Tally Ho!

It’s always a good sign when at the end of a hunt, everyone is smiling. Despite the slightly damp weather we all had fun.

Tally Ho is one of those expressions, like Dude, that I never thought would be part of my vernacular. And yet it has crept into my daily life to the point where it actually seems well, normal. I still feel a bit like I’m on Downton Abbey, but when you’re dressed in traditional hunt gear it doesn’t seem so odd.

This past Saturday was the first time I’ve been out this season. Rain, personal commitments and the inability of my horses to keep shoes nailed to their hooves has been a strong deterrent this season — that and the fact that I just haven’t been ready.

Freedom is not on the injured list exactly, but the damage to his hoof from last fall’s abscess still growing out and I’ve opted to keep him in light work and lots of hoof supplements.

Zelda should be ready but she’s been, shall I say, opinionated. When I asked her to start putting some effort into her work this spring, I got a resounding no thanks. Zelda isn’t subtle. When she doesn’t want to do something, she swishes her tail, shakes her head, squeals and bucks. Occasionally she levitates a bit, which is no small feat given her size.

My theory is that if she doesn’t buck me off she won’t know that she could if she really put some effort into it . . . so I try to stack the odds in my favor. We’ve mostly

This attitude wasn’t directed at me, but it gives you an idea of “angry” Zelda. I think she was guarding her food.

been trotting, which is a pretty safe gait but not really suitable for hunting.

Adding to the dilemma was that the hunt was on the trails behind the barn. There’s something about hunting on your home turf that makes horses especially naughty, so for Zelda, that would be naughty squared. On Thursday, I worked her in the ring and was pretty sure hunting was out of the question.

Tired Zelda
Zelda looked decidedly tired  and a lot more agreeable after her 4.5 workout. We did trot sets up and down a dirt road, half a mile at a time.

Enter wet saddle blanket therapy. I upped the ante and made Zelda work hard enough that acting out would seem like too much trouble. So on Friday we did 5-minute trot sets. Four and a half miles of them. No bucking and just a little head shaking. What tipped the scales in the end, was that my navigational skills were needed. On Friday morning our huntsman took a fall (not from a horse) and injured her elbow. Our substitute didn’t know the trails, so I agreed to ride up front with her.

Just to be on the safe side, on Saturday I arrived early enough to take Zelda on a pre-hunt ride: 30  minutes and three and a half miles of mostly trotting and, finally a bit of cantering. Just to make sure we still remembered how. I rode her back to the barn and put her on the cross ties while I changed into my kit.

Calling the hounds
Because we were the huntsman’s navigation system, we got to ride up front with the hounds. I practiced my best SIRI style voice.

Zelda was more than a little surprised when I took her back out again. This wasn’t in her game plan. She rallied, though, when she realized we were hunting. She was particularly excited to discover that we were riding up front with the hounds. This was actually perfect because she was focused on them and only threatened to buck a couple of times. I think she wants to whip.

I was glad we went out. Even if we did lose a shoe along the way. With a job and a purpose, Zelda forgot about being naughty and I forgot that I was mad at her.

The only time she acted up was at the very end. After 8 and a half miles of pretty fast riding, the whips went off to find some missing hounds. That’s when she pitched a tantrum. No! She did not want to go home. She wanted to keep going with her new friends and find those hounds. If she hadn’t lost a shoe I might’ve let her. Instead, we called it a day.

looking for hounds
The horses knew the hounds were still out in the woods. Even though we couldn’t hear them, they were on high alert.

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