People have only hunted once or twice, or have done a lot of other riding but not hunted, may not know WHY we get the rush we do when we have a particularly good hunting day.
A good hunting day has a couple of things. It has good country, scenic and beautiful, that you can only experience properly on the back of a horse. It has a purpose, to follow hounds, to see where they lead us. It has an exciting moment that makes you know why you’re there, alive, and riding that horse that day.
I am not an experienced foxhunter like many others that I know. This is a sport that boasts many participants who have 20, 30 and 40 years experience, and that is actually a common number. How many other sports can provide this sort of longevity within a person’s life? Really? So there’s a reason they do it that long, many as long as they possibly can. Because it’s addictive fun, in a nutshell.
On Opening Day for my hunt, which was yesterday, I took Hamish to the middle of first field. He began the day a bit lit up, not wanting to stand still during the annual blessing of the hounds, and a little wild to start off, wishing to pop and canter up and down rather than trot. It took him about 30 minutes before he wanted to trot. The smart thing to do when you are riding with a larger field and going along at a measured pace to see who fits where — some horses do not like to be next to another, some do not like horses close to them behind, some are happiest following closely, some don’t like dirt clods kicked up and tend to want to stay back. You find where you fit, or try to, as soon as you can so you can get your hands out of the Oh Shit Strap because after a while your fingers go numb. Soon, after a swamp check, we got going…..and boy did we gallop. When you get a terrific run like that, all the way around the Beagle Pen, it does tend to separate the field a bit, the slower horses in the back, eventually to keep up at the next check, and the faster horses with the master who was really stepping on the gas. Hamish effortlessly galloped over the trail, shifted seamlessly to four-wheel-drive for the deeper plow of the cover crop field, never wavered while at high speed, just a tich from runaway speed (or it feels that way) kept his eye on the field and thrilled me to the bone with his power. Add to that a neat and nippy little jump, (and it’s not little, he can jump a house) and the only thing I’d want for a PERFECT hunt horse would be a little quieter demeanor to start. We galloped all the way over to the cement block trail and checked, while the horses steamed from their run and the laggards caught up. We were all exhilarated because that is the secret, and we just “got it”. It’s what the 30- and 40-year foxhunters live for, those runs and those moments of pure joy where you and your horse have wings. These living moments are rare.
I am hoping that for my second first-field attempt on him, that this is a good portend for the season, and as soon as Rugby gets his shoes on, I am looking forward to two good hunt horses. Maybe. And there’s George coming along, too.