Interestingly, I have been a part of various barns that had some tie to fox hunting. One where some officers & staff of a local hunt boarded during the winter. One where my trainer had been involved with exercising a master of the hunt’s horses before launching her own program. Honestly, the list goes on a bit.
However, I have never actually taken any one up on the invitation to go. When I moved to CA, I found myself at a barn run by the master of a local hunt, and I figured that, eventually, May and I might make our way out to try it. BUT I hadn’t considered it as a short term goal because A) neither of us are fit and B) time has not been friendly to me lately.
Then Susan messaged me on Friday… The messages were filled with all kinds of promises about taking it easy and taking pictures and having fun. And gosh this girl clearly knows the way to my heart. I told her that as long as our barn owner (the master of the hunt) was cool with me going (it was a guest day) and trailering my horse… I’d be down. Of course, she got both taken care of nearly immediately, which meant I was suddenly hunting down formal attire in my not-quite-unpacked house.
Yes. I was also shocked at the fact that I could find this stuff. And no, please do not judge me for my fake stock tie. Beggars cannot be choosers. I even managed to dig up a, most likely, 10 year old fitted pad to go under my saddle and a non-blingy browband.
So at 6AM on Saturday morning, I was on my way to the barn, enjoying a very pretty sunrise and wondering what kind of trouble I had signed myself up for. I attempted to clean May up as well as I good including trimming up the end of her tail, cleaning up the top, and brushing her until I was more tired than she was clean. Oh well.
Susan, being the awesome person that she is, led May and Knight up to the trailer, while I drove behind her so that we weren’t holding anything up. Let’s call this Exhibit A of why I love my horse. Fully tacked up, first time leaving the property, being led with a horse I think she has seen 2x before by a person she has never met. And she was like “alright whatever. let’s go.” This included hopping on a trailer she had never seen before without hesitation.
By 9AM, I had signed my life away to the hunt, put on my jacket (and then took it off because they were waived), and was looking at getting on my horse. This… immediately led to a very panicked “omg do they use mounting blocks?” question to Susan. Who I think thought I had five heads and assured me that they do use mounting blocks… The mounting block? An 18″ wooden cube. OOOOOK.
First thing to note, your horse is not really allowed personal space. The mounting block was in between multiple horses in various states of getting tacked up, and everyone just walked up to it and hopped on in the middle of chaos. Second thing to note, May can be kind of naughty about letting me get on away from home. But after one false start, I was able to swing myself on… as she turned to run over another horse. Wonderful.
I got it together though, and I realized I had a pretty hyped horse under me. May was 100% convinced we were going XC schooling. She had puffed herself up and was not open to standing still for any length of time. So we circled… and circled… and the nicest man agreed to lead us third flight/hill topping. I think I thanked him a DOZEN times over the day for just being the best.
The field master gave us a little intro speech (that I couldn’t totally hear because my horse wouldn’t stand still, so I was in the far, far back). Our fearless leader (let’s call him OFL) gave me a synopsis though. Luckily, OFL also coached me through how to position May when the hounds were released (8.5 couples!), and he had us walk away from the rest of the flights as they took off.
Let’s just say, I am WILDLY thankful for his knowledge. I later found out that almost immediately the hunt had come across a coyote (apparently that’s what they chase here), and one of the members had fallen off. It was mass chaos that we luckily missed out on. Instead, we waited until the hunt was a bit away before we headed out after them.
At this point, OFL asked me if I was comfortable trotting and cantering. “oh yeah. I’ve evented this horse quite a bit.” Of course, as soon as the word’s left my mouth, I thought I may have made a mistake. Again, unfit, unclipped horse, and I definitely didn’t want to oversell my ability, but again, OFL was a godsend. Throughout the day, he checked in with both me and Susan whenever we were going faster than a walk to make sure we were good. #MySavior.
We started with a nice long trot set out. At first, May was pretty on the muscle. I had her held together in a nice frame, but she was pulling pretty hard. At this point, I had two thoughts A) I really need new reins and B) I probably should’ve bitted up a bit. I would say the first 40 minutes was broken up by walk and trot sets.
Luckily, the trot sets did the trick and May settled pretty quickly behind OFL and Knight. We covered a good amount of ground and followed the sounds of the hunt to the first watering spot. (Apparently, the hunt rides to water stations on the property because of how hot and dry it is.)
I wasn’t 100% sure how May would feel about the water trough. She’s pretty suspicious of water in general and this giant trough was not the friendliest. As she took a drink, a couple of hounds hopped in and out of the water. Exhibit B why my mare is amazing, she didn’t care. Even better, she was starting to get the idea of standing still. By the time the rest of the hunt TOOK OFF after the hounds, she stood politely and watched them go. (calling this one, Exhibit C).
Whew! We followed behind a bit, including a very small amount of canter. We made our way to the top of a hill to spot the hunt working VERY far from where we were. We took a moment to take some pictures, thank you again to OFL for taking them, and we discussed what else we wanted to do. May was pretty tired, we had been out for nearly 2 hours, and we had a pretty long hack back, so we decided to head back that way. OFL even offered to take us by another water station to give the horses another chance to drink.
Of course, by this point, May had recovered and had decided that the absolute best course of action was to spook at the cows in the pasture about 150′ away from the water trough vs. actually drinking. Luckily, Knight convinced her that all was well, and she did actually take a drink. PHEW!
Overall, we actually covered nearly 8 miles in a little under 3 hours. So we were SLOW. I think 90% of the time we spent walking, but that was totally ok. I thought May was exhausted. But by the time we got home, she LEAPT off the trailer full of herself and STRUTTED back to the barn. I swear, she thought she had been the fastest, fanciest horse at the hunt.
Even if she wasn’t, she still managed to impress OFL with her attitude, type, and lack of mare-ish behavior. And honestly, it was a wildly fun day. Obviously, hill topping is not the same as being in First Flight, but I thought it was a super positive way to introduce May to the idea of it. Here’s hoping we can get a bit more fit and try again soon!