(TM) Today's blog title brought to you courtesy of Daun over at the Eventing Percheron.
This weekend we went foxhunting at Independence Foxhounds. OMG, it was SO MUCH FUN! If you haven't been hunting (on a safe, sane hunt horse), YOU MUST TRY IT. I absolutely cannot wait to go again!
The hunt is near Brenham, TX, about 2.5 hours from our barn, so we headed over Friday night so that we could be there in time for the 9 a.m. start Saturday morning. Some friends of ours, D & T, who are also riders, had invited us to meet them and stay overnight at their property, which is also near Brenham. We rolled in around 9:30 p.m. and enjoyed some drinks and snacks and several hours of great company Friday evening.
Saturday morning we were up bright and early, loaded up the horses, and headed over to the hunt. We arrived a bit later than we had intended and scrambled a bit to sign waivers, pay the capping fee, and groom and tack. I agonized over using my Wintec AP saddle on Saga, which doesn't fit him well at all but is grippy and more designed for jumping, or using my dressage saddle which fits him great but is made of ultra-slick French bridle leather and doesn't do as well for jumping. I decided that I'd be better off in the AP even if it meant that Saga needed a few days off for his back, so I padded him up and off we went. My husband was on Reddums, who was feeling exceedingly feisty.
We met up with the leader of second field and she kindly allowed us to join her. We started off taking it pretty easy with some nice forward trotting and a good bit of walking and waiting while the hounds cast for a scent (you'll have to pardon me if I get the terminology wrong, I'm still very new to this). Red was feeling a bit feisty as he kept tossing his head and jerking the reins, but I think my husband had a bit of a tight hold on him. Saga was very good - I did have to continually ask him to be steady and not try to pull out in front, but he didn't jerk me around and throw his head or anything. There were several times when first field went flying by us trying to catch the hounds, and Saga just stood like a rock.
It was a completely different experience than when I'd taken Cash cubbing years ago up in Maryland. He's always been rather antsy in a crowd, and I really wanted to try foxhunting but didn't think it was a good idea... and you know, I was right. I spent three hours having my arms pulled out of their sockets by an absolutely frantic, maniacal horse. It was the first and last time I ever took him hunting.
Anyway, we followed the hounds for a bit through several large fields with grazing cattle, then stood for a while longer and I had the opportunity to chat with R, a lovely dressage and eventer with a beautiful Danish warmblood gelding. As we chatted, we figured out that we had been in the same Beginner Novice division at Pine Hill just a few weeks ago! It turned out that she had been in second place, just before me, after dressage, then had a refusal in stadium, allowing me to move up. It's a small world!
We did a nice canter and trot through yet another field (the fixture for this hunt is about 4000 acres, with one side bordering the Brazos river) and then did quite a lot of waiting while the hounds cast around again for a scent. I was having some technical issues with my equipment, namely that I had put my stirrups on the outside of the saddle flap instead of underneath, and the T keeper on the Wintec webbers was rubbing right against my calf (and I have a lovely set of bruises to prove it!). I almost hopped off to fix them but they rounded up the hounds at that point and then went to cast them off at a new location, so I just sort of dealt with it.
At that point one of the folks from first field came over and asked us if we wanted to go with first field. I said yes after checking to see if there were options to go around jumps, since I didn't want to be faced with a 3' coop and no alternatives. So, we headed off at a mad hand gallop over to a set of woods where the hounds had gone, then went tearing through the woods.
I should mention that by this time I realized I didn't have nearly the stamina for this that I thought I should. My legs in particular were quite fatigued, although I was having a relatively easy time of keeping Saga at a steady pace by bridging the reins over his neck. As we were hauling ass through the woods, I was really having a hard time with muscle fatigue. Add that to the fact that I was wearing sunglasses and it was very dark in the woods... suddenly I thought the trail went left and Saga thought it went right, and I parted company over his left shoulder. It was a fairly slow fall though, and I managed to avoid falling on a dead branch, although I think Saga's knee hit my left thigh on the way down (I got a huge bruise from something, anyway). I landed in the soft dirt - but not in the mud, thank goodness! - mostly on my feet, reins in hand. I even managed to keep my white shirt clean! Everyone stopped, I assured them I was fine and asked them to go on, but R very kindly stayed behind with me. I stood there for several minutes waiting for my legs to stop shaking (my right leg was visibly trembling) and then got back on. R and I walked and trotted back out of the woods to find the other folks in second field and joined back up with them for the rest of the hunt. My husband stayed with first field and helped set up a line to chase coyote, but they manged to escape in fairly short order into the land adjoining the fixture we were on, at which point we all headed back to the trailers.
That's twice I have come off over Saga's left shoulder in situations where I really shouldn't have. I know my right heel comes up in canter transitions, so I think I simply don't have enough weight in my right stirrup and it's causing me balance issues. It's time to go back to riding without stirrups on a regular basis, apparently.
The other issue is, once again, fitness. I was having a really hard time keeping up - I am just not strong enough. Realistically I'm only riding two or three times a week, and then I'm doing dressage. It's not like I'm doing 2-point for an hour while interval training out in a field of rolling hills, like I should be doing. Saga, while he sweated a good deal more than the horses who do this every weekend, seemed to do fairly well. As he got tired toward the end I had to work harder to keep him together, but he did OK, as did Red. In fact, after we got back to our friend's property after the hunt and turned the horses out, Saga and Red went trotting and cantering off into their two-acre grass turnout. They both looked none the worse for the wear.
The folks at the hunt were incredibly friendly and helpful, and we really had a lovely time. We've been invited back for the blessing of the hounds on November 7, and I would dearly love to go. I have already been looking on Ebay for hunt coats and boots for my husband, and a flask for each of us. And then there's the small matter of a jumping saddle, but I'm getting ahead of myself...
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