Report by Lisa Littell
1st: Rook, Braden Renfroe, handler, 2nd: Bell, Ella Grace Montgomery, handler, 3rd: Red, Addison McDuffie, handler
The Shenandoah Youth Trial, historically one of the largest in Alabama, drew 20 entries for the one-day continuous course trial held on March 13, 2021. The Shenandoah trial is the most recent iteration of the longest consecutively run youth trial in the United States. Previously known as the Fitzpatrick and Cross-Keys Youth trial, the trial began running on Shenandoah Plantation several years ago, and with Dr. John Reardon’s graciousness in sharing his beautiful land and resources, these kids don’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon. With growing interest in the sport, sponsorship has risen to new heights to include, Purina, Sport Dog, Chris Sellers, Hunt Smith Clothing, Ronnie Smith Kennels, 5 Star Equine, Craig Phillips-Phillips Feed and Seed, Pike Road Feed Lot and Jack and Fran Miller, among others. A catered lunch from Chappy’s Deli was provided by Shenandoah Plantation and Bradley Plumbing. Thank you to all the sponsors and volunteers, and please support them whenever possible, so we can continue to run these special trials.
It was a bluebird morning with temperatures already on the rise by the 10:00 am breakaway, and it started out with a bang with Sterling Woodruff and Tripp Whatley calling point at 3 for both dogs. Whatley ran a classy setter female, Jill, and suffered an unproductive after a wholehearted relocation effort. Sterling, who travelled all the way from Shelbyville, TN for this, his first trial, was running pointer female B, who found the birds after relocation. Sterling’s mount was his slick champion show pony, Shiny, and his father Woody was scouting. Whatley is the nephew of Allison Hendley Whatley. Allison was Alabama Youth Handler of the Year for the 2003-2004 season. Tripp’s mentor Darren Hendley scouted the dog with pride. After a solid race, both dogs were hunting hard and finished in Short Orchard Bottom.
The Second Brace was pointer male, Jack, with Reese Green, scouted by her father Justin. Reese is the granddaughter of Mike and Jan Green, owners of the Greenway Sportsman Club. The Green family, Union Springs natives, are long-time supporters of field trials. Jane, a pointer female, was handled by Claire Street. Claire was aided by her father Bucky. Green called point at Edwin Hill, and despite a pro-level relocation effort ultimately suffered an unproductive. Both dogs hunted hard and took the edges in style. The young handlers handled their dogs with volume and vigor, and they finished strong at Pheasant Hill.
Braden Renfroe and Addison McDuffie were on the line for Brace Three, turning loose at Pheasant Tower. Braden, with his father Gabe scouting, expertly handled Bud, a pointer male. McDuffie put down the stylish pointer, Red, who scored a picture-perfect find after a relocation at 2, with her bracemate duly honoring. Both dogs finished strong at the dove field.
Braden is the 2019-2020 Alabama Youth Handler of the Year, and he is the grandson of old guard field trialer Joe Hicks and the great grandson of Pete Hicks. He is also the brother-in-law of Billy Kerr of the legendary Tracy/Eisenhart field trial dynasty.
Addison, daughter of veteran field trialers Hunter and Mindy McDuffie of Cecil, AL has been field trialing since she could sit upright in a saddle, and not only was she the youngest recipient at age 6, she has won the Alabama Youth Handler of the Year award a record four times. This impressive young lady has been a formidable opponent to those twice her age, and three times her size. She made her National Free-For-All Championship debut last month, and despite an impressive and exciting performance, it was her father Hunter, who ultimately took the cup. Go Team Cecil!
Ella Grace Montgomery and Katie Belle Varner were up next in the Fourth Brace with Montgomery, handling Rose, a classy pointer female and Varner handling Rex, a powerful pointer male. With a strong finish at the Lake Lodge, both entrants ultimately went without bird work.
Ella Grace, the 2015-2016 Alabama Youth Handler of the Year winner was assisted by her dedicated father, Todd Montgomery. Ella Grace’s devoted aunt Robbie Montgomery was riding in the gallery cheering on Team Aberfoil!
Katie Belle, is the latest field trialer to emerge from the Varner field trial family of Union Springs. Well spoken beyond her years, Katie Belle handles from her stalwart palomino Dusty with a confidence and spirit to be envied by some pros. KB was aided by her grandfather Joe Varner as scout and her grandmother Shirley was cheering her on from the road gallery. Father Pat was receiving real time updates throughout the trial.
Sterling Woodruff and Shelby Street were up after lunch in the Fifth Brace. Sterling’s dog Pete suffered an injury shortly after breakaway and was taken back to the barn. He is expected to make a full recovery. Shelby had an exciting find with her classy pointer female Jenny after relocation at 10, and following an impressive finish, time was up at the gun range.
The heat was on in Brace Six with Tripp Whatley and setter male Big marking finds at 5, 10, and 16, with his father Lee cheering him on from the road gallery. Bracemate Taylor Roberts, with her father Will scouting, had a separate picture perfect find with Doc at 16.
Braden Renfroe and Reese Green were on the line again for the Seventh Brace with Rebel and Blaze, respectfully. After an unproductive relocation at 15, the brace finished strong with Renfroe finding coveys at 17 and 20, stylishly backed by his bracemate.
Brace Eight turned loose at the Pond Dam with Sterling Woodruff (Sammie) and Katie Belle Varner (Hoss). The handlers called point at 3 for a successful starting covey. Woodruff went on to more bird work at 13 and Varner at 5 and 15. It was this brace that captured a quintessential moment of sportsmanship and class that these young people effortlessly exhibit. Recognizing that riding on could pose a safety hazard for her bracemate, Katie Belle and her scout, Steve Hutto, selflessly chose to risk losing their dog, and the trial, to stay behind with her competitor. They did the right thing, and they did it without hesitation.
Taylor Roberts and Addison McDuffie had the penultimate brace with Dot and Kate, who, despite their best efforts, went without bird work.
The last brace of the trial was a true showstopper. After an afternoon of high energy and focused momentum, the Tenth Brace was a nail biter with more than fifty riders watching in anticipation and a long string of ATVs on the roads, Ella Grace Montgomery was up with Bell and Braden Renfroe with Rook. Renfroe had a nice find at breakaway that was honored by his bracemate, and he had one more at 2. Renfroe called point again at 5, and when he realized both dogs were standing, he graciously waited for his bracemate to make her way to them, and all was in order for this divided find. Braden went on to have four more finds, and Ella Grace finished strong with a good find at 18.
After all the animals were cared for and put away, the crowd gathered, and the handlers were poised in anticipation to hear who among them would reign victorious. Honorable Mention went to Taylor Roberts and Doc. Addison McDuffie and Red took Third. It was the final show stopping performance by Ella Grace Montgomery and Braden Renfroe that won the top two placements. Ella Grace and Bell took Second, and Renfroe captured a well-deserved First. All of the handlers thanked their judges, hugged their compatriots, got their dogs and that was that. These kids, they’re amazing.
The excitement of these kids’ performances had their officials hopping, and it couldn’t have been a bigger honor to get to watch them in action. The trial was judged with all the deference of an Open Championship by Will Dunn and Eric Ramsey of Kentucky. Ramsey is a lifelong sportsman and gentleman field trailer. Among other champions, Dunn is the owner of Dunn’s Tried and True, the 2019 National Field Trial Champion, who with an esteemed heritage, has won multiple derby and all-age championships including the Continental and the National Open All-Age Invitational twice. In just over a decade, Dunn, with his impressive string and sportsmanship, has proven himself to be a formidable and respected competitor and judge.
Head Marshall was Robert Moorer of Union Springs, AL. Robert, a long-time devotee to youth trials, directs his handlers and gallery with his own special brand of silent firmness and grace, always exhibiting patience, with overzealous, but well intended galleries.
Bo Brewer, along with Shenandoah’s own Bird and Edwin were on hand to man the dog wagons and lead the road gallery, Bo has been faithfully involved with the youth field trials for many years, serving as a participant, Judge, Scout, Marshall and everything in between. Bo also brought and attended to the fine walking horse, Tony Gibson graciously provided for the reporter.
The excitement didn’t end with the conclusion of the running. A celebration was now in order, and when it comes to a celebration, nobody lights it up like Hunter McDuffie, Brian Sanderson and Bo Brewer. They generously donated and expertly cooked hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken wings, sausage, porkchops, French fries and other campfire delicacies. Local guitar legend Bill Brabham put on a show for the crowd singing old favorites by campfire.
An impromptu auction to benefit the Hartley Carter Foundation’s Youth Scholarship fund was held. Professional auctioneer Woody Woodruff, Sterling’s father, called the auction. Dr. John Reardon of Shenandoah Plantation donated two saddles to be auctioned, and the highest bidder was Selena Moorer. Dr. Reardon matched Selena’s $380 winning bid, and he graciously donated a day’s hunt for the following weekend which was won by Brian Sanderson of Cecil Alabama. Raising over $2,500.00 for the scholarship fund.
None of us would be here of course, were it not for Darron Hendley who has for years been a passionate promotor of youth field trials, always campaigning for more entrants, grounds and trials. The patriarch of the youth trial movement in Alabama, if not the country, he has worked tirelessly to continue the promotion of these trials, perpetuating the love of the sport in future generations. Of his many field trial accomplishments, the greatest may ultimately be the generations of field trialers he has inspired.
All of the handlers showed grace and sportsmanship above their years and should be a lesson to all of those who need a reminder in what this sport really means. Thank you, Dr. Reardon, for graciously sharing this piece of heaven on earth for a perfect and unforgettable afternoon.
Joe Hicks with 1st place winner, Braden Renfroe, Gabe Renfroe