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.

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I had my hands full

Hounds at attention
I love how the hounds are standing at attention. Of course, they are waiting for treats!

Today was the first hunt of the Spring season and boy, did I have my hands full! I thought about that idiom while I was driving back from the hunt and my fingers felt stiff and swollen holding the steering wheel. The expression may not have derived from an equestrian meaning, but it certainly could have. I didn’t get many photos today because I needed both hands on the reins and Zelda was pulling hard!

We had a spectacular day to hunt. Although it has been hot here in New England, today the high was in the low 50s and despite the promise of a cloudy day, it was bright and sunny. Zelda was my mount of choice. I’m hoping to hunt Freedom soon but although he feels good most of the time, we still have days when he’s not quite himself.

Heading to the first cast
This hunt starts at the end of an aqueduct.

Zelda was, perhaps, a bit more than herself. It’s funny how a horse who is kick along quiet at home turns into a fire breathing, snorting, piaffing, and bouncing ball of energy when she’s chasing hounds! I gave her a 15 minute warm up to make sure there were no bucks lurking, and she was pretty well behaved. My friend riding behind me did ask at one point whether I was asking her to leap from side to side. I guess it looked like we were dancing. Instead, we were negotiating for control. Zelda was pretty sure that I was doing it WRONG because I did not let her gallop full tilt down the first hill.

Waiting for the hounds
There’s a beautiful pond right at the start

All the horses were a bit jazzed up from the excitement of being out hunting again and the brisk weather. To accommodate a few people who wanted to go a bit more slowly after the first check, I held back and led a second field. It was when we approached the first jump — a nice log that crosses the trail — where the first real tantrum occurred. Zelda locked onto that log like a heat seeking missal and when I told her that she needed to go around it? She had a toddler-worthy meltdown. It’s always good to establish early in the hunt season who is in charge, so I was pleased when she capitulated, and even more pleased that she’s not that hard to sit even when she’s jumping in the air and spinning around. The silver lining of having such an eager horse is that I almost never have to post; she can canter in place with the best of them and that’s so much easier to sit.

I’m glad that Zelda is so enthusiastic about hunting. I will need to remind her at home that she is completely capable of collection and animation. That she does not need to be kicked into a canter and that I can remember clearly that she is not on her forehand when she’s galloping down those trails. I will also remember at the next hunt that I should wear gloves. By Saturday, my hands will just about have recovered!

Hacking home
Since it was the first hunt and neither horses (nor riders) were very fit, we hacked the third piece. My left ankle was very grateful for the break!

 

Tools of the Trade

Hunt Whihp
A good hunt whip is an excellent tool. I often carry one when I’m trail riding because they make a good crack and can scare off a wayward dog. Of course, you do need to get your horse used to the sound or you could end up impaled on one of those carved handles (by the way, did you realize those are for opening gates?).

How to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner without Missing the Thanksgiving Hunt

The Old Manse
The Thanksgiving Hunt is one of the “High Holy Days” of foxhunting. Our hunt starts from the Old Manse, which was built in 1770 for patriot minister William Emerson. The Old Manse became the center of Concord’s political, literary, and social revolutions over the course of the next century. In the mid-19th-century, leading Transcendentalists such as Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller discussed the issues of the day here, with the Hawthorne and Ripley families. We start the morning with a “stirrup cup.”

There is much to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day, especially when you start the morning with a foxhunt. For the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to spend the morning hours chasing the scent of foxes (no real foxes involved) through historic Concord, Mass., before heading home to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family.

There is no one who describes the balancing act between a great dinner and a great hunt than Cooky McClung, and I have linked to her column in the Chronicle of the Horse below.

Of course, I realize some people do not foxhunt on Thanksgiving Day, although I have no idea what they do with all that extra time after the turkey is in the oven.

How to cook Thanksgiving Dinner
When I first read this article, back in 1987, I had no idea that one day I’d be trying to balance Thanksgiving and Foxhunting!

I am lucky in that my family doesn’t mind having Thanksgiving dinner a little on the late side. I am lucky to have such a wonderful hunt horse. And I am lucky that the Thanksgiving Hunt is literally around the corner from where my horses live, so I save all that time by not trailering.

This year I was on the fence about hunting. I hadn’t ridden since Saturday and it was cold and damp on Thursday morning.

I’m glad, though that I went. Zelda was amazing and, despite the snow showers, we had a wonderful time!

The Old Manse
We usually draw quite a crowd at the start of the hunt. The Old Manse is right on Monument Street next to the Old North Bridge.
The first Cast
Right around the time of the first cast, the first flakes of snow started to fall!
Concord
We ride through some lovely fields in historic Concord.
The last field
The last field is quite close to where Zelda lives, so we just hacked home.

After putting Zelda up and leaving her some extra Thanksgiving hay, it was back home for an afternoon of cooking and a great meal.

A Great Day to be Hunting

Pepperell
How much better does it get? Nearly 60 degrees on November 19th!

The fall hunt season is drawing to a close but you would never have known it was November 19th today. It was nearly 60 degrees with bright, clear skies. What a treat! It was one of those hunts where you ride back to the trailer after two hours and wish you could go a bit further.

Zelda surveys the hilltoppers
Zelda, surveying the hilltoppers. She was in fine form today. Excited, happy and not at all naughty.

Zelda had a really good time today. She’s gotten much smarter about hunting — she is staying more balanced and is easier to rate — but she was so excited to be out that she was literally bouncing. It’s amazing to me that the same horse that swears it’s impossible collect at a canter when schooling dressage, can practically canter in place when she’s in the hunt field.

The best thing about having a horse that can canter that slowly? I almost never need to post. And her canter is very comfortable.

Open fields
Today we hunted in Pepperell, which is just shy of the New Hampshire border. Lots of big open fields.
Fields
The hounds were spot on the scent today — and the fields gave the opportunity for great viewing.

More fields

Hunting in Pepperell

Zelda rolling
After the hunt Zelda could barely wait for me to get her tack off before enjoying a roll in the sand.

A last taste of summer

Cooling off
Hard to believe that it was 65 degrees at the beginning of November. But, who’s complaining?

We had a beautiful day last week that happened to coincide with a hunt. It was a bit of a drive but who could complain about riding in the sun when it’s in the low 60s? Especially as it had been so cold overnight that there had been ice on the water tank?

Zelda was a good girl. I think she’s remembered that long hunt. Or maybe the new gag bit has made an impression on her? After she became a little too enthusiastic about rooting and snatching at the reins, a friend gave me a happy mouth one ring gag. It’s not a severe bit (she has a sensitive mouth), but it’s stopped the rooting and allowed me to ride her with a much softer feel. It’s also saving my back; at the end of a hunt the rooting was causing a lot of lower back pain.

 

Callahan
We hunted in Callahan State Park where the hunt started on an Aqueduct.
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Everyone enjoyed the day!
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The horses enjoyed the sun (and grass) after the hunt.
Zelda at pond
I tried to get Zelda in the water but she would have none of it!

 

 

A Very Long Hunt

Heading into the woods
This hunt was on our “home” territory which makes it extra exciting!

Zelda has really enjoyed hunting this season. A lot. She has been very full of herself and quite strong. She also has the annoying habit of “rooting” — in other words, she snatches at the reins and tries to pull them out of my hand, mostly because I, god forbid, am trying to balance her and she just wants to keep up.

Warm Up
The foliage during our warm up hack

But on Tuesday she might have had a watershed moment because we had a hunt that was long enough that it maybe, might have taught her to conserve her energy.

One of my strategies with Zelda is to ride her a bit before the hunt to get the sillies out. On Tuesday we hunted the territory behind my barn so I had plenty of time to work her before the first cast (no trailering!). It was a

Right before the hunt
Right before the hunt started.

beautiful, cold fall morning and she definitely felt frisky, so we logged 4.5 miles, mostly at a trot and canter. All set, I thought.

The pre-ride set her up pretty nicely. I still have trouble with her getting a bit flat and strung out, but she was mostly listening and there was no bucking. We had a very pleasant hunt which took us about another 5 miles. Then, some of the hounds went walkabout.

Hunt
We did a very complete tour of the area.

Given that I know the trail system well, I helped with the rescue mission. In fact, most of the field came out as it was such a nice day. We logged about another four miles, covering most of the trails and then some.

Three and a half hours and nearly 14 miles later we headed back to the barn. Usually, Zelda doesn’t like to leave the field — she’s always looking for the next cast. This time, she happily headed home and had a good, long roll.

I’m curious it see if she learned anything from being out so long!