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Friday, February 8, 2013

A-Hunting I Did Go, Part 2

I had a great time when I attended Blessing of the Hounds, and was thrilled to see actual hunters in person for the first time, but I still thought there was no way *I* was ever going to be able to actually do it. Yes, some of our school horses could be leased, but I wasn't a member of the Club and certainly didn't have the wherewithal to become one.

So imagine my shock and delight when I showed up at the barn one day for my weekly lesson to find a notice tacked on the board, titled "IFS Day at the Hunt." What??? It sounded a lot like students were invited to go out with the hunt, upon paying a lease fee. I literally couldn't believe it, and figured there had to be a catch. Trying to act cool and collected, I asked my trainer about "the rules." Would I really be allowed? Yes, she said, you are - but you can't jump, and you have to have the right clothes. Since she'd never seen me wear anything to ride except paddocks, half-chaps, pull-on jods and random cooler/warmer top dressing, she clearly thought this would stop me from being able to go.

Hah - little did she know. I was so determined to participate in this event I would have begged, borrowed or stolen anything I needed, including the lease fee. Fortunately my mother came through with the latter as a birthday present. I took stock of what else I had: Nice helmet-check. (Kind of) tall boots-check. Beige breeches-check. Show shirt-no. Stock tie-no. Uh-oh. The latter was definitely going to be a stumbling block, because a) a decent one is fairly expensive, especially on my budget, and b) I knew I would be hard to fit. Equestrians are just not supposed to be busty, you know. 

At this point I had an incredible piece of luck. My local farm and garden store, which sells horse feed, hay, grooming/care supplies and a little bit of tack, at that time carried some riding clothes as well. They had not done well with the latter venture, particularly with the English clothes (there's a good, exclusively English tack shop in our area). Virtually the same week I found out about the hunting opportunity, they decided to cut their losses and mark everything down 50%. Thus I was able to pick up a brand-new wool blend navy pinstripe show coat for $75. I had to get a ridiculously huge size to accommodate the girls, but it fit fairly well in the shoulders and I figured a tailor could take in the 10" of excess fabric at the waist.

I found out that correct attire at this event actually wasn't a stock tie, but a button-down shirt and tie. No problem there! I was on my way. I soaped and conditioned my saddle and boots, brushed my helmet, laundered my good faux-sheepskin pad and generally made everything spiffy.

I trotted off to a tailor with the jacket and emerged with a more or less satisfactorily taken-in garment. I think the lady truly didn't understand it was for riding, not for street wear, so the waist was still several inches too wide. (This roominess actually came in handy later on, as you'll see) One last thing I added in a pocket was my husband's silver flask, which contained - I'm not lying - water. Plain 'ole H2O, that was my stirrup cup of choice. I get tremendously thirsty riding and didn't want to keel over from dehydration on an unseasonably-warm day! 

The end result of all this effort can be seen here.
The giant smile and tears glistening in my eyes were free. :-) Yes, dear readers, I went hunting. I think I existed on a different plane that day since I just couldn't believe I was really doing it. My family came out for the grand send-off and took pictures of me grinning like a fool, thank goodness. My mount was a little Arabian gal, believe it or not: yes, the only one in our barn, and a delightful ride (I've mentioned her in another post). She was good as gold all day, excited and "up" but nothing I couldn't handle, sure of foot and well-behaved around the other horses and dogs.

As for the hunting itself - well, that was interesting. Basically, it was a very fast trail ride! We went through the woods, up and down hills and across creeks. At one point we long-trotted down a road for a half mile or so. There were very few jumps, so I didn't miss much in that department. I never saw Renaud, and the dogs may not have either, but as with the other we had a good time looking! 

The following year, the Hunt decided to allow IFS students to come again for the day. This time attire had to be more formal, and fortunately I was able to borrow my friend's shirt and stock tie and canary vest. It was much colder out that day and I appreciated the extra layer, along with the fact that I didn't feel like a sausage due to my over-sized coat.*

The second time I went I had to be at the hunt barn, where the school horses had been brought the night before, early in the morning (6:30, if I recall correctly). Now, make no mistake, I am most emphatically not a morning person but THAT day I got my butt out of bed in plenty of time! One thing I remember is as I was driving down my street in the pitch dark, a beautiful, huge, light-colored owl flew right in front of my windshield. I'm sure it was our neighborhood barred owl, who I'd identified by imitating his call to a MO Conservation agent (yes, my kids were mortified). This is still the only time I've ever seen him and I'm glad it was on such a special morning.

I rode the same little mare again and we had a wonderful time. My only regret from this outing is that virtually everyone in the field, including some of my fellow students, hopped over a log that lay at the edge of the meadow where we were finishing up. It was not very big - maybe 2'6", if that - and I knew Miss Arab and I were perfectly capable of jumping it. I would have too, except the BO's daughter happened to be right by me and told me not to. Drat. I can still see that log and if I'd known I wasn't going to hunt again for the foreseeable future I might have ignored her... (probably not, I'm a hopeless rules-follower and hate "getting in trouble." And what if I broke the horse? Eeek.)
That's us in the background of this photo. This was typical - trotting through the woods. I have a very serious look on my face! Although, you probably can't see it because the photo is sideways... I'm sorry. It came into my phone that way and I fixed it. It came into the computer that way and I fixed it. It showed up in the "photo choice" area here correctly, but when I import it, it's sideways. I GIVE UP!
Sadly, the hunting opportunity was not offered again while I was still riding at that barn. I don't know if it was a liability issue or what (though I did sign a release both times). A couple years later the Hunt sold its home property to Billy Busch for his polo establishment and moved operations about 25 miles further west. While still "rural," their old country is getting more and more developed, so this made sense. Nonetheless, I was very sorry to see them go from the area.

So there you have it - a dream fulfilled not once, but twice. I still think I'm extremely lucky to have done it at all!

*It has not escaped my attention that a current trend in riding jackets appears to be the uber close-fitted, tech fabric "Euro coats," which do have an (I think) slightly unfortunate way of making all but the most slender of riders resemble well-heeled sausages. No, thanks. :-)