The past few days have been a flurry of activity. The big question was: how to hunt Thanksgiving day and Saturday while still making Thanksgiving dinner and spending time with family and friends? I can report that it is possible . . . but exhausting.
After missing much of the fall hunt season, I was eager to hunt on Thanksgiving day. The weather was lovely — low 50s and sunny — and we were hunting in Concord, which is only a 20 minute drive away.
This year the hunt met at the Old Manse by the Old North Bridge (the namesake of our hunt). The Manse is one of those uber historic places, even for a place like Concord which is steeped in history.
Built in 1770 for patriot minister William Emerson, The Old Manse, a National Historic Landmark, became the center of Concord’s political, literary, and social revolutions over the course of the next century. In the mid-19th-century, leading Transcendentalists such as Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller discussed the issues of the day here, with the Hawthorne and Ripley
A handsome Georgian clapboard building, The Old Manse sits near the banks of the Concord River among rolling fields edged by centuries-old stone walls and graced by an orchard. From upstairs, you can look out over the North Bridge, where the famous battle of April 19, 1775, took place. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne both called the Manse home for a time – and each found inspiration here. Emerson would draft his famous essay “Nature” from an upstairs room, and Hawthorne would write a tribute to the homestead called Mosses from an Old Manse. Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, started their married life here, and you can still see the poems they wrote to each other, etched on the Manse’s window panes. The heirloom vegetable garden, which has been recreated today, was originally planted by Henry David Thoreau in honor of the Hawthornes’ wedding.
Now imagine 30-plus horses with riders dressed in traditional hunting gear, gathered on the lawn in front of the Manse. It delighted the tourists who were passing by as they never expected to see such a site or be serenaded by a hunting horn, or invited to share a stirrup cup! It was quite the sight.
The hunt was amazing, fun, and very long. It is rare that I feel like I’m ready to dismount but after 3 1/2 hours of hunting through historic Concord, I was bone tired and sore. Freedom was not tired, or at least he didn’t want to admit it. Perhaps the reason I was so tired was that he was running on pure adrenalin. Every time we started off after the hounds he would bound into the air and canter on. If there was no room to go forward, he was happy to bounce in place. There was little I could do but bridge my reins and sit chill. I don’t think he walked for more than a few steps until we hacked back to the trailer.
He never did anything bad, he was just very happy to be out hunting. Usually he settles down after we’ve hunted a few times but this season he hasn’t been out enough for it to become commonplace. The good news is that he feels great. His new front shoes have made his feet happy and he’s galloping and jumping without any problems. It’s so nice to be riding a horse that feels so good after weeks of wondering if he was slightly foot sore or worrying if I was pushing him too fast.
I’ve taken a conservative approach to bringing him back. We’re only jumping the small stuff because when he’s this pumped up, he tends to flatten and run at the fences. After not jumping all fall, sometimes the hunt field is not the best place to try something challenging.
The hounds were fabulous throughout the hunt and we got to see them working quite a bit. With a hunt that long, laying the drag is a challenge — the scent starts to evaporate over time — so the hounds performance was very good considering. At one point we saw a coyote off in the distance but luckily the hounds didn’t pick up his scent or we would have been in for some live hunting!
I was very ready for the final stirrup cup where our gracious hosts served bullion, sausages and sherry.
After getting Freedom settled in with his lunch, I went off to cook our Thanksgiving dinner. It was a bit later than I’d planned, but still delicious.
Saturday’s hunt was not nearly so exuberant, probably because he was still tired. I know that I was! In fact, on Friday I had serious doubts as to whether I’d be up for hunting but I also knew it would take a lot to make me miss the last hunt of the season. There’s plenty of time for resting now.
I could tell right from the first cast on Saturday that Freedom was not as fresh. His canter was not as bouncy and he didn’t leap into the air at every opportunity. He listened to me going to the jumps which was nice. I chose to rode at the back of the field so I could ride him to the base of the fences; I hate when he leaves the ground from random long distances just because he thinks he can. By the end he was jumping very cleanly and with a good forward pace but without the flatness.
The hounds were not as disciplined on Saturday. We saw deer as we were hacking to the first cast and there seemed to be lots of distractions in the woods. In the end they all came to the huntsman’s horn but they must have had some good stories to tell on the way back to the kennels.
I’m sorry that the season is over but am so glad that I had the chance to ride in the last three hunts. I am thankful that I had that the chance to enjoy those hunts. I’ll need those memories to get me through the coming winter months until we start hunting again in the spring!