The end of my summer was busy. And it didn’t include a lot of riding. So now I need to get myself and the equines in shape for hunting. Pronto.
The only way to do that is to cover some miles. Right now I’m riding the horses about five miles per day doing walk/trot intervals. Zelda is a bit more “fluffy” than Freedom (who manages to keep himself pretty fit), so the ride above shows her intervals. Tracking my time per mile is something I find very helpful because it keeps us moving and it provides a fitness baseline.
I am hoping to hunt Freedom this Saturday; Zelda needs to be able to hold a faster pace over that distance before she goes out.
I haven’t hunted much this fall but Monday’s Columbus Day Hunt was so spectacular that it made up for the missed days. It was a magnificent warm day and the fall foliage is at its peak here in New England. I was a bit worried that Zelda would be a handful but she made a liar out of me and was perfect. Always glad when my horse surprises me in a good way! As one of my fellow riders commented, when I start taking photos it means my horse is behaving.
This hunt is very close to where I’m
currently boarding. In fact, we ride through “The Perfect Field” on our way. The problem is that when I’m hunting, we’re usually going too fast through it to take an pictures.
The hunt starts in Acton and takes us through several connected bits of conservation land, through Concord and back to Acton. It’s a delightful mix of wooded trails — where the canopy of leaves was the full range of fall colors — and big open galloping fields. The hounds were right on the scent and the field was small enough that we could see it all.
In the heat of the summer, Zelda was pretty placid. There was none of the running, the bucking, the rearing, and, most importantly the squealing. She makes a ridiculous high pitched squeal that is quite unladylike and sounds particularly absurd coming from such a big horse.
Now that we’ve had some cool mornings. The squeal has returned. And with it, some typical Zelda exuberance.
On Saturday morning we hunted the territory across the street from where I board. There’s a risk to hunting your home turf. While you might think that they would be more comfortable and better behaved, the opposite can be true because everything that is normal is different.
I’m going to use this excuse for Zelda because she needs a reason. From the moment I got on she started to spin and buck and jump in place. She saw the horses and riders. She heard the hounds. She was ready to go RIGHT NOW. I tried warming her up and had a few good trots and canters for 20 minutes, but she was still misbehaving as we set off. It’s days like this where I’m glad I’m almost 6 feet tall because I really need to use my body to make her listen!
We had a nice gallop at the first cast and she started to settle. Unfortunately, we hit bees on the trail during the next piece and I am pleased to report that Zelda can gallop downhill and buck with great balance! I’ve only just started jumping her in the first field and she was, well, enthusiastic. Certainly stopping was not on her mind!
By the last piece, she was settled
and even let me take a few photos without any fear of losing my phone. She needs a couple of good, long hunts so that she understands that there is no point in getting worked up at the start.
The trick about hunting is that it takes a horse several outings to figure it out. The first few times your horse can be overwhelmed by the experience. Then, the horse has a “honeymoon” period where they are really good and still figuring it out. Once they know they love it? They can get really excited. I think we’ve entered that phase!
Tuesday was the first day of fall hunting. It didn’t feel like fall, it still felt like summer. I was leery about hunting — I’d been away for a few days and I knew Zelda would be fresh.
In the end, it was too nice out to pass up, so I compromised. I headed over a bit late and rode the first piece alone, meeting the rest of the hunt at the first check. It was a good choice because it gave Zelda the chance to settle before the excitement began.
Zelda gets very enthusiastic about hunting and needs to learn a few manners about waiting patiently, but once she gets going, she’s very good.
This spring we’ve had short hunting season. We had so much snow on the ground for so long that when it was finally warm enough and dry enough to hunt, neither I nor my horses were in any kind of shape.
Now, suddenly, the season is coming to an end (this is the last weekend) and I’ve snuck in four hunts (with one more on Monday).
The first three I took Zelda. Partially it was a matter of convenience. Freedom moved to the new barn sooner and she was closer. Partially, it was because Freedom has been just bonkers. He’s so full of energy and so hyper that hunting him was going to be a lot of work. Zelda gets tired; Freedom doesn’t.
Today I took Freedom out for his first hunt of the season. As expected, he required an active ride. No chance to be a passenger! I do believe he walked a little bit, but he was, shall we say, energetic. This took the form of a lot of vertical motion. Once again, I will thank the horse gods that he doesn’t buck. I can deal with the jigging, the bouncing and his ability to canter almost in place.
We had absolutely perfect spring weather today and it was a great time to explore a new territory. This landscape had a lot of varied terrain. I wish I could have gotten more photos but I really needed to have both hands on the reins.
Even after we’d been out for 90 minutes, Freedom showed no signs of slowing down. At one point we had to double back on the path and when staff passed us, I had a fleeting fear that we were going with them, no matter what I said. Freedom very much likes to ride up front!
After a week of amazing spring weather I’ve almost (not quite) forgotten what a lousy winter we’ve had. It’s been absolutely wonderful to go and ride Freedom and Zelda, to feel the warmth of the sun, to not sink up to our collective knees in snow.
In theory, hunt season started last Tuesday. Sadly, the ground was too wet for horses, and the hunts last week and this coming Tuesday were/are cancelled. In some respects, that might be good news, too, because for the first time I can remember, we (Freedom, Zelda and I are simply not ready). We (mostly me) are out of shape and they are way too excited to take out and gallop in company.
For example, this was Zelda yesterday. I can’t imagine sitting those bucks even when I’m feeling fit. She’s quite athletic!
Honestly, we’re still at the “let’s go for a long walk” stage — where I hope they don’t buck, spook or jig excessively (aka cantering in place).
Zelda’s worth ethic suffered over the winter. After about 15 minutes she wants to turn around and head back to the barn. She’s very, shall we say, expressive about it. First her upper lip starts to twitch, then she shakes her head and neck, and then she has a hissy fit that would put a toddler in a toy store to shame. We’re working out of it, but I think we’re still two weeks away from compliance. I’ve only just achieved a nice canter without bucks, and that’s without any additional excitement.
Freedom offers a different type of challenge. He won’t buck (thank goodness) but he is on a hair trigger. During this morning’s ride he managed some very dramatic jump/spooks when scary things like rocks, birds and squirrels jumped out at him.
And then there’s me. An hour or so in the saddle leaves my legs stiff and creaky. The thought of riding in half seat for any extended period of time is still in the distant future. Of course, it’ll be fun getting back into shape.
In September the fall season stretches ahead and the possibilities seem infinite. Thanksgiving is a long way off and the weather is more like summer than winter.
Now, as the season winds down I’ve had to break out my heavy weight Melton and brace against the winds.
Saturday was the annual blessing of the hounds and when I woke up it was barely 20 degrees and there was a stiff wind.
The blessing of the hounds is a centuries-old tradition of blessing the animals and humans involved in a the hunt. The blessing practice was brought to the US in the 17th century but it dates back to the 8th century and to celebrations associated with St. Hubert, the Patron Saint of Hunters.
Each year our hunt invites a clergy member, priest — or even a Native American Shaman — to the ceremony to recite prayers and bless the huntsman, hounds and horses. Each huntsperson is then awarded a medallion with the image of St. Hubert.
Some years we’ve had very elaborate blessing ceremonies; this year, the weather kept it short. The ceremony was held in an open field and the wind made the effective temperature in the teens. I think we were all thankful to get moving so that we warmed up a bit!
Considering the brisk wind and temperatures the horses were all well behaved; at last Tuesday’s hunt there must have been something in the air because despite the warmer temperatures, there was a lot of bucking and misbehavior. One horse also stepped in a hole, falling to the ground and nearly landing on her rider. That’s one of my greatest fears out hunting. It takes a lot of the pleasure out of galloping through an open field.
But Saturday’s hunt was uneventful. Freedom complained that it was too slow — he likes the galloping and the open fields were inviting. He settled for jigging and bouncing with a few leaps in the air for good measure, but he was quite well behaved considering. Unlike Zelda, who tries to sneak in some bucks, Freedom never intentionally misbehaves; you can’t say that he’s naughty. He just can’t contain himself. The best thing to do is just ignore the behavior and ride through it.
Saturday’s hunt included some lovely open fields. It was held in a town called Pepperell which was first settled in 1720. It’s far enough away from Boston (right on the New Hampshire border) that it has a lovely rural feel to it.
Of course all the warmth generated by the hunt dissipated as soon as we got back to the trailers and back into the wind. It was wonderful to retreat into the antique farmhouse (circa 1790) and enjoy the hunt tea in front of a roaring fire!