Hunt Report

The juniors are our future–if they survive

So although the majority of the formal season was a wash for me from December to February (lameness, extreme cold, travel, more extreme cold plus extreme rain), we’re finishing out the season well. Last weekend we hunted from what I’ve always been told is one of our best jumping fixtures–but being a fairly new member, I have only hunted from there a handful of times, and each time, it’s been a pretty slow day without jumping (except once when I whipped in and jumped a few old, small coops). That was not the case last Saturday–and it made for a day full of everything I love about hunting.

High winds all week had basically dried out the ground after an extremely rainy stretch, which made the footing good, but also meant there were a fair number of downed trees. This was also good, because it made for more jumping!

We jumped a bunch of small logs on the ground and hanging logs of medium size, no problem. I was so pleased with the Leftist. All of the dressage and walking that I’ve been forced to do all winter, bringing him back from his long abscess vacation, is really paying off. Rather than walk–huge jerky trot–BALLS TO THE WALL GALLOP, now I have a nice trot and canter added to the mix. It’s nice!!

This day I had a junior to look out for. Her adult chaperone was delayed by truck problems, so I offered to let her ride with me. She’s a great rider so I was not worried about that–more just the whole idea of being responsible for someone’s child! I kept looking back every time we had a little gallop or a jump, and thankfully each time she was still there. She loves to hunt and it is so cool to see animals, adults and kids all enjoying the same thing.

Everything was going well until we got to a bunch of downed branches right at the edge of the woods and a field…at a canter. By the time I saw it, I had no time to slow down. Lefty plowed on through, turned smartly to the left and galloped on. I looked over my shoulder. The branches, formerly on the ground, were stuck straight up in the air. Lefty had kicked them up right into the face of the horse behind me…and my charge was hanging halfway off said horse, her shoulders on its neck. “STAND UP!” I yelled. Not exactly a formal position they teach you, but it got the message across and she got her shoulders up and seat back in the saddle. “You did it!” I called as we galloped on. Not much time to really congratulate her, but that’s hunting.

I know at her age (actually, even now!) I would have scarcely believed I had emerged from such a close call at speed. There’s always a progression of feelings for me: shock, disbelief, and self-congratulatory awe. I was just glad my not-so-careful riding didn’t go as badly as it could have. We didn’t have to deliver my charge home in a body bag.

The other highlight of the day was a sizeable coop! Probably about 3’6.” My first thought was, “Oh. That looks big.” Then I consciously tried to banish that thought because it has not served me well before. Look across the jump. Leg on. LOOK! Two point. Leg ON!  And we sailed over with plenty of airtime and galloped on, scratching Lefty’s neck to praise him. I was soooo happy with him!

Then of course, another junior on a medium pony sailed right over it too. No big deal I guess when you’re a fearless kid on the wonder pony!

The adults toasted with celebratory port. I offered my junior charge a celebratory granola bar, but she declined. (Probably for the best because it’s been in my sandwich case for two years.)

After we hacked in, I slid out of my saddle and immediately felt it. All the chiropractic work I had done around November and December–gone. My shoulder burned and my right hip ached. Oh well. I had to wash the mud off my horse before I could even really think about it, and all pains are eased at the hunt breakfast table. The sidesaddle girls went all out with champagne in actual flutes (fancy). I dug right into the venison sausage and cheese, clutching my Miller Lite (hydrating).

A well behaved horse, great times in nature with friends, and some close calls, but all the horses and humans returned safely to stuff their faces. What more can you ask for?

(featured photo by Larry Schaudies. From 2017, but the same fixture on an equally cold day!)

Capping, Hunt Report

Hunting in England

So–everyone I spoke to about hunting in England was right. The hirelings were rockstars, and I really didn’t need any special preparation. No hedges–but there were some other twists and turns that made a slow day of hunting unforgettable.

The morning started like any other hunting morning–an early alarm, and creeping around in the dark trying not to wake my husband as I got dressed. I triple-checked that I had packed everything. Hairnet, foot warmers, gloves: check. I had some breakfast, fired up my phone’s global plan, and grabbed my travel health insurance papers. I hoped I wouldn’t have to use it but you never know!

Anyone who talked to me in the two weeks leading up to this trip could tell you in detail all of the anxiety I had about travel logistics, making my connections and getting to the fixture on time. It was honestly my biggest worry, more so than hunting a new horse, since Plantation Hirelings had such stellar reviews. So when I arrived at Alton station well ahead of time with no mishaps, I felt like the rest of the day was just gravy. When my hosts picked me up, I sang the praises of the U.K. public transit for nearly the entire ride to the barn. It just WORKS. Coming from D.C., the land of single-tracking and 20+ minutes between trains, it seems miraculous.

My hireling was a warmblood called Harley– also known as “The King.” You can see why.

After I helped tack him up, we had a long trailer (lorry) ride to the fixture that gave me a chance to get to know my hosts. More similarities than differences between U.S. and U.K foxhunters. Cursing at stupid drivers, sharing the hunt gossip, a faithful dog curled at our feet. “Look at that hill! Wonder if we can ask the farmer to use his field for galloping.” Foxhunters truly are a breed of their own and recognizable around the world.

Note the enormous hedge

Of course, the big difference is that in England, live foxhunting has been illegal since 2004. Drag hunting is fine (and this is what the hunt clubs do now to adhere to the law) but it is an extremely divisive issue. City people don’t get it, and country people resent the urban influence on something they don’t understand. I made the mistake of mentioning that I had foxhunted to ONE city person on my trip. From the look on his face, you would think I had thrown his child in front of a bus. My hosts were amazed to hear that I have never encountered a hunt saboteur. In the U.S., the reaction to “I’m a foxhunter,” is usually more like, “Huh, people still do that?” or “Oh, my brother hunts deer,”  not “You’re a murderous animal abuser.”

As we talked about it I could see the conundrum. It’s hard to understand foxhunting until you do it, meet the people and see that they actually care deeply about both tame and wild animals, and work to protect both for generations. But even if you ride, foxhunting can be intimidating to break into–and why would you bother trying, if you’re convinced everyone who does it is a monster?

I don’t have the answer to that, but I do know that our lively conversation helped to distract me. I was a bit nervous after I heard Harley slipped and fell in the mud hunting the day before. Soon enough we arrived at the tiny (by American standards) parking area  at the end of a long driveway. Standing there were my fellow hireling riders who had driven from London–one of whom, to my delight, happened to be Kat Brown, who recommended the Hursley Hambledon to me in the first place!

Just like at home, my nerves melted away when I swung into the saddle. I quickly realized Harley was 17 hands of class. He responded to the slightest seat adjustment, went round, stood at checks, lovely gaits, everything. His one fault was that he wanted to be glued to his stablemates all day–but hey, honestly it was an excuse to make friends. “Hi, how are you? I see our horses are shamelessly making out with each other.”

Note the frost

The fixture  was made up of several wide, manicured interconnecting paths through the woods, with tall bare tree trunks allowing an easy view of the hounds and huntsman working. I felt like I was in the Hundred Acre Wood from Winnie the Pooh.

Unfortunately, the weather conditions were challenging. We had three types of footing depending on where the sun was shining: frozen solid, greasy, and sloppy. Winter, spring and fall, all in one day!

(A side note: Several times throughout the day, I saw weird little creatures scurry across the trail in the distance. These were muntjacs–an invasive species of tiny deer the size of a Border Collie. Who knew I would discover an entirely new species on my foxhunting trip? I was fascinated by them.)

Most of the day, the pace was slow, with the field watching the hounds working the line in the woods, and taking advantage of the ample opportunities to share flasks. When we did move from covert to covert, I could tell the field master was doing her best to keep a safe pace given the ground conditions.

Until the hounds cut across a big open field.

The riders bushwacked through the woods to catch up with the field master, who was already halfway across the fallow field. Branches and brambles everywhere–at a certain point it just was easier to duck down on my horse’s neck and grab the martingale strap than try to push away the trees. As we approached the open field, I sat up to look where I was going, and THWACK–a solid branch to the face. No time to worry about it. I bridged my reins and crouched in two-point for a gallop. I was not sure how my horse would react to the first run of the day.

He surged with a dramatic first step–hooo boy, I thought, bringing my shoulders back–then settled into a lovely, rocking-horse canter. That’s why they call him the King! I thought, and scratched his withers appreciatively.

I felt my chin when we met with the rest of the field. It hurt, but no blood.

The perfect souvenir.

I texted about 1000 pictures to my husband as I boarded the train home.

“Quiet day. Fabulous horse. Headed to train station. Be back in about 2 hrs.”

We made arrangements to meet in the city for bao, and I eased back into my seat, cheeks flushed and the skin on my chin raw–completely content. I had a responsibly irresponsible adventure, riding a strange horse in a strange land in awful conditions (but at a reasonable pace, and with travel health insurance, which made it OK of course). I managed to make friends and come home in one piece. AND the train was, again, wonderful.

A flattering view of the three amigos, home safe and sound despite awful footing! (photo purchased from

What tied the whole day together with a nice, neat bow was when I arrived at the Oxford Circus station. I ascended the escalator to street level and heard people yelling. “FUR IS MURDER!” “Madam, do NOT go in that store if you care at ALL about animals!”

It was a horde of PETA protestors greeting me upon my return to the city. About 20 people were rallying outside a store that sold fur. One woman offered me a flyer, and I took it, chuckling.

She had no idea what I had just done that day. And I don’t think she would ever understand.




PS–For those who are wondering “how in the world can hunting abroad be frugal?!” It’s not, but it is certainly more doable when you can tag along to your husband’s business trip. Hirelings are expensive anywhere you go, and in my research I found price ranges to be anywhere from 150 pounds to 245 pounds (~$206 to $338). I found one in the middle of that range but honestly I was more swayed by good reviews and safety. Cap fees range from about 70 pounds to 100 pounds ($100 to $137), though I was able to take advantage of half price for HH newbies ($50). The train was affordable, compared to the U.S. at 29 pounds ($40) round trip. I also tipped my hireling provider. All told, the day cost about $400.

Hunt Report

When a Picture Isn’t Worth 1000 Words

Not much hunting for me lately (lame horse…booo), so I’ll share this memory with you.

One thing I really find annoying about my own generation is the impulse to photograph  everything without really experiencing it. It’s all about the dopamine hit from those Facebook or Instagram likes, projecting an ideal life. (And I have to say, anyone who is lucky enough to foxhunt definitely has at least one ideal part of their life.)

And I’m not immune from it either. In the hunt field, there are so many moments I wish I could share with others. Tweed coats among the trees, hounds porpoising in the soybeans, a breathless gallop up to the blinding morning sun. I still can’t really believe I’m allowed to do this on a regular basis, so it feels like I simultaneously need to drink in the moment and save it forever.

One moment like this happened out cubbing this fall. We were hacking in, waiting on a hillside for the huntsman to collect hounds. I was in the back of the field, so I saw the scene unfold before me. Riders in their tweeds leaning over to share a swig of something good, laughing and talking about the day. Horses, swishing their tails. By the pond at the foot of the hill were the huntsman and a whip, deep in conversation about something. Sugarloaf Mountain, not quite changing her leaves yet, peeked out on the horizon.

I started to cry and I can’t exactly explain why. From the beauty of it all? From gratitude? From fear that these moments are so fleeting?

But the pictures I snapped didn’t do it justice.




Hunt Report

Opening Hunt Traditions

One thing I really enjoy about hunting and horses in general is the repetition. Though our lives change, nature is comfortably predictable. Every year, fall brings thicker coats, foliage –and now, all the anxious anticipation and glory of Opening Hunt.

Photo by Pat Michaels

For me, Opening Hunt is inextricably tied to my relationship with my husband. When we were dating, our fourth anniversary fell on October 25–the same day as my first Opening Meet. Not only was he OK with me hijacking our anniversary to play with horses, in the days before I really put him through the wringer.

At the time, I was working at a barn some mornings, doing the feed and mucking, plus writing for Horse Nation. The Thursday before Opening Meet, my plan was to do the barn in the morning and then cover Washington International’s Pony Steeplechase in the evening. I was so excited for my first-ever press pass. Then a piece of sawdust got in my eye.

Thankfully, it was from the sawdust shavings pile, not a dirty stall–but my entire eyelid soon swelled to Quasimodo proportions, throbbing with pain. I finished my barn chores and drove home with one eye shut. I tried to flush it out with water. No luck.  But I was not giving up the opportunity to see the inner workings of WIHS–the stabling in the underground garage, the warmup arena set up around concrete pillars! So I just shut one eye and tried not to scare the pony kids with my teary, swollen face as I interviewed them. I took photos of the event, completely unable to tell if my camera was focused or if any of my pictures would come out.

It was bad. On my Metro ride home, I had to run out of the train at a random stop. The pain was actually making me nauseous and I threw up into the train tracks like a drunk coed returning from a frat party. Crying as I waited for another train, I called my fiancé to come pick me up from our station. I called off work the next day and got an eye doctor to fish out the (miniscule!) piece of sawdust from my eyelid. How something the size of the point of a pin could cause so much pain, I still am not sure. But missing my first Opening Hunt was out of the question

Once the eye was fixed, I got some rest and then went to go wash and braid my (generously lent) horse. I had never braided before and this horse did not make my job easy, weaving like nobody’s business for FOUR HOURS. I was so frustrated, and determined to finish that I failed to notice my phone was out of battery and that my fiancé had called, worried. It was dark, raining, and he had no idea if I had been kicked in the head, gotten into a car accident, or even where to find me if I had! Oops, bad fianceé move on my part.

But still, I was stupidly determined to attend my first Opening Meet on our fourth anniversary and for some reason he was OK with it.

Thankfully, the hunt went completely fine (despite a little girth “wardrobe malfunction” early on and some tearful cursing trying to re-mount my horse) and we hunted well into the afternoon. I was one of the few who stayed until the end, with more riders turning back with each hour, and I felt like a warrior.

From City to Country

This year, thankfully, was less dramatic. It’s my fourth Opening Meet, my third with Lefty, and my first wearing Potomac Hunt’s colors.  Finally, I feel like I know what to do–how to groom, how to dress, when to talk, when to be quiet. But the week before Opening is always full of nervous excitement. Now the pre-hunt routine is pretty automatic, but I did have to clip Lefty, get my braiding supplies together, figure out what to put in my flask…

And for the first time since my first Opening Hunt, I attended Barn Night at Washington International again. This time, both eyes were working (!) and I was surrounded by friends from the  local Pony Club and Horsemasters group. And I got to meet an old Horse Nation colleague who was covering the entire WIHS weekend. Even though I can see horses pretty much any day of the week (even luckier), there is still something magical about the tent barns set up in the street and the smell of horses in the city.

I don’t envy top showjumpers though. I enjoy watching horse shows once in a while but I think what I do is a LOT more fun.

The next day was one of preparation. I did work, but I zoomed off as soon as possible to bathe and braid Lefty. Another companionable tradition–drinking a beer and bathing your horse with hunting friends! All the horse prep went smoothly. (Though I’m not sure why I forgot that I am TERRIBLE at making hunter braids that stay overnight. They end up frizzy and sticking in all directions by the next morning, as I found out. But I started that way so I just kept going. I had to redo nearly all of them on Saturday morning.)

More traditions when I got home: collecting all of my hunt clothes, making sure my boots were polished, and filling my flask. Then the nervous energy set in and I invented a few tasks: ironing my stock tie and reinforcing the buttons on my hunt coat.

I was nervous about my braids (rightly) so I set my alarm for 5:30 am. The stirrup cup was to begin at 10am.

The Hunt Morning

All of the hunt preparation went according to plan, and we arrived at the meet about 30 minutes before the Stirrup Cup.  My husband said he would meet us to take pictures, but there was no sign of him.

I was getting worried, so I unlocked the car to check my phone. Three missed calls. I called him back–he was lost, so I gave directions.

“Will there be food there?”

“Yes, there are refreshments,” I said, giving Lefty a look just daring him to try eating grass again.

“No, not ALCOHOL, baby, I mean FOOD!”

“Oh yeah, there are cookies.”

“WHAT! So you’re saying I’m going to be surrounded by horse people who AGREE with you that cookies are breakfast?!”

“Yep, see you soon!”

So yes–even though this year was less traumatic than the days leading up to my first Opening, at least we maintained the important tradition of horrifying Byron.

I mounted up from the wheel of the trailer and Byron handed me my photo prop.

It’s the Good Seat Challenge Trophy, handed down in Potomac Hunt each year since the 1950s to the rider with the best seat…which is up to interpretation! I wanted to take advantage of the photo opportunity while Lefty was braided and clean.

After the Blessing of the Hounds the field gathered on the hillside for a professional photo and then we moved off, heading around the back end of the hunt club to draw in the woods. It always surprises me how LARGE the opening hunt ends up being! There had to be at least 100 riders.

Not much jumping, though I did ride in first field. Maybe one hanging log? But it was a fast day. We hit on a fox pretty quickly and ran for about 20 minutes straight, then gathered hounds, enjoyed our flasks, hacked back, and I think we must have caught on the line of the same fox because we ended up galloping back the same way and doing nearly the same thing all over again.

The problem with a large field is that it significantly increases the potential for rider stupidity and general chaos. I won’t name names, but at speed, Lefty very deftly avoided a rider who was very casually standing around right in the middle of the path the entire field was galloping through! Not sure what the reason for that was, but it doesn’t really matter–I just rode my own horse, and I was really happy he saved my butt!

Maybe there was another check in between there somewhere, but those were the two big runs of the day. We ended up back near the hunt club and the staff decided to call it a day.

Photo by Pat Michael

It wasn’t the epic “last man standing” type of Opening Hunt, but it’s kind of hard to complain when you and your horse come home safe AND your husband comes to take pictures of your prized toilet seat!

Just me on that last one?

Hunt Report

Joint Meet With Goshen

Yesterday I hunted with Goshen for the first time. Just like when I hunt anywhere, I washed my horse, cleaned my tack and got all my clothes and boots ready the night before. I had a celebratory sip of the Castle Hill cider that would be filling my flask. I set the coffeemaker. I hung up my shirt, britches, belt, and stock tie up over the shower door (the easiest way I have found to get dressed in the morning without having to open drawers and wake my light-sleeping husband). I even fished a clean fitted saddle pad out of the garage–I’ve been hunting in just a Fleeceworks half pad lately because I don’t have a fitted pad with wither relief, but I figured we could look more normal for our hosts. This was a big mistake.

A) Looking normal is overrated. B) Changing any element of the plan the night before a hunt means something absolutely will go wrong.

All was well when I bounded out of bed Sunday morning. I even had time to sit down and eat my yogurt! But I walked out the door with everything BUT my prized Dehner boots. Oops. This is why it also helps to have a supportive spouse trained and ready to go. This is not something that happens overnight but it is so handy to have for a foxhunter. Do not make him or her attend too many horse shows, or social events where the main topic of conversation will be things like the distinctive smell of smegma or how much money it takes to find the perfect saddle. Build up goodwill with things like fun lessons on a steady horse. Try not to let your supportive spouse or significant other die on a trail ride–this is more difficult than it seems but also very rewarding.

In my case it really paid off and my husband jumped out of bed without even brushing his teeth (gross, but also sort of sweet) to bring me my boots while I got Lefty ready. It’s a small thing. My barn is not far from my home. But I was nervous enough at hunting new territory and socializing with new people and I would not have been able to go out and have a cracking day out hunting without his help!

Business as usual for the rest of the hunting prep–we actually hauled out on time, which is probably a first, and arrived early at a fixture Lefty’s owner has not seen since the age before cell phones.

The Goshen people like to party. I knew there would be a stirrup cup before the hunt, but at Potomac, a stirrup cup means volunteers on foot hand out baked goods and little cups of sherry, port, or cider while you are milling around and socializing on your horse before the hunt. Nope. At Goshen, a stirrup cup is apparently a pre-hunt party in the clubhouse! All I had was one chip and some guacamole. I had a feeling if I had any alcohol I would be peeing myself at the sight of the first coop. And just hanging out chit-chatting was not good for my pre-hunt jitters when I felt the time ticking down for getting my horse off the trailer!

I did get to chat with two of the members, who asked whether I would be going first flight or second. “First, I think,” I replied.

“Oh good! We have some nice coops from this fixture, really nice coops.”

Oh God. “Nice” could mean anything. I chose to believe it meant something along the lines of “under 3 feet.” I was glad when I met up with Lefty’s owner again to go get the horses ready. I felt so much more comfortable when I was on his back, with my buddy who, as homicidal as he can be in the arena, has carried me safely through over 50 hunts so far!

The hunt began with a brisk trot up to the first draw in a corn field. It was a good warmup, but no sign of a fox. Conditions did not look promising for hunting (60 degrees, sunny and breezy) but at the very least we would have a nice ride out in the sunshine. We moved on to the next draw in a covert of trees–but first, we had to jump a decent sized coop. Probably 3 foot. Lefty made it with no problem but his owner did not–her horse decided not to follow Lefty’s lead. Of course I only realized this about 20 strides after the jump. I looked back, and saw her gelding standing to the side while others kept jumping and I realized I would have to go on by myself. Second field was taking a longer route around the jump and she would join them. At least there were others from Potomac–one of whom was a Master. I would just have to do my best to blend in on my little bay horse and not screw up!

We jumped at least two more big coops–one of which I had to growl at Lefty to “GIT ON OVER” since he seemed a little wiggly–and a log but honestly it is kind of a blur. It was the right amount of jumping. The wooded trails at this fixture were very windy and roller-coaster-y with a lot of muddy creek crossings so it took all my focus to balance him up and stay right in the middle with him. Finally we crossed a creek and bounded up to a clearing where the second field was waiting for us. Lefty immediately flung his head up and whinnied like an idiot for his pasture-mate. I did some leg yielding to try to instill the idea that hunting means WORKING, not whinnying like an idiot, but it was basically for show. He wanted to be with his friend and safety blanket and so did I! So I moved back to 2nd field for the rest of the day.

Not from this particular day’s hunt, but a good representation of L and R’s bromance.

A great decision. Not only did we move out and actually end up jumping some logs, but we had an AMAZING view of the fox running through the trees. I have not viewed a fox since I went car following two years ago. But the second field at Goshen all saw him plain as day while first field was busy jumping and re-jumping the same damn coops in various configurations.

We hacked in happy and safe. A successful day even for a worrywart with an opinionated horse. And it could never have happened without the proper preparation of equipment, horse, and spousal support staff!



Hunt Report, Uncategorized

Ok, so sue me

I intended to post regularly this season…but new job, new marriage, and riding itself…you know. Excuses, excuses. In any case, it was an exciting and exhilarating hunt season! The highlights since last time:

My husband and I were The Fox and the Hound for Halloween, which, coincidentally, was the day of Opening Hunt.

Lefty gave me a lump of coal for Christmas. His owner gave me a nameplate saying “Left Her Smilin’ ” (Lefty’s real name) which I put on my hunt belt.

We had several weeks of shying and skittering away from ground poles, so we learned about Natural Horsemanship groundwork. Lefty is no dummy…he caught on pretty quick once he realized I meant business and had the tools to put a stop to his shenanigans.

Countless gorgeous, gossipy, galloping trail rides with friends.

I drove a trailer by myself, hunted a green horse, didn’t die, and then managed to make it home in time for my boss’s twins’ bar/bat mitzvah.

Lefty put me on the ground in front of my mom. Honestly, just a tumble–but my mom had never seen me fall in the 8 years or so she drove me to weekly lessons. Damn horse!

Lefty got loose with his “sister” Gimlet post-hunt. We were able to catch him after about an hour, but she was lost for the whole afternoon into the evening. A terrifying day, but one where the whole horse community rallied together to find them.

I hunted “by myself” since Lefty’s owner broke her arm and couldn’t ride. Not only did we not die, we had one of the best hunts I have EVER experienced, blasting around in the mud after the snow melted by the Potomac River.

Lefty got loose AGAIN post-hunt after refusing to get on the trailer. Thankfully, the field was coming back after I headed in early and one of the masters caught him for me. Now I am never  EVER hunting without the nylon rope halter in the trailer!

In perhaps the most expensive week of my life, we bought Dehner boots from Horse Country and a monstrosity of a truck to tow a horse trailer (eventually. Very eventually.)

I am so excited to break in the boots at our Hunt Races where I will be a crowd control volunteer! Come visit the races if you are in the DC area and feed little Lefty some carrots.

Until the Hunt Races, it’s dressage and trail riding…maybe practicing my braiding skills!

Hunt Report

Opening Hunt

From my last bout of posting you may be wondering about how Opening Hunt actually went!

Well here is my writeup for Horse Nation. And here it is republished in Foxhunting Life.  (that was an honor!)

I didn’t mention it in the story, but it’s a miracle I actually made it to Opening Hunt at all. It was an insane couple of days because on that Thursday, I got a piece of sawdust stuck in my eye at the barn and couldn’t get it out. Being an eager young journalist incredibly stupid, I decided to go to Washington International Horse Show in DC that night to interview the pony steeplechasers anyway. My eye was so swollen I looked like Quasimodo and when I was getting my press pass, immediately the security people asked me if I was ok and if I wanted to go to the first aid station. So I did that; it didn’t help. I interviewed the kids and their parents anyway and they were polite enough not to run away screaming. It was all I could do to stay long enough to watch them actually race–my eye hurt so badly that my head was pounding and my stomach was starting to turn. Somehow I managed to get the photos I wanted despite not being able to really see what I was photographing.

Unloading showjumpers on the streets of DC

Totally normal…

My favorite shot of the night…the next generation!

Go ponies go!

I was in such pain I didn’t sleep and I went straight to the opthamologist in the morning. He flipped my eyelid inside out, and removed the tiniest speck of sawdust–the size of the point on a pin. I couldn’t believe something that tiny was making me so miserable. But hey–I could see again, so I got some rest and then went to the barn that night to get Seven Up bathed and braided. It took way longer than I thought because he wouldn’t stand still for me, and I was at the barn till 9:30 pm. I was so frustrated with Seven and so focused on getting the job done that I completely forgot to call Byron and let him know I was coming home late. When I did get home, he was so worried and on the verge of calling the police…he thought I had been in an accident, or maybe that something bad happened at the barn, but he had no idea how to find me since my phone was dead and I was at a barn he hadn’t been to before.

Note the blurry cross ties. HE WOULD NOT STOP FIDGETING.

Did I mention that the next day (Opening Hunt) fell on my 4th anniversary with Byron? Oh man. What with the medical emergencies, foolhardy journalism and missing person case, I put that poor man through the wringer that week. He was going to come take photos as an anniversary gift but I excused him given the circumstances.

And that’s the FULL story of my first Opening Hunt.

P.S. — The braids were acceptable, but not as nice as I was hoping. Apparently this is because I pulled his mane with one of those blade things as opposed to a thinning comb. Oh how I hate pulling mane on a horse who won’t stand still!!! It took me three or four hours just to get the braids in since he was weaving so much. On the bright side…someone did say I had a “nice tail.” (I think he meant my horse.)

Kinda crooked but good enough for my first time ever braiding.

Hunt Report, Uncategorized

Conquering the Ditch of Death at B’s

Today I rode L’s horse Blue (more on him at a future date–it’s an amazing story I plan to write and submit around). It was an exciting day for me since it was the first time I got to wear all of my secondhand/homemade informal season finery! I scored a used Grand Prix jacket for $50 (ended up being a total of $80 since I had to have the sleeves lengthened), used Tailored Sportsmans for $30 ($50 with alterations), a used white ratcatcher shirt for $10 and I made my own stock tie (materials: $7). Of course I forgot to ask someone to take a picture of me though.

Hounds were moving off at 8, so I woke up at 5, spent 30 minutes fiddling with my stock tie, and arrived at the barn to get my horse ready at 6. Turns out that with a non-gray horse and tack already clean, you need next to no time to get presentable, so I put Blue in a stall and tried to make myself useful (the operating word being “tried”).

I picked out stalls (successfully) but in the dark, I spilled about a third of the wheelbarrow’s contents off the side of the manure spreader.
Blue pooped in his stall and rolled in it.
The owner of the barn spilled water from the trailer’s tank ALL over her breeches.
We nearly took down B’s fence trying to get through the gate to park the trailer.
And on top of that, it looked like it might rain.

Needless to say, we were late. Thank God I have one of those easy Real Women Ride hairnets because if I had to figure out hunter hair, we never would have gotten there. (Good thing foxhunters don’t care about your hairstyle anyway.)

There were a couple of other stragglers who knew the direction they most likely went, so we hacked on the road and caught up with the group soon enough. We ran this way; we ran that way, then doubled back and did it again. Good thing was the skies were clearing–bad thing was that it was starting to get hot in my layers! Oh well, better to be hot and look proper.

Soon the pace settled down to that stop-and-go that happens when nothing is really going on except some horses walking slower than others and having to trot to catch up, which makes everyone behind them trot to catch up. A breeze started picking up…it really turned out to be the perfect fall day.

Except for the Ditch of Death.

Up to this point, we had crossed a couple streams with no major incident. Blue is really good about being careful where he steps and can actually listen when he’s revved up from other horses in front of him. But this ditch was at least a 45 degree grade, about 20 feet down and a larger hill up, and horses were trotting and cantering on the other side. Even though it wasn’t my turn to go just yet, I knew Blue was going to catch up whether I was with him or not.

I looked down the ditch. I looked up the ditch. I heard my internal riding instructor yell, “DON’T LOOK DOWN, OR THAT’S WHERE YOU’RE GOING,” in my mind. So I looked where I wanted to go–across the ditch–grabbed my “oh s***” strap, and I think I might have closed my eyes.

I’m not exactly sure what happened in between, but I found myself and Blue–still attached!–but stuck in a bramble on the other side. I kicked him on, accidentally cut off the woman hosting our hunt breakfast later–oops–apologized, elated–We made it! Good boy Blue!

Apart from that, the rest is kind of a blur. A couple hounds got stuck in someone’s field fenced with hot wire so we had to stop and open the gate. I held the gate-opener’s horse for her. Hounds nearly came right up on a fox but didn’t get it–that was a lot of noise but not much running. We rode past a scenic outcropping of rocks where I had seen a picture of a fox gone to ground during cubbing. Mostly, Blue treated the whole thing like a bore, napping on the reins at checks and trying to put his head up his pasture-mate’s butt  when he walked in front of us.

We hunted about two hours total, then headed back to wash horses (love trailers with a water tank!) and load them up to go to I’s place.

With every turn in the driveway revealing another amazing part of the property–a pond with a fountain, literal amber waves of grain, an impeccable ring, a BARN WITH CHANDELIERS IN IT–I became more and more convinced that I needed to figure out a plot to get these people to adopt me somehow.

The food (quiches, bacon, sausage, hash browns, etc. prepared by the host’s personal chef and housekeeper…oh, what a life!) was simple but it hit the spot. ESPECIALLY the macaroons for dessert. Chatted some, saw photos of one of the Master’s steeplechase horses, showed off my engagement shoot pictures on my phone and generally had a great time.

One of my engagement shoot photos

Sorry if this post is rambly and has no structure. I just want to get the details down before I forget.
I am SO LUCKY to be able to do this at such little expense!!!

Hunt Report, Uncategorized

Three. Hours. Of Hunting.

Maybe one day I’ll look back on this and laugh…but as of right now, I can count on one hand the number of two-hour-plus rides I’ve done in my life. Twenty minutes in I was convinced my ankles were going to just snap off from the strain.

But first things first. 5:30 a.m.–I wake up, hating my life. Then I remember I’ve been lent a horse to go hunting. I still hate my life because I am not yet caffienated, but I realize that this is a completely irrational thing to feel. It’s a hunting day!

Misty morning in Potomac Hunt country. 

Still not entirely a functional human being (mornings are not my best time), I make it to the barn at 6:30 to prepare Seven Up for hunting.

When I see amazing views like this practically in my backyard I can hardly believe I am so lucky.

Of course he is gray.

And of course he has rolled since I bathed and Show Sheened the living bejeezus out of him the day before.

So I start scrubbing, and after about one and a half-ish baths, he looks presentable. I hope. His owner informs me that I’ll be hunting him in a three-in-one bit, which I’ve never even seen before, let alone heard of. Oh yeah–and double reins. Good thing I had some practice with those in a lesson on a different horse last week (because I don’t like riding that horse in a gag all the time when he doesn’t need it all the time)…but I was very fumbly and unsure of my reins in that lesson, so I wasn’t planning on actually hunting in double reins for quite some time…

A little blurry, but you cans see the main bit is a sort of loose-ring curb,
and then there is the option to use leverage when needed.

No time like the present, I guess. Especially when, for some reason, I find myself the very last person to mount up and I’m scrambling with my host to the pre-meet roundup (not sure if there is a name for it, but when the masters give announcements). I fumble a bit figuring out which is the curb rein and which is the snaffle, but then it clicks. I get it, and my hands suddenly remember the feeling of riding with draw reins (inadvisably, before I got a better trainer) as a kid.

Good timing, because we start trotting off past Seven’s field, and past the neighbor’s horses who are all worked up and galloping around their pasture. The hunt horses don’t deem their antics worthy of any interest, which gives me time to figure out how to use the snaffle without engaging the curb. Success!

We draw first close to the farm–no luck. Then we enter the woods–and it’s a pell-mell race to–what, I don’t know, since I don’t even hear the hounds with all my adrenaline. I’m just focused on keeping a distance between me and the next horse, and not getting impaled by any branches.

We come to a stop, then draw again in a corn field. I’m really regretting my fashion choice of a knit sweater over a polo shirt, since my sleeve is all soggy from washing Seven this morning, and after the run the rest of me feels like I’m wearing a wet dog. But there’s no crying in foxhunting–the hounds find again, and we’re running down a mowed lane through the cornfield. So exciting! I love how, when galloping, it feels so fast, and also like you have all the time in the world to perch up there and adjust your seat, your reins, to feel the breeze…and we keep going…and going…and going…my ankles start to over-flex as my legs tire…and I’m starting to wonder if I should duck out and head back after this run…and we keep going…until finally we stop.

Seven couldn’t care less about the gallop. He’s got plenty left in him, so I decide to tough it out…which is good, because the remaining TWO HOURS is mostly walking and a little trotting. I honestly can’t recall most of the details after that since I was mostly wondering if my hyperflexed ankles would just snap off, and I was preoccupied with not letting Seven jig too much. Except the FOOD after! Oh the food! So much cake! And I love  the option to start drinking at 11am (because it is just 100% ridiculous) but I always find myself guzzling water or juice at these things–too thirsty for alcohol! The host had a really cool dining room with exposed wood beams:

Phew. Through it all, I felt so alive I felt like I was going to die. But at least, I would have died happy.

Hunt Report

Windsor at A’s Farm

A drizzly, slow day today (well, slow by foxhunter standards, anyway), with about 30-40 people riding in one field. The only jumping and cantering we did was trying to get the horses past bees in the woods…had to go up and down that trail three times. Of course the hunt staff didn’t get the bees since they were in front…they just stirred them up for us to ride through!

Windsor got stung a little bit the first time but the second and third time through, we were just enjoying galloping through the woods. He may be a draft cross but he does have plenty of “go.” Too bad I don’t think anyone else enjoyed it! On the ride back people seemed a little grumpy that we had to go through that area so many times. Oh well…no permanent damage done, and that is the advantage of riding a gray horse–bugs are not as attracted to them.

Windsor is all dressed up and ready to roll at 7am!

I think we drew three or four coverts and hounds found twice. The first fox was put to ground (well, put in a hole in a tree–one of the Masters took a picture of it) and the second (maybe the same one, not sure) caused about an equal amount of hound music but I’m not exactly sure what the story was there. I was pleased that when the hounds put the first fox to ground I predicted that we would have to reverse for the staff to get back in front. Slowly but surely I’m figuring out the terrain and how the game is played. Also did much better at not riding up too close to people–Windsor was very relaxed today, except when his pasturemate left him and he wanted to follow. Can’t really blame him for that. And there was plenty of gas left in the tank at the end of the day so I was glad he was feeling good. Overall, a very positive experience where I felt very confident–I knew the horse, I knew the place, and I knew a fair amount of the people so it was a recipe for success.

Speaking of recipes, after the hunt (around 10:30) we had an amazing breakfast. I felt bad for not having time last night to make the oatmeal muffins everyone seems to like, but there was PLENTY to eat–lox and bagels, cake, sandwich fixings, fruit, etc. And of course some “medicinal” refreshments. I have studying to do so I stuck to coffee today!

Made this for Windsor’s owner to thank her for letting me ride him. She really likes it! (Though she said it’s wishful thinking that her horses would hunt in a snaffle, ha.)

And, some exciting opportunities: After a year of trying to find a horse I could hunt, now that I’ve actually started doing it, I’m finding people are offering me more horses than I could possibly have time for. It’s nice that I can be a little bit choosy now and not have to be a crash test dummy! Not that any of the horses I’ve ridden have been bad–I just don’t want to have to worry about the horse while I’m new to hunting. From talking to someone about volunteering at one of the hunt events, I may have the prospect of some quiet lesson horses I could ride.

And a friend knows a professional photographer who wants to practice some action shots of horses jumping. He’ll give us the photos free and there are plenty of great coops around where this friend boards, so I told her to sign me up!