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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A-Hunting I Did Go - Part 1

How many times in your life have you gotten to do something you'd always dreamed of, and/or thought you would never be able to do?

Growing up, foxhunting was something "other" English-riding equestrians did, those with their own horses and money and connections. I was aware of the existence of a hunt in our area of New Jersey (Monmouth County Hunt) but never saw it and didn't know anybody who belonged. Certainly no one in my equestrian circles, at any rate. Even a girl I was acquainted with who had a pretty fancy pony, showed a lot and did Pony Club never rode out with the hunt.

Foxhunting, to me, has always seemed like the epitome of H/J participation. It's the whole POINT, after all, of hunters (or used to be). I like the tradition, the elegance, the clothes, the whole bit. I also adore pictures of the sport and have collected a number of hunting prints that hang around the house, as inspiration and decoration.
Over the fireplace - there are two smaller prints from this series in my bedroom as well.
Dining room. This one was a gift from an old BF, and I've never really liked it, but it IS nicely framed!
Print on top was a gift from MIL. Bottom one I "made:" I cut the sides off a gift bag, found two frames in a junk store and had the mats cut at Michael's. Put it all together and voila, nice hunting prints. The wallpaper was already up in the powder room when we bought the house, and fact that my decorative items matched was a big plus. This room is "all-horsey" and deserves a post of its own!

When I started lessons at my second-to-last barn I became aware that some of the boarders, along with the BO, were members of the Bridlespur Hunt, our local and very venerable institution. Even the gal I befriended first at the barn was a member; she'd joined about a year earlier, but having tragically lost her own mare she was temporarily grounded. As we became friendlier I started hearing more about the Hunt Club. I learned there were different levels of membership, that not everybody who rode was an "expert," and that people sometimes leased horses to go out.
I suddenly found myself invited to something called "Blessing of the Hounds." About all I heard in advance was Friend would be riding a leased horse from the barn, it was fine to show up on foot and observe, I could hang out with her husband while she was off doing the actual hunting, and there would be brunch afterwards. There was a fee for the brunch but Friend was covering it. I set my alarm for very early in the morning and laid out what I fervently hoped would be a suitable outfit. What does one wear to watch a hunt?
Slightly dilapidated print of me, by the hound kennel. It was pretty funny when the barn owner failed to recognize me, cleaned up and in civilian togs!
I still chuckle when I think of this outfit because while yes, I was appropriately dressed, I made the mistake of wearing those nice khakis and brand-new paddock boots. The former were quickly muddy khakis and the latter were broken in emergency-style when I found myself walking about two miles behind Basset Hounds... but I'm getting ahead of the story.

I pulled into the Hunt's home grounds and was immediately blown away by the pageantry. OMG - LOOK - wow, they really do wear red scarlet Pinke coats! There were hounds milling about and talking, horns blowing, horses dancing and prancing in anticipation and in the midst of the melee, a black-garbed cleric of some type ready to recite a suitable lesson. All of the horses were braided and gleaming, and all the riders beautifully turned out (I later learned that BotH is one of the fanciest-dress days of the hunt season and the horses aren't normally braided). There was even a lady with a face-netted top hat. I found my friend, properly attired in black coat, white stock tie, canary vest and polished boots, but she was pretty busy trying to keep our usually staid lesson horse four-on-the-floor.

The blessing was eventually read and the hunt departed, not cross-country but in single file onto a trail leading into the woods. Okay, that part didn't look much like my hunting prints, but whatever - not as much open countryside with convenient hedges and bushes as in Merry Olde England. Next thing I knew Friend's husband and I were invited to go along with the "Basseting" group. Huh? This turned out to be following a pack of the low-slung dogs wrangled by a nice lady, ostensibly trying to hunt down and flush hapless rabbits. Having nothing else to do at the moment, this seemed fine, so off we went. And walked... and walked... and walked. Basseting was a lot of exercise! Let me hasten to add that *NO BUNNIES WERE HARMED* on this excursion, which was also fine with me.

The mounted crew eventually returned after about an hour and a half, horses and riders breathless and steaming. I don't think a fox was ever sighted but everyone seemed to have had a good time looking. My friend also didn't jump at all, which is how I found out about "hilltopping." Ah, there really is a way for beginners to enjoy going out with a hunt! Interesting...
Member of the Bridlespur Hunt, 2011 season. This is typical Missouri hunt country.
After the horses were untacked, cooled down and left to enjoy hay nets, we repaired to the Club House for the brunch, which by then (as you can imagine) I was more than ready to enjoy. I felt a bit out of my element but my friend is very social and wheeled me around introducing me to all and sundry, so I didn't have time to feel out of place. People were almost universally friendly and welcoming so it went just fine. I was particularly impressed with the Grande Dame of the affair, a wonderful lady in her late eighties who was still riding. I also had a good time looking at the decorations in the Club House. These ranged from faded B/W photos of earlier masters (mostly named Busch) and a stuffed fox to gorgeous old trophies. It was NOT a fancy establishment, by any means; just an old house, with wooden floors scarred by years of boots and spurs, tatty chairs well-covered in horse and dog hair and a cozy atmosphere. I liked it a lot.

By the time this was all over, I was exhausted from a combination of nerves, cold air and a lot of hiking. My friend had to stick around but her husband was ready to go, too, so I volunteered to drive him home as we lived very close to each other. Friend's Hubby and I promptly proceeded to take the wrong turn out of the Hunt Club lane and wander around the back roads of greater southern St. Charles County for the next 45 minutes (neither of us had lived in the area very long). That was the most embarrassing part of the day, so really, I got off pretty easy!

Next installment: I Get To RIDE!


  1. Oh, fun! I entered the fox hunting world this fall, riding in a mock hunt and a cubbing before life took my weekends over with a vengence. I can say riding in 2nd field (jumping optional) definitely stretched me, riding, as I was, a Belgian/TB mack truck who *loves* foxhunting and forgets about the whole...four on the floor thing :P However the resulting horse/rider growth was worth it.

  2. The day WAS fun, though of course on this occasion I was wishing I was on horseback instead of tramping around behind the Bassets. ;)

    I am laughing at your description of your "Mack truck." Drafts and draft crosses are popular with this hunt and one of my favorites (who lived at our barn) was a Belgian cross appropriately named Belgian Waffle. Waffle was a real clown and my kids especially loved to give him treats. He was also used in lessons; though I never got to ride him, I heard that he, too, loved foxhunting and thought he belonged at the front of the pack!

    The horse my friend rode that day was a nondescript "mutt" of some type who was pretty pokey in lessons. On the hunt field, he'd get more animated, but not as much as some horses. Guess that's why he wound up being sold to some lady who had only been riding for about six months and decided to join the Hunt Club. I was a bit disgusted... she had plenty of $$ and while I can't blame the BO for seizing the opportunity, I bet you anything that after buying the horse and all the clothes and the Hunt membership, that woman lost interest after one season.

    Glad you have had a good time with your big boy - it's truly a blast!


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