Saturday ended up being the first hunt of the season. After all my fears and concerns for Tuesday’s hunt, the forecast was thunderstorms and we didn’t ride.
I appreciated having a bit of extra time to prepare myself and Freedom. A few more rides under our belt and a few more days to plan my strategy.
I realized that the critical part of the hunt for me is the first minute and a half after the first cast. That’s when Freedom is the most revved up and eager to go. That’s when his brain is focused on the hounds and not on me. With no room to go forward, his only option is vertical motion. He never rears, but he gets a lot of air. After the first gallop he settles in (I always hope that we have a bit of a run before we have to pull up) and with any luck, he’s taken the edge off before the second cast.
The morning of the hunt I hedged my bets. I gave him an extra dose of magnesium (which serves as a relaxant) and I tacked him up and let him canter around the field for 10 or so minutes. He’d already seen the trailer, so he was raring to go. As soon as I landed in the saddle he was bouncing!
The hunt was a short trailer ride away and then we had plenty of time before the first cast. Freedom is tricky. He stands on a loose rein, deceptively quiet and calm. It’s only when the hounds leave the truck that his head snaps up and he becomes electrified.
True to form, when the hounds took off, he followed them like a laser. But a controlled laser. He knows his job and it was probably less than a minute before his brain returned. I felt a wave of relief when I realized that I could ride this horse today and he was on my team. Another rider was not so lucky; the young horse she was riding couldn’t handle the cast into an open field. She managed to circle him twice before her saddle slipped and she had to bail. There’s nothing like hearing “loose horse” as part of the opening play (she was fine; only her pride was injured).
The first piece was ideal; a good, long canter but not flat out galloping. Freedom settled down and I was able to ride him on a loose rein, without pulling. We skipped the only jump on the first run and came into the check. Of course he stood like a lamb the whole time!
The second cast he was off like a shot again, but by the time we reached the first jumps, he was listening. They were small jumps so I decided to go for it. I was glad that I was holding the neck strap because he left a few strides out here and there. He was so thrilled to be jumping again; we hadn’t so much as jumped a cross rail since the fall.
It was a great ride! What a thrill to ride a horse with so much power and joy. So happy to be out doing his job. Of course the next day I felt like I’d gone through the ringer. I had muscle pain in places where I didn’t remember having muscles. But guess what? I can’t wait to go out and do it again.