British Sighthound Field Association

 
 
 

History of lure coursing


Sport with sighthounds is one of the most ancient, and the breeds used are amongst the earliest recorded.


Certainly coursing with hounds goes back at least as far as the days of the Egyptian Pharaohs. Even in Britain references to the sport frequently appear in medieval writings. Such was its importance that much of life in the countryside was governed by the pursuit of game by hounds and dogs.


The Forest Laws of King Canute prohibited anyone under the degree of 'gentleman' from keeping Greyhounds. The Laws of Hywel Dda (who died in 948) show that, of all the King's hunting dogs, the Greyhound was second only to the Staghound - with a worth of six score pence when skilled.


By Elizabethan times, virtually any animal that moved was coursed or hunted by some type of dog or hound. It is recorded that in 1591 Queen Elizabeth I witnessed from a turret at Cowdray Park 16 bucks pulled down by Greyhounds upon the lawn one day after dinner.


In these early writings it is difficult to be certain that the authors were always referring to the Greyhound as we know it. Some are known to have been referring to a 'grey-coloured hound', so some of these early dogs may well have been of Deerhound or Irish Wolfhound types.


The first official coursing meeting was held at Swafmam, Nolfolk in 1776. It was left to Lord Orford and the Earl of Sefton to establish the sport and lift the Greyhound, as we know it, to a position of much prominence. Orford always kept a kennel in excess of 100 dogs and it was on Sefton's estates at Altcar that the Waterloo Cup was first (and still is) run. At one time it was THE race of the most important sport, more important even than the horse Derby.


The first ever attempt at racing was on the 10 September 1816, in a field behind the Welsh Harp Public House at Hendon in London. A Greyhound called Channg Nell won over a 400 yards straight run behind a hand-pulled hare.


The sport at that time received little recognition and it was left to O P Smith in Oklahoma State, USA to establish it. In about 1924 he patented a mechanical hare; this became an extension to Sunday afternoon coursing, which he held on his property. The first ever licensed racing dog was a Greyhound called White Gold.


Bngadier General A C Crickley heard of this new sport in America and appreciated its potential and started racing here. He held the first race at Belle Vue, Manchester on 24th July 1926, which was won by a dog called Mistley. This time the sport exploded, racing stadiums sprung up everywhere and 330,000 people paid for admission in the first 11 weeks at Manchester.


The post war years in this country have seen the sports of both coursing and racing extend to a number of breeds other than the Greyhound. The Whippet, of course, had for years been a popular racing dog, particularly with working class communities but Afghan racing, coursing with Deerhounds, Salukis and other breeds now all have a very strong following.


The latest addition to sport with sighthounds is lure coursing. As with racing, it was in America that it first became established. It started some 40 odd years ago when Lyle Gillette, breeder, with his wife, of Salukis and Borzois, freed two of his Champion Borzoi bitches on the summit of Pacheco Pass, overlooking the San Joaquin Valley in California. They flushed a hare and hesitatingly went after it and he was, from then on, hooked on coursing.


With other Borzoi owners, they founded what became known as the Pacheco Hunt, which was eventually extended to include other breeds of sighthounds. As time went on he became disillusioned with the excessive enthusiasm of some competitors. They would slip hounds too near wire fences, or other obstacles, to the extent that hounds were being injured unnecessarily.


Gillette eventually separated himself from open held coursing and set about trying to work out a system whereby sighthounds could be coursed more safely. A pulley system that would create a mechanical lure and not have to go in a straight line was his aim. With stationary pulley blocks, lengths of clothes line, bronze axles and a hand-powered wheel, he had worked out a system for pulling a lure at up to 50 miles per hour.


One evening he set it all up on his front lawn and it worked, the lure went back and forth across the lawn and lure coursing was born. He 'sold' the idea to the Mission Trail Borzoi Club, who took it up, travelled all over America and Canada promoting it and some 18 months later the American Sighthound Field Association was formed.


Lure coursing is perhaps an extension to both racing and coursing, the uncertainty of turns and bends as in coursing and the pursuit of an imaginary hare as in racing. It is also perhaps to some extent a progression on from the early training method for racing Greyhounds, with a bicycle wheel upside down, and a line and rag attached.


Gillette's system of the drag lure on an open line, wound up around the course from one point to another, has been used by many individuals organisations world wide. The continuous loop Lure was first used in 1972, again in America and in that year was used at five venues which saw 150 hounds running.


Lure coursing spread to Europe where it is popular in the Low Countries and to Britain, becoming here in the late '80s, with the continuous loop system being the most popular. Some individual breeds still run using the drag method.


John Stears met the American, Aatis Lillstrom when he was over to judge Borzoi at the Welsh Kennel Club in 1986. Lillstrom was a great supporter of lure coursing in the States and John became enthusiastic and excited about what he was hearing. He interested other people and was eventually asked by the Borzoi Club if he could start lure coursing on an organised basis. For the first two years meets were confined to Borzoi.