It was a hot, steamy early summer day. But a great time to be out riding with friends. Today was our hunt club’s Spring Hunter Pace. In case you’ve never been to one, teams of riders go out and follow a prescribed course trying to approximate a hunting pace. The team that comes closest to the ideal time wins. Today, my team was second! The ideal time was 1:20:17 and our time was 1:21:40. Not too shabby.
I rode Zelda. Both horses had a bit more than two weeks off as I was caught up with family activities and traveling to California and she seemed the most controllable. Of course, she was a star but the fact it was 80 degrees and very humid certainly didn’t hurt. Great Brook Farm State park is a fabulous place to ride with wonderful trails and a full complement of cross country jumps. We rode a bit more than 6 miles and came tired and ready for a bath!
On Sunday Freedom and I rode in a Hunter Pace. For those of you who haven’t the chance to try a Pace event, it’s a timed ride that replicates a fox hunt. A team of riders sets an “ideal” pace and each team tries to replicate it, without knowing exactly how long the ride will be or how fast the “rabbit” team rode.
For this pace event the optimum time was 1:59:00 for a course that was a hair under 11 miles. We rode it in 1:58:08 — a pretty respectable result that put us in fifth place.
The territory is beautiful — big open galloping fields, connected by wooded trails. Five of us from the Old North Bridge Hounds rode out together. We kept up a good pace because the forecast was heavy rain and thunderstorms moving into the area.
We were lucky and we got a little bit wet, but given how the skies opened later in the day, it was nothing. It was hot and humid, though. There were times when it felt like we were riding through a tropical rain forest.
Even Freedom felt the effect of the heat and humidity — by the time we came into the home stretch, even his eyelids were covered with foam! It’s rare that I feel Freedom tire, but by the time we’d done about nine miles, he was starting to drag. He started to get heavy in front and lean on my hands. He also voluntarily trotted, rather than canter. He would never admit it, but he was glad to get on the trailer and zone out.
I will admit. I took a nap when I got home. Although I was pleased that my legs felt pretty good. It’s taken a long time this spring to get back in any kind of riding shape.
Today Freedom and I participated in a Hunter Pace. For the uninitiated, a Hunter Pace is a timed ride where you try to come the closest to an “optimum” pace that is set either by a specific team or by averaging the scores of different riders. There are different ways to calculate the optimum time and all of them have their benefits and limitations. Today, we were the “rabbits” and set the optimum time for the Fences Division.
We were, however, a bit too fast.
It didn’t feel that fast. In fact, we mostly trotted. And since my friend Carol was able to keep up on her non-hunting fox trotter, I thought we were in good shape. But we did get round the course in less time than I’d anticipated. Probably it was because we didn’t stop except for the check. Yesterday, Freedom was jumping out of his skin and I worried that he wouldn’t be that much fun to ride — jigging, bouncing and jumping up into the air gets old after awhile. But boy, was I wrong. Today he was all business. He deigned to walk down a couple of rocky hills, but the rest of the time he asked (quite politely) to move out and was happy to go on a loose rein.
The venue for the pace event was an area next to Walden Pond called Adams Woods. It’s full of very nice bridle paths and has the added benefit of lots (24) of cross country jumps — they range in size from about 18″ to 3’3″ and they are mostly very inviting solid fences that horses jump well.
I’ve had some “issues” jumping Freedom in the hunt field so far this fall as the nature of galloping up to fences as part of the field is difficult for him. I think it’s sensory overload: he gets so caught up in keeping up that he forgets to look at the fence. Now me? I like the horse to pay attention.
Today was a perfect schooling opportunity and we took full advantage of it. He was focused, he didn’t rush and he jumped like he was on springs. Before we went out I reminded myself that it would be highly inconvenient if I were to fall off today — for one thing, I needed to set the pace, and for another, I had to drive my daughter to a regatta as soon as I got home and I didn’t fancy doing that with a lot of bruises. Luckily, he was so honest and forward to the fences that I stopped worrying and just let myself enjoy it. There’s very little better than jumping cross country on a horse that is so obviously having fun.
We did lose a shoe in the last part of the pace. We’ve had rain all week and Freedom has been standing in mud. It didn’t slow him down much; I didn’t even notice it at first. Thankfully the footing was soft enough that he didn’t tear his foot up at all. Someone turned in a shoe at the end of the day and I’m hoping it’s Freedom’s. It would be so much easier for my farrier to just tack the shoe back on rather than make another one.
When we got back to the trailer, he was happy and relaxed. You could tell he thought he’d done a good job. That’s when a hunting friend asked me if that was really Freedom. “I didn’t recognize him,” she said. “I’ve never seen him stand still!”
Today was our hunt club’s Poker Ride. For those of you who haven’t participated in this type of riding event, a Poker Ride is like a Hunter Pace where you are not timed (you can ride at any pace) and you pick up chips along the way. At the end of the ride you trade them in for cards and the team with the best hand wins.
Poker Rides are great for the summer, when riding at a hunting pace may cause heat exhaustion. They are mostly a good excuse to get out and ride a nicely marked route and catch up with your friends.
Today’s ride was in the town next to mine. I’d heard that the ride itself would be relatively short — the estimate was 5-6 miles. I was riding over with two friends so we decided to hack over to the start. It’s was a bit over three miles each way so we were anticipating riding about 11 miles . . .
The course, however, proved to be nine miles, so we ended up riding 15.8 miles! It was a beautiful day — mid 70s, low humidity — but when we got back to the barn, horses and riders were all pretty tired. But what a great way to spend a couple of hours.
Today was one of those perfect early summer days. Low 70s, no humidity, a nice breeze and bright sunshine.
Zelda and I set off this morning with Charlie and Marianne, meeting our friend Meta and her cute pony Ruby to ride in a hunter pace.
After so many hunting disappointments — work conflicts, rain — the weather gods were smiling today.
This was Zelda’s first real pace event. I’ve taken her out on a few hunt rides and hunted her once this season, but I’m still working to give her more mileage.
This was an ideal situation because she had to lead, follow, cross water and let other horses pass us. When I first started riding her, she refused to lead. Sure, she’d be okay for awhile, but then she’d slam on the brakes and refuse to move. If you asked a bit too hard, she’d buck!
Today, she strode out happily and confidently. No balking, no bucking and no attitude. Zel has figured out that exploring is fun and she wants to be part of it. The only small problem with her is that she’s got such a big stride that if we’re walking, she outpaces her companions. I don’t like to restrict her too much, I like to let her walk on a loose rein and leave her mouth alone.
She followed well, too. When she was behind Charlie or Ruby she was polite and kept her distance.
Water crossings were a bit trickier. Zelda and I have had a few “discussions” about crossing water in the past. When we came to the first stream, Ruby went right across. Zelda slowed way down and I could feel her confusion. Then she
bunched up her muscles and flew over the stream. We cleared that stream by a couple of feet and was oh-so-glad that I had a good hold of the neck strap. It’s funny because she has no problem with large puddles, it’s the stream crossings that get her. However by the end of the ride she was happily splashing through them, too tired to expend the extra energy to launch herself.
Getting passed by other teams was an education. We were only passed once and moved over to the side of a field to let the other team move on faster. Zelda was prepared to dump her little team in a heartbeat. She started to spin and wanted to bolt. When I said “no”, she reluctantly stayed with me and we continued on without incident.
Somewhere along the route we must have made a wrong turn. I’m not sure how we managed it, since we never missed a plate. Maybe we did an extra circle along the way. We had a friend who started after our team and finished ahead of us, but never passed us. The pace was supposed to be 12 miles. My GPS said 16.3 miles, but it also added an odd spike to the map that we didn’t ride. It took us about 2 hours and 15 minutes and while it was longer than I’d anticipated, we enjoyed every minute of it.
It was the longest ride I’ve ever taken Zelda on. She was perky and forward right up until the end although I could tell she was getting tired. When I got her
home, it was a different story. She was so tired that she wasn’t even interested in her dinner! The photo that I got from my barn mate who fed shows a horse that can barely keep her nose off the ground. I was a little worried about her, but when I checked on her after dinner, she had rallied.
Today I had such a treat! I rode in Norfolk Hound’s Westport Hunter Pace, an event that I’ve heard about for years. It did not disappoint. If Walt Disney was going to design a Hunter Pace ride, he would be hard pressed to come up with something better.
Picture this: 65 degrees and sunny with just a touch of fall in the air. The trees are just starting to turn but there is still a blanket of warmth.
Add huge green fields and water views. Lots and lots of them. There is a slight briny scent in the air and you have to pass by docked boats and small summer cabins where lucky residents can watch the water and sip cocktails on their porches.
Add lovely footing. Fields that cry out for a gallop. Once Freedom got over the fact that there were no hounds, he started to relax and enjoy the fields. The grass was soft under foot and invited your horse to bounce (well, my horse at least).
Add stone walls. Beautiful walls that criss cross the landscape and lead you down to those beautiful water views. In some of the fields, black cattle grazed behind tiny strands of electric fencing. I’m not sure that Freedom noticed them, which was probably just as well because he’s never seen a cow up close and personal before.
Add about 150 happy horses and riders. Maybe even more! Everyone was riding with a big grin on their face because riding for nearly two and a half hours in hunter pace nirvana is absolutely the best way to spend a fall day.
And it was the entire day. I left my house this morning shortly before 8:00 and didn’t get home until 5:30. It was nearly two hours from where I live (I will admit, I drive slowly when I’m towing my horse — I don’t like to go more than 60 Mph. Let’s face it, Route 128 is scary even when you’re not towing two horses!)
Yesterday was our hunt’s Fall Hunter Pace. I wasn’t planning to ride because I had to catch a flight out of town later that day and generally I have too much to do. Plus, Freedom was recovering from a small stone bruise.
However, since he came sound and I hadn’t had the chance to ride much last week, I went. We had a glorious time. The day was cool and slightly overcast which was perfect for moving out and covering some ground. Despite his five days off Freedom was in fine form. We met a new friend and were thoroughly enjoying the fences and the fields.
Except for one thing. About half way through the pace we ran into some ground bees (which I believe are actually yellow jackets). Ground bees are a real problem in the fall as it seems that they get particularly aggressive. When out hunting, if someone yells “bees” you need to move through fast or turn around and find another route because once they get stirred up, those bees are angry.
I got stung once on my wrist and was thankful that Freedom didn’t get stung as we were crossing a gully with no good place to accelerate.
I didn’t give it much thought. It was itchy and a bit red but that seemed normal. When I got home I took a couple of Benedryl and iced it. Then I got on a plane and flew to Las Vegas.
It was when I woke up this morning that I realized I had a problem. My right hand and my arm up to my elbow was now swollen, itchy, hot and red. Who would have thought that one bite would be such a problem. I’ve never had much of a reaction to bee stings/wasp stings before. So I spent my first two hours this morning at a clinic where I was prescribed antibiotics, steroids and a Tetanus shot.
And to think, my biggest concern yesterday was not falling off my horse!