I know that many of my eventing and horsey friends wonder why I foxhunt. “It’s not fun for the fox,” they say. “Don’t you think it’s hard on the horses?” they ask. “What about the hounds – aren’t they poorly treated and forced to run in the pack?” I am asked. And I carefully explain that foxhunting is not a sport for everyone but it is very mindful of the humane treatment of all living beings involved, and the fox always wins the game or else we would not have our sport. Horses learn quickly the very natural and sensible way of galloping, jumping and following with their innate herd instinct, and that instinct makes it safer and more enjoyable for the rider. And I note that hounds are essentially a pack animal and are well cared for and hunt for love and can’t be forced to do anything they don’t want to do especially out in the open. There are so many pluses for anyone who wants to ride well if they take up foxhunting. It’s great for riding skills, it’s fun for the horse, and it’s nice to have a group of people doing the same thing you do and loving it. One of the things said tonight at my hunt meeting was that hunting provided a way to have a peaceful afternoon on horseback with friends in beautiful country. Unlike trailriding, hunting has a purpose. I don’t have the time for trailriding and unless you are riding with people who are as safe and confident as you are on a well-schooled horse, you don’t do much more than walk or trot — I can do that at home and not cost me $45 in gas to ship someplace and risk my horse trailer being broken into or truck window smashed by the heroin addicts looking for something to steal and pawn for fix cash.
That peace is important to me, too, and I count on it every Sunday afternoon I can attend. Sometimes organized foxhunting succumbs to a sort of distasteful social whirl in some hunts, where the “haves” sort of outnumber the “have-nots”, but thankfully, in my area, our hunts have not been deteriorated by drama. (The old saying, the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.) Our hunt continually encourages and welcomes new members to come out and hunt and enjoy riding in the open and that’s a really good and important thing to do, and almost the most important thing of foxhunting, because as a sport, it will cease to exist if new people aren’t welcomed in. The economy also hit foxhunting very hard in our area. I think all of horse sports really does suffer from the insiders not really making it welcoming to the outsiders, and it takes all of us working, as best we know how, to communicate with each other and with the outside world; having empathy for others who work for a living or have to be cautious about spending in order to afford the sport and keep horses year-round just to ride a couple times a month in the winter.
Being afraid to say anything has been a part of my hunting experience, but
with good reason — sometimes shutting up and watching hounds work, keeping an eye on the back trail, watching out for wildlife, checking the wind and the birds getting up — these are the things that lead you to the elusive view of the fox, or the rare glimpse of watching hounds hot on a scent. I can count only a few times for both and of course they are highlights of my riding life, even though I have been hunting seven years with this hunt, and before that, with a couple of other hunts in other states. When you start off for the day’s hunt, you never know where you will go, or what it brings — so unlike horse showing or eventing, where you are pretty sure what test you’ll ride, what jumps you’ll see in the ring and out on the cross country field. And you know when you start and when you finish. Foxhunting has none of that certainty. That’s the cool part of it. You ride and condition your horse and you work all week to have that opportunity to ride and you really don’t want to bring the office politics with you on a hunt. You want everyone you are riding with to have peace. And stay in the tack. That’s all you hope for. And a view maybe. And good hot coffee afterwards with something sweet to eat. And smiles all around for a good day in the saddle, and that’s the recipe for a good hunting day. And not to run out of gas in the truck on the way home!