Hunting under a Big Sky

Top of the world
This is one of my favorite hunts, especially the start where we climb up onto a hill to watch the hounds work.

Sometimes I feel guilty about hunting on a Tuesday morning. Today, I wrestled with my conscience because there was work piling up. But after several days of rain, the beautiful day beckoned. I’m glad I rode under the big sky. Freedom felt good and we came back tired and relaxed.

This hunt territory is one of my favorites, especially the beginning. We hack to the top of a hill where there’s an excellent view of the first cast.

Watching the hounds
Waiting for the hounds.
Freedom on alert
It’s hard to believe that Freedom can see the hounds that far away, but he was on alert. Once hears the fieldmaster’s horn, he knows what’s coming. This was a good first hunt of the season for him as the footing was good and it wasn’t too fast. We covered about 6.5 miles, most of it trotting.
Big open fields
I particularly enjoy the territories with big open fields. Some of these fields had big holes in them so it was important to be careful.
Planted fields
Many of the fields had recently been planted and the green sprouts glowed in the sun.

 

Good Hounds
The hounds enjoy a well-earned treat at the end of the hunt.
Funnily enough, Facebook reminded me that I hunted at Surrenden Farm on the same day last year. Looking at the photos, I was struck by how far behind the fall foliage is this year. Last year we were surrounded by brilliant reds and yellows.
Freedom never admits that he’s tired while we’re out hunting, but he was ready to go home. Someone who had never seen him in the hunt field remarked — before the first cast — how calm he was. That didn’t last and he exerted a lot of vertical energy!
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A Hunting We Will Go

It’s been a

First Hunt of the Season
This was the first time this fall that I’ve been able to hunt.
Zelda after she rolled.
Zelda after the hunt and after she had the chance to roll in the sand.

This fall has been busy. What with travel and work and the threat of ground bees, I haven’t had the chance to hunt. I almost didn’t make it today. I slept a bit late, discovered there was no hitch on the truck when I went to hitch the trailer and then, there was the weather. The forecast was rain. I hate hunting in the rain because it’s hard to see out of my glasses.

However, I soldiered on. The hunt was so close to where I keep my horses that I really had no excuse. Then I arrived at the hunt and discovered that the zipper on my right boot was stuck.

Hacking home
Despite the forecasted rain, the weather was excellent for hunting. Cool and a bit of a mist, which left horses and hounds energized.

Luckily, I had just bought a new pair of boots and had brought them along (premonition?). It isn’t ideal to wear new boots for the first time out hunting, but I escaped with only some minor rubs.

Zelda was a good girl. She was a bit bouncy at first but by the time we reached the first check, she was starting to slow down and actually trotted a bit. I always have to laugh at her because while she strenuously objects to any kind of collection in the ring, out hunting she can practically canter in place.

The hunt was about six miles.
The hunt was about six miles. It’s a nice territory with some big open fields, a good run by the river and only a few places where ground bees lurked.

 

Getting Fit

Our Workout
To get my horses — and me — ready to hunt, we need to cover some miles. I track my rides on MapMyRun.

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.

Zelda is happy to stop and enjoy the view.
Zelda is happy to stop and enjoy the view.

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.

How do you leg up your horses?

 

How long does it take to restart an OTTB?

Restarting OTTBs
In this excellent post from Denny Emerson, he talks about the need for taking as much time as you need.

We all read stories about the people who buy a race horse off the track and a few months later are cantering around a Training level course. My experience is that it takes a bit longer. Sometimes quite a lot longer. It depends on your ability as a trainer, it depends on how much time you have to ride and it depends on the horse.

Freedom is my third OTTB. My first one, a tall gangly chestnut gelding, never was able to overcome his soundness limitations. I sold him to a lady who mostly wanted to trail ride.  My second OTTB was a lovely mare but hung her knees over every jump. Not suitable for cross country jumping.

Freedom
13 years later, Freedom is still a “hot tamale” but he always tries his best.

Freedom is athletic and sound, but came to me with anxiety issues. It took me months to earn his trust and months before he would walk under saddle. He did learn to jump around week three. It was the only way I could get him to pick up his left lead!

I can remember one hunter pace where I came on my own. In the warm up area, I asked several teams if they would ride with me. They took one look at Freedom, who was, shall we say, not very calm. They all turned me down. Freedom and I got the last laugh. We won. But he cantered every step of the course.

I thought that Freedom would never make a hunt horse. For the first two years I owned him, when I rode him with other horses he had to be first. If I asked him to go behind another horse he would throw a tantrum. He’d paw the ground, fling himself in the air and basically be a pain in the butt.

It took time. Lots of time. And lots of patience. Eventually he figured out that going first wasn’t everything, even though he was bred and trained to be first. He decided that he could trust me and I learned that for all of the bouncing and posturing. I could trust him.

I started hunting him slowly. At least as slowly as you can hunt. He hilltopped for awhle, then learned to jump at the back of the first field. Turns out he loves to hunt and even more than that, he loves to whip. Thirteen years later, he’s still a handful. But he always tries his best and the time it took to get him there was worth every minute.

 

Another Spring Season Ended

Zelda hunting in Acton
This season went by way too fast. I didn’t get to hunt as much as I wanted, but the hunts I rode in were great fun!

Sadly, the spring hunting season has ended. I only hunted a few times but each one was tremendously good fun and I did get both horses out.

Zelda huntingOur last hunt was one of those perfectly sunny spring days that was verdantly green. We’ve had a lot of rain in New England this spring and everything is glowing. Zelda got this hunt, partially because she’s barefoot and the footing here is always excellent.

This was a hunt where she finally settled in. I think the last one (which was about 11 miles) taught her to conserve her energy because we might be out for hours! She was far more adjustable and didn’t even think about bucking.

I’ve been riding at the back of the field with a friend of mine who has a green horse. I think it’s very helpful for a horse to learn to hold back, no matter how much fun it is to whip or ride with the huntsman. Zelda took some convincing, but for this hunt, she was a real lady.

Despite the peaceful look of the photos, we had a few good runs in between them! Next season I’m going to have to try a Go-Pro so that I can capture the action.

 

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Zelda's well-deserved roll.
Zelda enjoyed a well-deserved roll after the hunt.

Freedom Hunts Again!

Freedom hunting
This was our first hunt back since last October, when he stopped wanting to canter.

I was thrilled to take Freedom out hunting last weekend. There were certainly times when I never thought he’d feel sound enough to do it and I had come to terms with the idea that he might have to scale down his activities.

But, after injecting his SI joints (minimal impact) and 8 weeks of Doxycyclene, he’s feeling a lot better. He’s still not 100 percent, but I think that some of it is that he anticipates pain and gets a bit anxious.

I chose this hunt because it was close enough to ride to the territory. I thought that would give me the chance to evaluate his soundness and take the edge off him. Also, the first time I trailered him this year he got very anxious and upset (not like him), so I wanted to take the trailer out of the equation.

That ride turned out to be a bit more challenging than I’d expected. I mapped out a route that would keep us off the roads except for one small stretch. What I’d forgotten was how many cyclists are on the road on nice spring Saturday mornings.

Freedom's hunt
We rode out from our barn to the start of the hunt. The hunt backtracked to a field not far from where Freedom lives so I hacked him home from there — about 9.5 miles total.

Just my luck, as I hacked down the 1000 feet of road, a friend drove by in a car to tell me there was a pod of about 30 cyclists coming right behind her. She was kind enough to stay next to me in her car while I aimed for a plot of land that would get me off the road, but we weren’t fast enough. I don’t know what these cyclists thought is going to happen when the come darting by a horse at high speed, but now they know that the horse spins in the road and the rider screams at them. I managed not to use any obscenities, but I sure came close. After about a third of them had gone by (the care didn’t slow them down at all), the rest pulled up and let me retreat onto a grassy area. They are just lucky that Freedom doesn’t kick.

Freedom was a bit less than chill after the bicycle experience, so we had a few minor confrontations about crossing downed logs and walking around new gates, but we arrived at the hunt territory, four and a half miles later, still in one piece. He’d felt pretty good — no soundness issues at the trot or canter and he picked up both leads without complaining.

He felt good until about the seven mile mark, at which point I felt him get discombobulated — most likely because he was tired. So at that point, I hacked him home (what a good boy he was to leave the field without complaint). By the time we rolled into the barn he’d covered about nine and a half miles and was feeling pretty mellow.

The flask
No hunt would be complete without a few flasks making the rounds!

Zelda learns what tired is

Hunting under the blossoms
What could be more beautiful than hunting among the spring blossoms?

Today we had a lovely hunt through the historic territory of Old Millwood Hounds and in the backyard of the Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. It was only 34 degrees this morning and it only warmed up to the low 50s, but that meant perfect hunting weather.

We covered about 10 miles on our hunt. Zelda was very peppy during the hunt but once the adrenaline wore off she was beat.

We had a small field today and I was invited to ride up front with the huntsman as a back up whip. I’ve never had the chance to whip off Zelda before and she had a blast. She was full of energy but most of it went toward watching the hounds, rather than acting naughty.

I think this was a good learning experience for her, though. After 10 miles she was dog tired — to the point where she almost slept through her dinner. We haven’t been able to hunt much this spring and Zelda is not as fit as she is at the end of the season.

Riding with the huntsman is a real treat. There’s no better way to watch the hounds work. I wish I had been able to take pictures, but I had my hands full most of the time. It was one of the times that I wished I had a “Go Pro” camera!

Here are a few pictures from the beginning and end of the hunt.

Hacking to the first cast
Hacking to the first cast
Relaxing after the hunt
Relaxing after the hunt. I love the dandelions!
Zelda after the hunt.
Zelda after the hunt. She enjoyed that beautiful green grass.

Get ready for the Maryland Hunt Cup

The Maryland Hunt Cup may be the closest thing we have in the States to the Grand National. The four mile race includes 22 timber fences, with several of the jumps approaching 5′. The 121st running will take place this Saturday, April 29th.

Program fro 1804 Hunt Cup
The first Maryland Hunt Cup was run in 1894 and was won by Johnny Miller owned and ridden by John McHenry.

The race began in 1894 as a competition between the Elkridge Fox Hunting Club and the Green Spring Fox Hunting Club to determine which hunt had the best horses. The first year entries were limited to members of the two hunt clubs. The next year it was opened up to horses owned and ridden by members of any recognized hunt in Maryland. In 1903,  it was expanded to horses owned and ridden by members of any Hunt Club in North America. Today, there is no restriction on where the horses and riders come from. The only thing that has stayed the same is that the jockeys must be amateur riders.