink and blue colors strain at the starting line with obvious enthusiasm for the start. The signal is given and they are off and running! Around the first corner of the 750 yard broken-line course, the yellow jersey is ahead, blue pulls astride. A bit further on yellow wavers from the course, pink then sweeps past blue. The chorus of shouting is deafening. Into the far corner it is blue again taking the lead by cutting a corner. Spectators are encouraging their favorite in a subdued roar as yellow cuts across the field to intercept the other two and now leads both runners. The straightaway is ahead, all three runners are now neck-and-neck, but yellow is fading. Pink pulls a stride ahead of blue, but blue, in a burst of speed, lunges for the finish line.
    Did blue win? Or yellow? Or pink? Certainly if we scored these athletes according to who reached the finish line first, then blue was the winner, but consider this: these are lure coursing sighthounds, canine athletes. There are many aspects in scoring lure coursing, not just who gets there first. These are broken down in five categories--speed, agility, follow, endurance and enthusiasm/overall ability. The judges must not only assess a value for being first to the finish line, but how did the hound get there? Did the hound cut all the corners or run up the middle of the field to intercept the lure or did the hound follow the lure on every curve and straightaway?
    Pink was the winner. Why? Look again at our scenario. Blue led out but cut a corner to keep up with pink, yellow cut the corners, and pink passed blue twice, even after blue cut the corner. Blue had more speed at the end therefore was not running at his top speed over the whole course. Yellow did not run the entire course. Pink had the speed to pass blue during the mid-course, on the straight and more than likely would have finished ahead but pink was beginning to make the stop since he was ahead. Blue took the lead because he was 2nd place coming in and had to use the speed burst to grab the "prey<" first. Pink ran the entire course with good follow, speed, agility and endurance. Blue did not use his power and speed till the last push. Yellow was off-course most of the way. Thus, Pink wins.
    This short introduction to lure coursing is intended to get you interested in participating with your sighthound in this exciting sport. There are some definitions which will make the following dialog more understandable. Trial: The actual event. Collar: A special release collar. Blanket or Color: The yellow, pink, or blue colored jackets worn by the sighthound in each run to facilitate judging. Stake: The Class--Open, Field Champion, Veteran, or Miscellaneous. Course Plan: The layout for the hounds to run. A Course: The one-, two-, or three-hound run within a breed. Lure: The plastic baggie on the line. Draw Slip: This gives the hound's name, the stake, the course number and the color for a run. [We also suggest you read the in-depth Glossary for more insight into this sport.]
    Lure Coursing is not a live game or gun sport. The object used for prey, or lure, is generally a white plastic bag tied to a 200-pound tensile strength string and could have strips of rabbit fur entwined with the bag. It is driven by specially-designed equipment consisting of car batteries, a car starter and hand-held throttle which causes the lure to travel through specially designed, low profile pulleys spaced at irregular intervals in a broken oval shape usually from 600 yards to 1200 yards in length. The course plan is designed for the maximum safety of all the sighthounds and their running styles which includes the Whippet and Greyhound who can gain speeds over 35 miles an hour to the slower Irish Wolfhound and Basenji, therefore the turns must not be so severe to cause shoulder injury to the faster sighthound nor so casual that it would not be an approximation of actual hunting.
    Many canines of ancient times were domesticated for use as hunters to aid in providing food and pelts for their humans. Each breed had a specific function and purpose. The sighthounds hunted by sight, watching for movement which set them on the trail of a fleeing prey. The sighthounds of today (Afghan, Basenji, Borzoi, Greyhound, Ibizan Hound, Irish Wolfhound, Pharaoh Hound, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Saluki, Scottish Deerhound, and Whippet, and recently added, the Italian Greyhound) have not had the opportunities nor needs of their ancient kin to hunt but have the sport of Lure Coursing to keep the instinct alive for future generations. The hunting instinct is as important in a breeding program of the sighthound as is the symmetry of body, temperament and intelligence. A breeder would just be breeding a family pet outside of The Standard for the breed without all four ingredients as the breed Standards have always included functionality as basic to the breed. These four ingredients keep the sighthound functional and true to the purpose of their origins.
    To hunt, a sighthound must have the speed to keep up with their prey, the agility to turn with the prey, the enthusiasm and keenness to follow the prey, and the endurance to wear the prey to ground. Most sighthounds are pack hunters and work in concert to exhaust, corner and kill. A point score for the "kill" in lure coursing can sometimes make the difference between one sighthound placing higher than another. This is optional with each judge. To make this a competitive sport, the originators took these attributes and devised a point structure to give the spectators more excitement. The hounds have not an iota of interest in anything other than catching that "prey", so the addition of enthusiasm completed the list of aspects for scoring.
    Lure Coursing was devised over 25 years ago by some very enthusiastic individuals to stimulate the natural instincts of the sighthounds and simulate actual field hunting. They created an organization called the American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) and developed a set of rules and regulations for guidance. It has taken years to refine the sport to its present-day, action-packed one, where safety of the sighthound is paramount. Currently, the ASFA rules do not allow for other than registered dogs, which can be registered with breed organizations other than AKC. There is a Miscellaneous class for sighthounds not recognized by AKC and it is divided for sighthounds Under 14 inches and Over 14 inches. Your sighthound can run in its class, will be awarded a ribbon, but no points will be maintained by ASFA for your breed, and these entries are not eligible for the Best In Field competition. Occasionally, a club will offer Any Other Breed Fun Runs following a sanctioned pointed event. You may want to check with the clubs in your area for this possibility if you do not own a sighthound.
    The American Kennel Club (AKC) inaugurated its own program in 1990 and has continued to improve the performance aspects of the events they sanction. They do not allow any breeds other than the listed sighthounds to compete. The AKC is now proposing that all conformation clubs hold performance events such as Lure Coursing at their conformation shows as a requisite for renewal. With two organizations offering titles, more and more sighthounds can become involved--the retired track greyhound without AKC registration can continue to run with the ASFA for a field title while acquiring an Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP, Link here for information) number from AKC. The AKC registered sighthounds can do both automatically.
    STOP! Do not even consider running your sighthound without a good conditioning program! You can test your sighthound at home for the coursing instinct by tying a white garbage baggie on a string to a long pole or fishing rod and cast it out for the sighthound to pounce on. Sweep it away on ground level and make a full circle around yourself while the sighthound chases the moving baggie. You'll get creative once the hound starts showing interest and enthusiasm. Do not try to bicycle with a baggie dragging behind you. One or both of you could be hurt if your hound catches it.
    Now that you know your sighthound is interested, you will need to prepare your sighthound for lure coursing just as you would if you were personally planning to run in a marathon. A puppy or older sighthound can be walked short distances and each week that distance can be increased. The puppy cannot course until age 12 months for both organizations, however, ASFA does allow that an 11-month-old can be certified for coursing. Your older sighthound's age must be taken into consideration as well. A Veteran class is sometimes offered wherein the hound would run alone, at its own pace and would be awarded a ribbon based on its performance. No points or further competition are available in this class, but it does give your hound the opportunity to have some exercise and a day in the park with you. We do suggest that a sighthound who is competing on a regular basis of once a month or more should have a higher protein food and more than the usual walk around the block to keep in shape. This is a sport of "heart" and your sighthound could over-run itself simply on that heart if you do not keep to your conditioning regimen for him/her. Just remember that the sighthound is running for the shear love of it and does not even care whether he/she gets a ribbon or a placement or a trophy or even a title. You are responsible for your hound's welfare and you must make the decisions for the hound. The Club will inspect your sighthound at Roll Call before the trial and will not allow the sighthound to run if it shows lameness; they cannot make a judgement on its conditioning. The inspection committee is required to check every hound for breed disqualifications, whether a female is in heat (not acceptable) and if the hound is moving soundly. Should a hound not meet these basic criteria, it is excused from the day's trial. You will need to contact several clubs in your area to get on their mailing lists. You can get a schedule of practices to attend before you actually get involved in a sanctioned event. Your hound may not pay any attention to the action on the field, but this is not unusual, so persevere. Clubs usually hold certification runs (ASFA) and practices following an event. You will want to take your sighthound to a trial or two just as an observer to watch his/her reaction and for you to get some indoctrination on the flow of things and the individual coursing equipment which the club may or may not provide, such as colored blankets or release collars to loan. We do not advise that you purchase either the blankets or the collars until you are sure your hound will run and that you will want to devote the time to keeping your hound in condition plus the time to attend the trial events. You can offer to help at a trial which will give you first-hand knowledge of what makes the trial run.
    Some of the trial assignments are quite simple for the novice and your assistance could be greatly appreciated. You can be a "runner"; this person goes out to the judges and picks up the judging sheets for the Trial Clerk or Trial Secretary. You can be the one who double checks the judge's addition on the judging sheets. You can offer to sell the raffle tickets, if the Club is sponsoring a raffle. You can help the Trophy Chairman set out ,and later hand out, the trophies. You can offer to post the scores for the Trial Secretary. You can offer to distribute the draw slips to the participants. Mostly, you should observe the various things that club members are doing at a trial. Someday you may feel confident enough to offer to do the more detailed assignments. Always ask questions. Do not hesitate to ask even a question which may seem dumb to you. We all had to learn, and experience is still the best teacher. Introduce yourself. Ask for advice and get friendly with as many on the field side as you can.
    A Trial is an all-day commitment. You will probably have to bring your own lunch and beverage (sometimes a Club will offer a luncheon at a small fee) and definitely you will want 1 to 5 gallons of water and hound's water dish, a shade cloth or awning, a chair and some type of confinement for your hound so you can wander around occasionally without your hound Many participants use X-pens; some use wire crates for confinement. Never close your hound in the vehicle even on the cool days. We would rather you kept the hound on a short leash all day, wherever you went, than to have him/her languish, alone, cooped in the car. Trials are held in relatively primitive, rustic sites and restrooms are fairly hard to find or non-existent! Be prepared to really "rough" it behind a bush. The sport of Lure Coursing is not a hoity-toity activity and is not for the physically squeamish. Some participants are totally committed to making and breaking records and earning titles; some participants take their hounds out just for the fun of it. It is up to you what you get from this activity. We know the hounds love it! Your hound will have more fun than you will!
    There are rules and regulations booklets available from both ASFA (as of 11/99: D. Scanlan, 1517 Virginia Ave., Rockford, IL 61101-4258,; $4.00 each/no phone orders; also, request Regional Director List for local contact) or from AKC (5580 Centerview Dr., Suite 209, Raleigh, NC 27606; one copy free) Rules & Regulations for Lure Coursing. It is necessary to acquire them if you are considering getting involved in the sport. These booklets provide all the details for getting the most out of your involvement.
    Be safe. Be sane. Have fun. Lure coursing is a great chase for the hounds...and a fun choice for the owners.




Dixie Hirsch ... P.O. Box 777 ... Silverado, CA 92676-0777
Phone/FAX: (714) 649-2770

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