Hope you’re all enjoying the long weekend! No eventing for me as I only have 12 hours off work in total over the four days, but I did try to cram as much as possible into those 12 hours!
The hunt where I used to live traditionally hold a Rat Hunt on Good Friday. No vermin is hurt in the course of this particular hunt – one of our masters dresses up in a big furry rat suit – complete with ears, whiskers and tail. He is then given 5 minutes lead to gallop as far as he can before the rest of us are set off to try to catch him. Usually he gets caught a couple of times and we release him humanely each time so that the hunt can continue. There’s a proper meet at the start and one at the halfway point. Generally the field are led a merry dance over a mix of hunt jumps, ditches, rails and hedges and as the hip flasks get emptier the obstacles tackled get more and more ambitious!
It was to be my first visit back to my old area since I moved down here in January. I was a little wary of the wet going and just debating which of my horses I wanted to risk when I got a phonecall from someone offering me a horse for the day. Fabulous! Even better it was a failed National Hunt horse and also a failed point-to-pointer and slightly notorious for pulling a rodeo act at a meet. Being a fairly game bird I gave her offer great consideration for all of a split second before I said ‘yes please’!
I had a bit of a rush job getting both of my horses mucked out and ridden and Fugly shod before I could set off and plans of a high-speed dash up the A1 were foiled by the Bank Holiday traffic. AArrrrrrggghh! Crawling up the fast lane in first gear was not helped by my legendary lack of patience. At the time I should have been sitting on the horse at the meet I was still 20mins away in virtually stationary traffic making frantic (hands-free) phone-calls to let people know where I was. As I was apparently the guest of honour (moving away confers instant popularity!) they decided to serve an extra round of drinks and await my arrival. And so it was that 5 mins after getting out of my car I was sitting on a completely strange horse at a flat-out gallop and approaching a sizeable post and rail fence. Luckily I’d insisted on my own saddle as Parson pulled his infamous rodeo act leaving the meet and I did incredibly well to stay in the saddle, especially considering the half beaker of port someone had forced down my throat as I got on.
There followed 4 hours of galloping and jumping, punctuated by short breaks to recover (and force down a little more port). My jumping technique started off extremely unstylishly as Parson and I carried on a lengthy conversation about an appropriate speed to approach rails and hunt jumps. Eventually I decided to leave the decisions to him and we got on famously. There were large crowds of people round the more notorious fences whooping, cheering, hollering and baying for blood. I now have some idea how it must feel approaching the Trout Hatchery at Burghley! I will admit to taking an early tumble but it was a very innocuous one. Parson left his hind legs in one of the large gutters that punctuate our low country, but as he ended up on his belly on the landing side pulling his back legs out I merely stepped off him and let him finish the job off without the disadvantage of my weight pinning him down.
The second half of the day took in some of our high country including the land that my husband farmed when I married him and where we lived together for 8 years. There are steep banks and walls aplenty. I was especially thrilled with Parson at a rather gnarly (I think that’s what the kids would call it) hedge which was approached off a road and then a downward sloping grass verge on take off and a large drop on landing. Two of our ‘thrusters’ fell off on landing and most people then went to find a way round. I sat on the road considering my options then picked up the reins, kicked, pointed and sailed over. A fabulous feeling!
It really was a huge adrenalin buzz to tackle something so unscripted and pilot a strange (and ever-so-slightly quirky) horse over everything from gutters to five bar gates. I’m sure it will have done my XC riding a world of good. Sometimes it’s fun to have no flags and not to have walked the course!
Photos – The Author, Becky Ireland and RFM Equine Photos