Born to Run
A Brief History of the Michigan Gazehound Association
The logo of Michigan Gazehound Association (MGA) features a muzzled sighthound, which speaks to the origins of the club. MGA began lure coursing, with dogs muzzled, several years before any national sanctioning body was established. MGA was formed in the late ‘60s by sighthound fanciers interested in providing their hounds with the opportunity to participate in activities, such as obedience, agility and conformation fun matches. Eventually temperament tests and lure coursing would be added in the ‘70s. The original founders have faded from the club’s roster, but over the years, others have stepped in to carry on the mission of the organization – to demonstrate the natural performance abilities of sighthounds and to have fun.
In the early years, lure coursing bore only a slight resemblance to the structured events that are held today. Little did those early MGA members know they were on the forefront of what would one day become a flourishing, nationally organized, amateur sport. At first, the dogs were released from starting boxes, a practice taken from Whippet racing. However, the boxes were soon relegated to the past. Courses were set up more with fun in mind and not so much as a competitive test. For example, an early trial held on one member’s farm in Washington, MI featured a course plan that incorporated a tight right turn, a rise and then the lure went right through a pond. Everyone was curious to see how the hounds would react to the pond and they did not disappoint. Most of the hounds would take the turn and launch themselves over the rise, only to be confronted by the pond. They would somehow manage to stop themselves in mid-air, never getting a foot wet...except for one. That “one” was an Irish Wolfhound who not only dove headlong into the water, but swam the entire length of the pond in pursuit of the lure. Below is an example of a typical course plan that was used at our summer trials in Metamora, MI in the late ‘90s.
In the early days, lure machines went through quite a few experimental variations. At that time, a take-up reel was used to run drag line rather today’s more common practice of a continuous loop system. Restringing the course after each run was accomplished in many different fashions including using a motorcycle or hanging out the back end of a station wagon. In the northwest of the U.S., trials are still conducted this way. Early lure machines were hand cranked, which lasted only until the cranker expended their energy. A bicycle wheel was used for several trials. People soon began experimenting with gas and electric motors, but the parts were hard to come by as they had to be purchased through mail order. One member began overhauling motors and rebuilding machines and was soon in the business of manufacturing equipment. When the electric motors finally became the machine of choice, a car would be parked on the field and kept idling to keep the batteries charged.. The following is a picture of a typical equipment set up used at our trials prior to 2015. We ran two lure machines (modified starter motors), with each machine attached to two automotive batteries, with each set tended by a battery charger, which are powered by a generator. This set up pulls the string and the lures (white plastic bags) through the drive wheels and around the pulleys on the course.
Unaware that a group of folks out in California were also organizing trials, MGA began to create rules to bring structure to their lure coursing fun. Those first rules included timing the dogs for a segment of one hundred yards during the course, as well as for the entire course. Placements were awarded by combining the hound’s time and the points awarded by the judges. The lower the combined score, the better the dog had run.
After a few years of trials held in this fashion, MGA found out that the American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) had been founded on the west coast and was attempting to organize a national network of clubs to hold lure coursing trials across the country. MGA was at a critical crossroads in its development: should the club join the new organization or continue in its own. After much consideration over the administrative consideration of running a national organization, MGA joined ASFA and held its first official ASFA trial on July 4, 1976. Over the years, lure coursing became a primary activity for MGA and many members and their hounds went on to distinguish themselves in those early years.
In the early 1980’s, many clubs, including MGA, began to experiment with the continuous loop system. The debate over switching away from the take-up reel raged on, but the efficiency of the continuous loop eventually won out, and became the dominant way to conduct lure coursing field trials. By the mid-1980s, more than 100 clubs held 2-day weekend field trials across the nation, and breed clubs began offering breed specialty trials. The status of ASFA’s top ten for each breed became a hotly contested honor, and many sighthound owners would travel many miles to enter their hounds in competition to earn top ten points.
It was in 1989 that the MGA began holding its annual lure coursing demonstrations before thousands of onlookers at the Detroit Kennel Club (DKC) shows at Cobo Hall. For many years, MGA held actual take-up reel demonstration courses at Cobo to show visitors the eagerness of the hounds. Thousands of visitors thronged to view the coursing. MGA continued to educate the public on the history of the sighthound breeds and lure coursing at Cobo until 2013, when the DKC discontinued their shows in downtown Detroit.
In 1993, the American Kennel Club began its own lure coursing program, almost completely “adopting” the ASFA running rules. MGA held AKC events in addition to ASFA events in those early years of the AKC program. After a long hiatus, the members opted to resume holding AKC events in 2016. In addition, the club switched to a simpler equipment setup featuring gas-powered machines that year.
The 1998 ASFA International Invitational was held in Lexington, KY, with MGA partnered with the Blue Grass Coursing Club to host what became the largest lure coursing event in history, with over 380 hounds competing on three fields. It is a record entry yet to be surpassed and a resounding success yet to be matched. In 2014, MGA was recognized with ASFA’s highest club honor, the Excellence in Performance Award. Today, MGA remains one of the nation’s leading lure coursing organizations, consistently sporting one of the largest average number of entries per trial, and welcomes new members to its trials and practices.
Please come and join us.