Gone Hunting!

Gone hunting
Just to get in the spirit of tomorrow, here’s another hunting collage.

Freedom the Field Hunter

Freedom out Hunting
Freedom loves his new job as a field hunter. He's calm, relaxed and always interested in what's happening around him.

Yesterday our hunt sponsored a Learn to Hunt clinic. Freedom and I were there, with some other members, to answer questions and demonstrate the behavior of a proper field hunter.

I was very proud of Freedom. He behaved impeccably. He worked in the crowd on a loose rein, stood like a statue when asked, and led a few horses over a small jump with no fuss.

Several people mentioned what a nice field hunter he was. But there was one family there that remembered how Freedom was when I first got him. “I can’t believe it is the same horse,” said one. “All he used to do was bounce up and down — I thought you would die,” she finished. Her mother added, “but you never gave up on him and look how he turned out.”

He did used to be quite, well, bouncy, for sure. I never thought he was dangerous but there were some days when I questioned my sanity. One day I took him on a three hour trail ride and he didn’t walk once. He either jigged or cantered in place the entire time. Other days he simply jumped up and down in place.

It took me almost two years to convince him that he didn’t always have to go first.

And when I put him on a trailer I had to start driving right away or he’d throw a fit.

How nice for everyone to think that he’s such a nice field hunter. I think so, too. And all it took was a couple of years, a lot of patience and a job that he loved.



A tired horse is a happy horse

First Cast at Red Rail Form
Our first cast was in a beautiful field where you can see the hounds working.

After two weeks on Doxy, Freedom started to feel like himself so I decided that I would hunt this weekend, but take it easy and not jump him.

Saturday promised to be a fantastic day to hunt — and it didn’t disappoint. It was a picture perfect, sunny day in the mid-70s. After a week where we had overnight lows in the 30s it was a treat.

We had a good turnout with three fields — first flight, hilltoppers and our third field which is for people who enjoy hunting but don’t want to gallop or jump.

I started Freedom in the hilltoppers field with every intention of taking it easy. In fact, all the fields started with a bit of waiting as the hounds started off well but then came across some live scent — most likely deer — and while we could hear them give tongue off in the distance, they were not on the drag. That left the field waiting for staff and the hounds off the side of the trail, hoping not to disturb a nest of ground bees (that’s one of my biggest fears when hunting on warm fall days).

After nearly 10 minutes we moved on but at a controlled pace. Freedom was not happy. He was pleased to be out hunting and most obviously wanted to move on. Since we couldn’t, he decided to bounce. He was cantering

First check
Our first check was in a glad in the woods.

almost the whole time. When he wants to, he can canter almost in place and he was putting a lot of energy into vertical motion.

Our first check was at a glade in the woods. It’s a very pleasant place to pause as it was a little cooler out of the sun and gave the horses and hounds the chance to catch their breath.

I could tell that Freedom was feeling fine. I decided to move him up the first field and let him move out a bit. He’s funny. Now that he understands hunting, he will stand at the check on a loose rein and snooze. Once the hounds are cast, however, he is ready to go.

The second cast went very well. The hounds were back on track and we had a good gallop through the woods. Freedom still insisted on cantering the whole time but since he’s very balanced, I didn’t worry too much about it. As long as he keeps a good distance behind the horse in front of him, I generally let him choose the gait.

At the first run of fences, I realized I’d been wise to decide not to jump him. As soon as he saw the fences he started to flip his head and bounce. While he never really misbehaved,  he was not focused and I wasn’t sure that he was paying enough attention to actually jump them. I ended up with foam all over my glasses and my jacket!

I did let him jump one fence after the third cast — only because it was easier than going around it. Freedom doesn’t like to gap the fences. He sees them and there is a magnetic attraction. However, we’ll have plenty more chances to jump this season.

Freedom after the hunt
Freedom wasn't quite as tired as this photo makes him seem. But he was hot and sweaty. He certainly enjoyed his after hunting bath.

We finished the hunt with an adrenalin charged gallop up the final hill. Freedom must have had some flashbacks to his racing days but we managed not to pass anyone.

As we pulled up at the trailer, I had a happy horse, but a tired horse. It wasn’t so much that it was a long hunt or a particularly fast hunt, but the heat coupled with his excitement had left him covered with foam. He even had sweat on his eyelids. While he wasn’t as hot and tired as the photo makes him look, he certainly appreciated his after hunting bath and grazing time.

As for the riders, we had a magnificent tea after the hunt. This was our annual lobster tea. We sat out behind the barn with lobster and killer shrimp chowder soaking up the afternoon sun.

It was a great day, for sure. And, for all fox lovers, keep in mind that the only thing that was chased (except for the deer) was some anise.



It’s almost Thanksgiving

Freedom has learned to conserve his energy during the checks but he is ready to go when the hounds are cast.

But I’m going to give thanks today!

I am grateful for having a horse that makes hunting so much fun. The last few hunts Freedom has been such a pleasure to hunt. He’s been calm, focused, sure footed and has jumped like a deer. I can’t believe how far he’s come just from the spring season. Today he was bold yet rateable and he jumped like a star. I think he’s found a job he really likes and, if a horse can look proud of himself, that’s how he looks hacking home.

Freedom clears all fences with at least a foot to spare.
Freedom clears all fences with at least a foot to spare. Not a problem over a tiny log, but when it's a big coop or wall, we have some serious air time!

Freedom has so much scope that I still work hard not to overface him. He jumps so high over the smaller fences that I worry if I take some of the bigger ones, he’ll jump me out of the tack. Today we jumped all but two fences and every approach was good.

How funny that he’s now the horse that new riders want to follow in the hunt! He keeps a steady pace and isn’t at all phased by what the horses around him are doing. Last week I dropped back from the first field to lead the hilltoppers and even then he acquiesced without a fuss although he was not happy to see the first field take off at a gallop.

I am also grateful that I have enough flexibility in my schedule that I can sneak off on some Tuesdays and have a wild gallop through the woods. If only I didn’t want to take a nap when I got home!

Qualities of a Good Hunt Horse

Freedom and I hunted again yesterday and I think I might have another foxhunter! He was a star on Saturday, right up until he cut his front leg. Luckily, he had no lasting effects from the scratch and I was really looking forward to today’s hunt. The fixture is one of my favorites: a mix of fields and woods, and one where the hounds are cast three times.

I was a bit concerned as I hadn’t had the chance to ride since Saturday. But Freedom was great and we hunted without incident or drama. I was particularly pleased that he kept his head while several horses acted out, during a few incidents with ground bees, when the hounds came through a field threading in and out amongst the horses, when his horse friend had to turn back with a slipping hoof boot, and when the horse behind us ran up behind and tried to pass. For his good sense and obedience, I forgive him for his inability to stand still during waits in the woods and at the checks! The only time he was really quiet was in the trailer during the tailgate tea; I’m pretty sure he was asleep!

This was a hunt where we got to see the hounds working up close. Freedom was fascinated by that and seemed to enjoy watching them. He stood at attention during the second and third cast and followed them with real interest. What made him a particular pleasure to ride was that he is incredibly sure-footed. He is able to handle a variety of terrain without taking a bad step or stumble.

On the way home, that got me thinking about the qualities that make a good hunt horse. For the past few seasons I’ve hunted my Trakehner gelding, Kroni. I’ve always thought he was just about perfect, except for his propensity to stumble over roots, but Freedom is a completely different ride, so the question required more thought. Here then, is my list:

A good hunt horse:

  • Can be ridden anywhere in the group, with the ability to lead when necessary, the patience to stay in line and keep a safe distance from the horse in front without fuss, and the independence to leave the field alone.
  • Tolerates the the hounds no matter where they run — even under their feet!
  • Enough speed to keep up, the obedience to be rated, and great brakes!
  • Doesn’t buck, bolt or kick out when other horses get excited.
  • Stands quietly at check points and while we watch the hounds work.
  • Happily traverses all types of terrain without tripping or stumbling, and is not concerned about crossing water.
  • Doesn’t mind being ridden on the road, passed by cars, bikes or motorcycles, no matter how fast the traffic moves.
  • Brave enough to jump when asked but submissive enough to go around when their rider prefers!
  • Enough endurance to stay fresh, but not so fresh as to cause problems.
  • Has comfortable gaits, especially the trot, as you will do a lot of it.
  • Stands quietly while being mounted, even if it’s out in the field. Even better, a horse stays near you if (and when) you fall off!
  • Willing to load any place you have to park your trailer; content to stand and wait while its rider enjoys the tea.

What Not to Wear — The Equestrian Version

With apologies to Stacey and Clinton . . . but there’s been a thread on the Chronicle of the Horse that has had me chuckling. I have cared that much about being in style, so predictably, I am a big offender of what not to wear when it comes to equestrian sporting attire.

But let’s face it, when it comes to most forms of English riding, we rider look a bit, well, anachronistic. Tweed jackets, top hats and britches have remained the same for hundreds of years, at least if you look at men’s attire. It’s the intricacies of fashion (and tradition) that can catch you up.

For example, I fox hunt. I wore the stock pin that used for dressage and eventing competitions with a pre-tied stock tie. That’s a big no-no on the hunt field. Since stock ties sometimes need to double as slings or bandages, it’s important to use the real thing (and to learn to tie it correctly) and fasten it with a plain horizontal gold stock pin (looks like a safety pin).

Foxhunting attire is well defined.
Foxhunting attire is well defined.

In fox hunting there are formal and informal seasons. During the informal season you can dress like you came out of a Ralph Lauren ad: tweed or hacking jackets in earth tones with three buttons, small lapels and a vented back. Breeches can be beige tan or gray and boots can be brown or black. Stock ties can have colors or patterns. Women must wear hair nets.

In the formal season, jackets should be navy or black, shirts and stock ties must be white, breeches beige and boots black. No field boots during formal season and coats must remain buttoned while mounted. Depending on the specific hunt, gentleman with Colors wear a scarlet coat (pinque) with hunt colors on their collar, hunt buttons, white breeches and regulation boots with brown tops. Ladies with Colors  wear hunt colors on their colors, hunt buttons, and patent leather tops to their boots.

Equestrian Show Attire
This rider looks good, but the dark breeches are a no-no for showing or hunting, the stock tie wouldn't cut it in the show ring, and the blue gloves are only appropriate for schooling.

The rules for show hunters are harder as they are not written down and do seem to be driven by trends and fashion. Here are a few ways you can show yourself to be an outsider:

  • Don’t wear hair bags or show bows. You should always wear a hairnet, but not a heavy duty one. In fact, some people wear hair nets whenever they ride.
  • Boots must fit properly. Most of all, they need to be so tall that the first few time you wear them they create blisters on the backs of your knees. I had a pair like that and while they looked marvelous, I had to grit my teeth to keep from crying out in pain. Often thisns that custom made boots are necessary.
  • Hunter hair must be artfully arranged. See instructions.
  • No belt is bad form. A non-leather belt is worse.
  • Do not wear a hunting style stock pin or a stock tie. Your collar should be monogrammed instead. Plus, there’s an urban legend about stock pins: If you fall off and they open up, they could stab you in the neck. I’ve fallen several times wearing one and the pin has been the least of my problems.
  • Helmet covers (like eventers use over skull caps) are not done.
  • Green hunt coats.
  • Visible panty lines should be avoided at all costs, a somewhat difficult task when wearing stretchy tight pants in pale colors.
  • Faded helmets.
  • Short sleeved or no-sleeved shirts under jackets. Long sleeves only, please!

Next time, we’ll talk about eventing . . . where almost anything goes when it comes to cross country!

First Hunt of the Season!

When I got the fixture card in the mail, a few weeks back, I was grinning from ear to ear. Spring hunting is the perfect antidote for chasing out the blahs of winter.

After much anticipation, opening day did not disappoint. The weather has been incredible here in the Northeast and the footing was excellent. The day was warm, but not hot, with lots of sun and a touch of breeze.

The hounds were spot on. Watching them run through the fields was beautiful. The field was small and that worked to our advantage because everyone got to see the hounds today.

We hunted at one of my favorite places — the Delaney complex in Stow. There are a smattering of inviting jumps and a good mix of wooded trails and open fields. The field moved along briskly and with the heat, we were grateful for the two checks. Kroni was amazing. He was a pleasure to ride and was jumping in great style. At the end of the hunt, my face hurt from grinning!

Although Kroni has been in regular work all winter, he’s still getting fit. He definitely was enjoying the day, though. As soon as we pulled into the parking area and he heard the hounds, he started to get excited and watched each cast with great interest. The more he hunts, the more eagerly he watches the hounds. He was quite strong today, and there were times when I wished I was riding with a bit (instead of my LG bridle) as he was pulling so hard. He really seems to enjoy this “job” — much more so than when we used to compete at dressage shows or even events.

I am a recent convert to hunting. This is my third season as a member, although I hunted several times as a guest before joining. Most people don’t think of the Boston area as a place where fox hunting is a sport that’s pursued on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Of course, these days, the only “foxes” we chase are the human kind, who lay a scent early before the hunt starts. But we do have hounds and they are glorious. The more I hunt, the more I appreciate the skill of the staff, the music of the hounds “giving tongue”, and the thrill of the hunt. The hunt I belong to is a great group of people who have been extremely welcoming and helpful.

Then there are the “teas”, a term that vastly understates the delicious lunches prepared by members. What better way to enjoy your horse than to gallop cross country across spectacular land with a group of friends, watching a skillful pack track a scent, then join together for a great meal. Certainly after experiencing the thrill of hunting, dressage shows just never had the same appeal!