Adventures in Fox Hunting!
The horse bucket list is comprised of horse activities that fall into three categories:
- Part “fantasy” - ride a unicorn over a rainbow and land in a pot of gold.
- Part “I’ll add it but won’t ever do it because I’m a chicken” - gallop steeplechase horses over crazy beautiful Irish countryside
- Part “totally realistic” - take a polo lesson where you are given a broom, a bombproof horse, and must trot the soccer ball around.
When I had the chance to go on a cubbing expedition in VA, I couldn’t quite fit this horse adventure into a category. My dear friend Sally invited me to go along with the Bull Run Hunt, and even secured the both of us a pair of seasoned and trustworthy horses to ride. Sally assured me that our second flight excursion would be nothing but a long trail ride. Perfect! I love trail riding!
Me and Sparky, Sallly and Tentwoe.
Sally and I met our horses the night before the big day at the lovely farm of Amy and Greg - Colonial Ridge. My little horse/pony - a vertically challenged paint named Sparky, was dozing away in his box. Perfect, I thought, we shall rename him Sleepy and I can lolly gag around the hunt field taking in all of the sights. We tacked up for a little hack and off we went! Amy led us out to the gigantic field, complete with loads of jumps and huge hills for casually trotting up and around. HAHAHA…. I quickly learned that Sally’s idea of a trail ride and my idea of a trail ride differ by about 25 mph.
Turns out little Sparky was more of a pocket rocket who liked to conserve his energy so that while out in the field he can keep up with the longer legged horses in the barn. I learned quickly that two point was my best friend. I could not be more thankful for the breast collar to which I clung to, and that when you are going that fast it’s best to just let go and enjoy the ride. There’s also a certain amount of screaming and crying on the inside, part fear, part exhilaration, part wondering if this DQ will be ok in the wilderness without letters to guide me around, part wondering why I “signed up” for this.
Me contemplating the next destination we will "walk" to.
The next morning we had an early rise, to make the drive to Greg and Amy’s, then loading up and head over to the fixture. The air was chilly, drizzly, and I was wondering how long it would be until I actually froze a little. More on that later. As guests of the Bull Run Hunt, we were welcomed with open arms and a little bit of ribbing as to what the DQ was doing here. Now the pressure was really on….and I was starting to wonder how I was going to last in the jump tack…
And off we went! At a roaring walk! This, I thought, I could handle. No problem here! Second flight was for me, definitely! Oh wait, we are now trotting. No problem, I know how to post! We walked and trotted a bit for about 40 minutes, with several breaks of just waiting as we listened to what the first flight was doing.
Next thing you know I’m going full blast through this HUGE field, just off the heels of Greg, who is leading the second flight. Pocket Rocket is such a good little dude, he keeps up without ever passing the Field Master of the Second Flight, a big no-no. I’m feeling queasy. Then I see Greg urge his horse on, and before I could finish my thought of getting left behind, little Pocket Rocket finds yet another gear and off we go again.
Getting ready to head out!
I was eternally thankful to reach the first gate. I could catch my breath, we could regroup, I could stretch my cramped jump saddle legs. But not really as we just kept going. A few more gates, a few more moments of wistful walking delirium as we opened gates and then into the woods! Surely we would slow down in the woods. You know what happens next. We don’t slow down. At this point I’m sweating beyond all recognition despite the chilly air and drizzly rain. I would be worried about my makeup sweating off if I was wearing any, but because the wild rides through the woods and berry patches have left all of me and my horse covered in berry stains, it’s a moot point.
I look back at Sally at some point during this and she later reports to me that I’m white as a ghost. Trail riding, hahaha.
I eventually get my breath and have a wonderful time. We saw all sorts of wildlife, rabbits, deer, geese, hawks, even a fox. It was quite the honor to hear Tally Ho called, and an even greater honor to join up with the first flight for a bit in the woods. Because we were cubbing, the hounds were young and just learning their jobs. Listening to the Master of Fox Hounds (MFH) call and horn…… was almost spiritual. The hounds are the entire reason for the hunt, and the horses and people are there are vehicles and spectators supporting the hounds.
Coming back - a mere four hours later!
I learned much about the legendary sport, and am eternally grateful for the experience, as white knuckled as I was for part of the time. Hunt clubs are often ambassadors of the land and wildlife, and go to great extent to preserve the land and traditions. Foxes are worthy adversaries, and rarely caught. Most hunt clubs support the health of the foxes during the winter by providing food. The fox hunting tradition is knee deep in Virginia, and well respected even by non horse folks.
I learned that the hunt members have many fixtures to choose from, although they are becoming smaller and more scarce as time and construction wears on. I learned very quickly that there is no time or place to check the map program on your phone, so you had better be directionally inclined or stick with the hunt masters that know the land. Getting left behind is sometimes a real possibility, especially at gates, and knowing your way back is critical.
There’s also a wonderful social aspect to the hunt clubs, with pot lucks and socializing after the hunt. I’m not going to deny the brandy being passed around. Actually getting into the mix and trying something new gives you major respect for other disciplines. Get outside of your own box and experiment - you may just find a new passion!
All done - and barely able to stand after all of those hours in two point! Worth it.