Spring hunting passed in a flash, moving onto the next season of activities: Hunter Paces. Zelda and I got to hunt four or five times this spring, and an ulcer-free Zelda was back to her happy, agreeable self for most of it. She still can be a handful. I’m always amazed by how she can sink back on her hocks and show off a collected canter in the hunt field, while telling me it’s impossible at home.
Hunter paces are a great way to move into summer because they are great adventures, without any of the stress (although Zelda always looks for the hounds). For those of you who haven’t experienced the fun of one, a pace event is ridden over a pre-determined course where teams of riders are timed. The riders who come in closest to the optimum time (not revealed ahead of time), get ribbons. The beauty of the pace event is that you can choose your own speed and you can decide whether or not you want to jump. Unlike hunting, where it’s important to stay quiet, you can also talk to your friends.
We’ve done three paces in the past few weeks. They’ve ranged from 6-10 miles and they’ve taken us through some amazingly beautiful territories, including trails that aren’t always open to the public. Typically, these events are run by the Hunt Clubs as they are great fundraisers (it costs $50-$75 to ride in one).
Unlike hunting, these are more relaxed endeavors — and I like Zelda to understand we aren’t going to go full tilt after hounds every time we get on the trailer. We both enjoy the chance to get out on new trails and see new sights. A well-marked trail is a treat: just follow the pie plates and drink in the beauty.
In May, I joined two friends to ride in the Myopian Hunt Club pace event. I hadn’t ridden these trails before and thoroughly enjoyed the new sites. It was about 9 miles long. The optimum time was 1:59:38 and we came in at 1:58:55, which earned us a nice blue ribbon for the non-jumping division. This, despite the fact that we had to pass a field full of donkeys, which made all our horses stop dead. This territory is about an hour from my barn, so not a place I go often. As an added bonus, I saw an adorable fox kit on the way home.
Last week we rode at one of my favorite state parks, located a handy 15 minutes from my barn. Great Brook Farm State Park is made for riding. There are a ton of riding trails (which you have to share with mountain bikes and walkers) and the Old North Bridge Hounds Hunt Club (my club) helps to maintain the jumps. This time the course was about 6 miles. We rode with one of our hunt friends. I think Zelda and Zoey make a great pair. Kind of like Mutt and Jeff. We had hunted there just two weeks before, which make Zelda a bit confused, but she enjoyed the more leisurely pace. We For this event, the optimum time was 1:24:33. Our time of 1:29:55 put us in sixth place.
Today, the ride was sponsored by the Norfolk Hunt Club, which is about a 45 minute drive from the barn, but well worth the trek. I used to keep a horse in this territory many years ago, but I had forgotten how truly nice the trails are.
The course was about 9 1/2 miles, made a bit more challenging by the 85 degree heat. We had a blast, but by about mile 7 or 8, Zelda was toast. We’d jumped some fences (I’m slowly starting to jump again, and the fences today were too inviting to pass up) and she was her normal feisty self, wanting to lead the group. Until I noticed she was starting to breathe a bit harder and was willing to mosey along. She’s a big girl and I worried about her overheating, but we walked the last part home in the shady woods so by the time we got back, she was almost cooled out.
I’m not sure what our final time was — most certainly we were slower than the teams who rode earlier in the morning — but we had a cracking good time and I got to spend the day riding with friends. What could be better?