Ride along with me, The Fledgling Foxhunter. With each adventure I hope to share with you some insight from the beginners’ perspective of subjects including what you can expect the first time out, foxhunting fashion, etiquette in the field, pre-and-post hunt realities and socializing for the anti-social.
As a suburb dwelling, horse obsessed, pre-teen in the early 90’s, the classic hunt scene prints found in most any antique shop were about as close as I could get to a horse. At the age of 12 my family moved to a small 5 acre plot of land and naturally, when my mother took me to the local interior design shop to pick out wallpaper for my new bedroom, I instantly fell in love with a hunting series by Ralph Lauren. For nearly 15 years my days started and ended surrounded in warm brown tweed, hunt scenes and a pattern of rich brown saddles and crops covering my walls. It was not until two years ago that I finally found the courage to live out my teenage dreams in the world of horses and hounds. My first experience foxhunting was every-single-thing that I had dreamed it could be. It was all I could talk about for weeks, and though I loved it with every part of my being, my horse was young and I had other competitive ambitions to tackle before succumbing to the addiction that is fox hunting.
After a rough end to last year’s eventing season, I opted to board my horse over the winter at a facility with an indoor arena instead of giving him time off at home. We focused on improving our dressage in anticipation for an awesome 6 year old season. I had aspirations of moving up from Beginner Novice to Novice level by the end of the season. However, just moments into our dressage test at our first event my horse slipped and fell (quite dramatically). The experience was a more than a little unsettling. Once back at home he continued slipping out behind and I knew we needed professional guidance. After subsequent trips to the large animal clinic and much deliberation with my veterinarian; I was led back to Fox Hunting. The goal was simple and straight forward, get my horse out of the manicured arena’s, off of my home flatland and instead focus our work on where the hills and varied terrain should help him build some better muscling and improve his overall strength and co-ordination. Under the guidance of my veterinarian and with the help of my farrier we made adjustments to his shoeing, modified his nutritional plan, and discussed the importance of giving him some time to adjust to his new job. Even though he had been in consistent work, the work out in the field would be different than that which we could accomplish at home. My veterinarian placed great emphasis on letting him adjust and (gasp) us just having fun.
I spent little time in contacting Laura Mock, Joint Master of The Chagrin Valley Hunt. She had been so very friendly when I was a guest 2 years prior, and was warm and welcoming as I scheduled a day to ride out with the hunt once again. Our first hunt back was again, just amazing and I was instantly hooked and two weeks later officially subscribed to the hunt. In these past couple months riding with The CVH, I can honestly say that I have had more moments of pure joy and adrenaline filled adventures than I have experienced in over 17 years of riding and showing horses. Week after week I have had the most profound bonding experiences with my horse. I have made many new friends, some of which have been excellent mentors, making my transition into foxhunting easy and enjoyable.
Before returning to the hounds I never could have imagined a life without points, scores and ribbons. I lived and thrived on the challenges and rewards of showing. In just a few short months I have undergone an amazing personal transformation. The memories I have made out in the field are so much more vibrant than any show or ribbon has ever been for me. I still feel torn when I chat with friends sending in entries and discussing what shows are coming up, but I am looking forward to actually being able to support them as they show. I have also found that being a horse show mommy to my young son and his new pony is much more rewarding, when I am not also trying to get myself and my horse into the ring. Each hunt morning that I rise before dawn to groom, tack and load my horse, I get to experience nature in all of its beauty surrounded by people with a common passion. My heart is full and my soul is free. Though our journey and goals have changed for now, we are both so much happier for it. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you as the Fledgling Foxhunter.
If foxhunting is on your bucket list I strongly encourage you to be brave. Make the call, send the email, don’t wait for “someday” just get out there and experience it firsthand. Most hunts offer a selection of “open days” throughout the season, where the only requirements are a safe horse, any type of saddle, helmet and boots. There is a position in the field for most every level of rider in foxhunting as many hunts offer three “flights” to choose from to help ensure a safe and enjoyable day of sport for all.
Third flight typically follows the rest of the field at the walk and trot, no jumping necessary, gates are opened and the ride is relaxing with plenty of time to take in the scenery around you. This is a great place to start out and gain experience for both you and your horse.
Second flight offers much more trotting and a fair amount of cantering with the option of jumping if you like. There are many opportunities for you and your horse to catch your breath (and a selfie) before moving off again. This is a great choice for horses that have been in regular work. You will often have the option of jumping if you like, but gates are typically opened, so a handy jumper is not necessary. This is a great place for intermediate to advanced riders and a great place to help feel out if your horse is going to be comfortable with the hounds.
First flight is up in the thick of the action. First flight stays nearest to the huntsman and hounds and if the hounds are on a scent and the sport is good, this field can be very fast! You can expect lots of trotting, quite a bit of cantering and with luck a couple good brisk gallops. Jumping is pretty compulsory in this flight and to really enjoy your day out you will want to be on a fit horse that can handily jump 2’6”-3’ without question as well as stop quickly and stand quietly. You will often have hounds popping out ahead of you or coming up past you from behind, knowing that your horse is well adjusted to their presence is of utmost importance.
You can find a local hunt by visiting the Masters of Foxhounds Association and Foundation http://www.mfha.com/hunts-map.html