Sunday rolled around really quickly – I had a million things to do between my last blog post and the hunt, so thankfully didn’t have much time to stew on the thought of my horse and I tangled in a wire fence, or the fact that I was joining in on chasing a creature to its’ untimely death.
I was satisfied with the plan that I would hang back should the hunt go on a run, to avoid being anywhere near that scenario, but was assured several times that it was unlikely to get a kill. Hares apparently largely outsmart the hounds, and have every chance to get away from the hunt and see another day in. Most people who know me were super confused that I went hunting, considering I won’t even see the stable cat kill a mouse without setting the little bugger free. I feed the cat and I know she eats well enough without torturing little fluffs for entertainment! So, although it pains me enormously that something dies in a hunt, the fact that it is a quick death and that it has every opportunity to get away allows me to ‘turn a blind eye’ if you will. Yes, I do feel a hypocrite but I am only human, flaws and all.
So, before I knew it, it was Sunday morning and time to get Oscar ready. I gave him a bigger than usual breakfast with some electrolytes, and set to making him shiny and clean. He’s a bit of a mud bug and it’s been a bit too chilly to wash, but a bucket of hot soapy water saw his face and legs clean. The rest was nothing a rubber curry and coat conditioner couldn’t fix. D picked us up just before 11 and we set off to the hunt meet!
I was checked in and introduced to a few people, offered some port and a sandwich as it was a lawn meet, and then we all assembled on horseback whilst the hounds were released. The farm was five or so minutes up the road, and Oscar felt settled straight away. We do a lot of conditioning hacks and so he’s not the kind of horse that freaks out when you leave the sandbox. Once at the farm, the hounds worked on picking up a scent and we slowly followed them up a hill and across a ridge. They made their way into an adjoining paddock which you could get to through a gate or over a spar. The spar was uphill and not the nicest on the property, so D told me to stay back and gate with a groom riding the huntsman’s ‘second horse’, which needed to remain fresh and not be jumped. It was around this point that Oscar started to perk up a little; us gaters were the last ones through and had to canter up a fairly large rolling hill to catch up to the rest of the hunt. I let him let off some steam up the hill as he was threatening to buck, and he did in fact throw in a couple bucks which was a bit of a relief because he’d gotten that out of his system.
Then, literally at the top of the hill the hounds caught onto a scent and were away. I’m not sure how this happened but I was sticking with D and somehow ended up right in the middle of the horses tearing down a hill towards a neat little spar. Oscar was pulling like a train and adrenaline had kicked in and we both just wanted to be amongst it I think! The hounds took us on a wild chase across several paddocks and up hills that were so steep, all I could do was hold on tight to a chunk of mane and let my horse tear along. We galloped up hills, down hills, around corners, over ground that I would usually pick my way across, and sprinted along flat stretches of paddock. It was amazing. A white knuckle ride for sure, but all my apprehension was long gone as my horse was just so brilliant. I couldn’t have stopped him if I tried; he thought he knew what he was doing and was just point and shoot over all the spars and lowered wires that came up in front of us.
Eventually it wound down and came to a stop as the hounds lost the scent. Everyone was stoked at what a great run it had been, lasting ages. I spoke to a lady whilst our horses caught their breath and the hounds worked on finding a new scent, and she told me to remember that forever as it was so rare to get a run like that, that went on for so long. Such a great welcome to hunting, and seriously, what a horse. Oscar was just rock solid.
The hunt had split into three, and it was nice to give my horse a breather as we hacked down to regroup. I asked D how it had split and she said the simplest way to explain it was there were the non-jumpers, the ‘half-jumpers’ and the jumpers. To my disbelief, I had ended up with the jumpers, despite saying I was only going to pop over the odd spar here and there – HA! I remembered Becks’ comment on my previous post, saying to take it easy for my horse’s sake on his first hunt so once we regrouped I made my way pretty sharpish to the non-jumping group where we pottered around for a good forty minutes or so, following the hunt at a bit of a distance. Oscar chilled out on a loose rein and I truly can’t fault his behaviour. Happy to be right up at the front of the ride, or equally happy to chill out at the back. If he wasn’t my heart and soul horse he’d be sold as a hunter tomorrow – he was in his element.
After a wee while I saw D over another fence line and decided to go pop up to the front again. Oscar was feeling good and it was a little chilly just walking around.
We trotted along for a while as the hounds did their job. There was another short run but we skipped it out and opted to take an easy trot short cut across a paddock to join the group further along. Now things get bad on two accounts! Or great, depending on your view.
First, right as we met back up with the group, I hear the hounds making a new sound and the huntsman holding up a hare. They got a kill! And although I was truly super happy for the hounds, and everyone hunting to be rewarded for what is serious hard work, I have never witnessed a death before. Any sick or injured animal I have met has either passed away on a vet’s table, or made it out the other end. I have no experience dealing with death in front of me whatsoever, and it was entirely overwhelming. I immediately looked away and tucked myself behind D, out of sight. Because, although I can’t deal with death at all, I was happy for everyone else. Tears were threatening and I fiddled around with my girth, when simultaneously the best and worst thing that could have possibly happened, happened. The huntsman made his way over to me with the carcass to give it to me. Which is truly the greatest honour! And I had been told all of the rules and etiquette – point your horse towards the hounds if they come close to avoid your horse kicking them, and it’s hounds not dogs. Don’t pass the red coats. But, being confident that I would not see a kill, the etiquette of accepting the carcass should it be presented was missed out.
So, on the verge of tears and not knowing how to deal with the fact that this cute fluffy thing had just had its life ended for myself to enjoy a Sunday ride, I politely as I could said, “No, thank you”.
Okay. I just know that anyone reading this just cringed into their socks. I am still cringing and I imagine I will cringe in 50 years time remembering that moment. In my defence, I was totally overwhelmed on the verge of a breakdown and had I accepted the carcass I would have inevitably have looked it in the eye and gone into full blown meltdown there and then. Because I have lived under a rock when it comes to normal life processes such as, you know, life and death.
Luckily for me, the huntsman is a really nice guy and saw the funny side. As were the rest of the people riding with me, and they were so lovely and laughed it off and clicked on that I’d missed that crucial bit of etiquette knowledge. Someone else accepted the offering very graciously and we giggled our way back to the rest of the meet, joking about Greenpeace saddle blankets. I am mortified, grateful and very honoured all in one go!
Things turned super positive again though as to get back to the rest of the meet we had to pop over a wire fence, with the top wire clipped to the one below it between two fence posts. It was on an incline, with a steep uphill on landing and with the adrenaline long gone and at the end of the ride, it looked hella intimidating. It was the scariest fence of the day by a long shot and so I was immediately brought out of my humiliation by my horse popping over beautifully, no hesitation whatsoever.
We had another half an hour following various scent trails but there was only one kill that day.
Overall, minus embarrassing myself a little, I had the best day ever. Hooked; hunting is the bomb and all it’s talked up to be. I love it!
That night I gave Oscar 2 grams of bute with his dinner, turned him out in his 400gm rug and clay poulticed his legs under wraps. He was moving fine the next morning, though I gave him another 2 grams of bute with breakfast and an hour in his Back on Track fleece to be safe. He was so, so amazing I would feel terrible if he was super sore the next day. And the last thing I want is my new found hunter to go lame!