Ben Reach savored the first two weeks of March because with them came the Southeastern and Masters Championships at Albany (“All-Benny” to natives like Ben and his pal, Sam Nixon, MD). Ben no longer judged trials but he loved to ride the season-end trials where the local handlers, glad to be home from the circuit, were winding up their year and looking forward, as were Ben and Sam, to spring fishing and turkey hunting.
Ben convinced Sam to come ride with him on the opening day of the Southeastern All-Age Championship. In the first brace the pointer Georgia Girl was to be handled by Zack East and scouted by Booty Blevins, one of the last of the black scouts who had three decades before dominated the position of scout. Both men were friends of Ben and Sam who had known them all their lives. They lived outside Leesburg where Zack owned the remnants of a family farm from which he traveled the circuit. It held Zack’s kennel and horse barn and twenty acres of horse pasture cut into four paddocks. The remaining twenty acres were piney woods where Booty worked puppies. Zack’s father had sold off over his lifetime the rest of what at Zack’s birth had been eight hundred acres.
At the breakaway Ben and Sam greeted everyone and received in turn greetings. At precisely 8 am a judge said, “Gentlemen, let ‘em go,” and Girl and her brace mate sped away. Booty swung into the saddle and drifted to the side of the gallery close behind the judges. Ben and Sam rode just behind the owners of the two dogs down, followed by twenty other gallery riders. The handlers rode fifty yards ahead of the judges and sang to their dogs.
Fifteen minutes into the brace Zack called out, “Booty, drag right.” Ben thought this odd. Ordinarily Zack would have instead given Booty an arm signal to check the right and done it in silence. Sam noticed this too, and it gave him a first hint of Booty’s problem.
Girl reappeared at the front and Zack blew three sharp blasts on his the whistle to signal he had Girl in sight and Booty drifted back to the gallery edge. A few minutes later Zack again yelled “ Booty, check right,” and the scout eased his mount to the right sixty yards, careful not to get in front of the judges who continued to stay on the course path. Then when the course turned sharp left, Ben saw Booty’s horse canter into thicker pines to the right. A few minutes later, Booty yelled “Point.”
The judge covering Girl and the marshal covering that judge broke into a canter heading toward Booty’s voice. Ben, Sam and half the gallery followed. A hundred yards beyond the course edge Booty’s mount stood motionless, his rider sitting calmly in the saddle.
“Where is your dog?” the judge asked Booty. No answer. The judge repeated the question, louder, thinking Booty had not heard him. “Here she is judge,” the marshal said, pointing. She stood twenty yards beyond Booty’s horse, partially hidden by brush. Zack arrived and quickly dismounted and flushed for Girl; all was in order.
Twice more Girl found birds in her hour. She ran a big forward and searching race and made a spectacular finishing cast. Zack rode to pick her up when the judges called time. When the third morning brace ended it was clear to all riding that the judges were carrying Girl as top dog.
At lunch Ben and Sam took plates of southern cooked vegetables from the steam table and carried them outside, finding an empty picnic table where they sat alone. “Did you notice anything odd about Booty on that first find of Girl’s,” Sam asked.
“ Booty’s horse saw Girl pointed. I don’t think Booty did,” Ben said. Sam nodded agreement.
Zack and Booty walked out of the clubhouse, filled plates in hand. Ben saw them and called an invitation to join Sam and him at the picnic table. Sam studied Booty as he sat across the table from him. He detected a certain look in Booty’s eyes.
When the four had finished and Zack and Booty stood to go ready their afternoon mounts, Sam said, “Booty, stop by my office next time you are in town. I want to examine your eyes.”
Booty looked confused. Zack said, “We have no dogs drawn to run tomorrow, what time would suit you Dr. Sam?”
“How about 9 o’clock so you can get out here early. I’m sure you want to ride and watch since Girl appears to be top dog so far,” Sam said. Zack grinned. “We will be there at 9,” Zack said.
When Sam had examined Booty’s eyes with an ocular loop, he said, “Booty, you have cataracts on both eyes and I think they are ripe for removal. I’ll set you up an appointment with a specialist and you will likely have perfect vision restored in
“ How can you possibly scout with those eyes in the shape they are in,” Sam said.
Booty grinned. “I just ride. Dusty watches the dog,” Booty said.
Dusty was Booty’s scouting horse. Zack, who had accompanied Booty to the examining room, nodded concurrence.