Fox Hunting in Thoreau’s Back Yard

Fairhaven Bay
Fairhaven Bay is across the railroad tracks from Walden Pond

One of my favorite places to hunt is on the trails behind Walden Pond. While we don’t see the pond on our route, we do ride along the edge of Fairhaven Bay, which offers beautiful vistas.

We take for granted being able to ride in such a special place. Even if it hadn’t been singled out by Henry David Thoreau as a singular place of beauty, it would still be a standout location. I love to drive by the pond throughout the year. In the early mornings of spring fog rises off the pond and makes an ethereal view. In the summer, I often swim across the pond with friends (it’s a bit creepy out in the middle because it is very, deep and very dark), and in the winter we often walk across the ice (also a bit creepy because I know how deep it is).

And of course, in the spring and fall, I hunt there.

The trail system around Walden is extensive and well maintained. In the Fairhaven Bay and Adams Wood sections, the trails are wide and have cross country jumps incorporated into them. The footing is always excellent and the jumps are challenging enough to give you a thrill but remain inviting for the horses.

We had a splendid hunt there last Saturday. After a week of rain it was really nice to see the sun and it’s one of the only places we hunt where that amount of rain doesn’t result in deep mud.

On Saturday the hounds were cast three times. The first run was, as they say in New England, wicked fast.  The hounds were flying and the first field kept up so we got to see the hounds working. Freedom really enjoyed the run but it was hard to keep his attention. Once he gets moving, he’s focused on the gallop — I was glad there were no jumps in the first section because I’m not sure he would have noticed them. Mostly I was concentrating on avoiding the trees because this was a pretty narrow part of the trail and I wanted to keep both my knees intact. He really has a “fifth gear” and when I let him go, his stride is huge. I’ve owned OTTBs before but he’s the first horse that I’ve ridden that really feels like a race horse. When he gets rolling, he is moving.

This season I’m finding that the Kimberwicke that worked so well last season is not having the same effect. Freedom likes to gallop with his head down and he is kind of sneaky about it. Before you know it, you’re going full tilt and he’s starting to lean on the bit and gallop on. I think I need a bit with a bit more finesse so I can bump him up when needed without affecting him the rest of the time.

The second cast took us through a series of jumps called “Death Valley”. In contrast to their name these are pretty benign jumps. They are a great warm up because they are mostly small and lead up a ravine. There are about seven jumps in the series. My biggest problem with them is that now that Freedom has gotten more comfortable jumping in the field, they are too small to back him off. He just doesn’t respect them any more! The hounds were great in this section and stayed right on the scent.

The third cast took us through a section called the “Lady’s Jumps.” These used to be small but about two years ago they were rebuilt and in the the process they gained some height and breadth. The series of eight jumps rides really nicely, though. They are solid enough and large enough that Freedom pays attention over them and generally gives them good clearance. There is still one that I haven’t jumped (because I’m a chicken, not because Freedom couldn’t jump it). He was really good through this section and jumped very neatly without running at the fences.

Unfortunately, on this run the hounds must have picked up a scent that was more interesting than anise and oil; they disappeared across the railroad tracks in hot pursuit (probably following a deer but we’ve seen coyotes out there too). The whips got them back, but it took some time.

This hunt is within hacking distance of my barn and to take advantage of the day I decided to ride over rather than trailer. When we got back to the barn after three and half hours Freedom and I were both beat. But what a great time.

I think that Thoreau would approve. Foxhunting might be the antithesis of the quiet contemplation of his life at Walden but it certainly celebrates nature.

One thought on “Fox Hunting in Thoreau’s Back Yard

Leave a Reply