The Last Hunt of 2017

The last hunt
Yesterday was the last hunt of the 2017 season. The weather gods smiled on us and we had a sunny day in the mid-50s.

I haven’t had the chance to hunt much this fall, but Zelda and I managed to catch the last two Saturday hunts of the season. Last week the day was seasonably chilly and gray. Zelda was as brisk as the weather and her exuberance was hard to contain — I chose to ride sweep, bringing up the rear on a small field that included a few new comers. The horse in front of me showed a propensity to kick and so I left a solid gap in front of us to see if the mare would settle. This made Zelda most unhappy. She loves to hunt and being held back did not jive with her. For the first time I felt just how much stretch my rubber reins could sustain. I don’t like to get into a pulling match with my horses and I told her I’d make it up to her on the next hunt.

Yesterday was a different story. It was sunny and mild, and the territory lends itself to some good gallops. Zelda and I stayed up front in the field so I could let her move on. I also changed her bit (more on that in another post) moving to a slightly milder option.

And boy did we have fun! You can see what a brilliant day out it was, and also how diverse the landscape that we rode through.

First Field
After a brief hack through the woods, the hunt started in some open fields along an aqueduct.
The first Check
The first check was at the end of this grassy field.
Sandy
We then moved off through a sandy area, that doesn’t look much like New England.
The Aqueduct
We enjoyed a brisk gallop along the aqueduct.
Final cast
And ended up at this field for a final gallop. I lost my left stirrup moments after taking off so spent the first part of the field thinking very hard about staying centered.
Good Hounds
The end of the hunt. The hounds were excellent today!
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Huntswoman vs. Saboteur

A British huntswoman was filmed recently in a tussle with balaclava-masked hunt saboteurs. From what I can hear on the video, the saboteurs were on private land protesting the hunt (which, by the way, was a drag hunt not a live hunt). The hunter rode toward the man telling him to leave private land. In response, the man grabbed the horse’s bridle and the woman then struck him repeatedly with her crop.

huntswoman vs. saboteur
This clash between a hunter and a hunt saboteur has a lot of people debating who is right? What do you think?

Comments on the Daily Mail in the UK run in favor of the woman but there are a lot of people who support the saboteurs, as well.

What would you do if a man (whose face was hidden) grabbed your horse’s bridle? Should the hunt have just ridden off without confronting them? I just hope that no protesters show up at any of our hunts.

The Hounds are Blessed

The blessing of the hounds
This year the annual Blessing of the Hounds took place at the Mary Martha Chapel at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Mass. The chapel was built in 1929 and was named after Henry Ford’s mother, Mary Litogot Ford, and his mother-in-law, Martha Bench Bryant. Ford owned the Wayside Inn at the time.

The Blessing of the Hounds is a hunting tradition that was begun in Europe by St. Hubert of Liege, who later became the patron saint of hunters. It came to this country with the colonists. Our foxhunting club has seen several interpretations of

The processon
The hunt field followed the bagpiper and the priest to the chapel.

this ancient practice, with the blessing performed by many denominations, including a shaman.

This year, our Blessing was held at the Mary Martha Chapel, which is next to Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. Although the chapel is not nearly as historic as the 300-year old inn, it is quintessentially New England and on this beautiful fall day, it glowed.

Since the blessing is really about the hounds, I focused on them. I wasn’t riding at this hunt as my daughter was rowing a the Head of the Charles regatta (another New England tradition), but at least I had the chance to be part of the festivities.

You can see how clearly the hounds’ personalities shine through.

On the way to the blessing

A few treats before the blessing

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!

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.