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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Our 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.