Saturday, October 3, 2009
While I was brewing my coffee this morning I heard the chaotic sound of a pack of hounds baying, then the faint tinkle of the hunting horn. Ah, it was opening meet for the Millbrook Hunt and they were leaving from the property adjacent to where I live. There were over 150 riders out this morning, all dressed in their finest attire. I know fox hunting is steeped in tradition and there are many, many riders who live for the thrill of the chase, but I just cannot get excited about getting up before dawn to fetch my horse and cavort over hill and dale. It's just not my cup of tea. I have hunted a bit in my day. Once when I was a teenager, I decided it might be fun to hunt my Quarter Horse, Ten. He actually handled the whole experience fairly well, which was rather shocking because he could be a handful. My next hunting experiences were not so fun and they have tainted my view of fox hunting for life. I was in my early twenties and working for a show barn. My trainer decided that we should broaden our horizons and not only horse show, but fox hunt, as well. Because I was a working student, I was always assigned a young, inexperienced (read:wild and half broke)horse, or an older horse that was giving its owner trouble. These mounts provided me with some of the most terrifying times I've ever had in the saddle. I would spend most of the hunt madly see-sawing on my horse's mouth, trying to gain some semblance of control, usually to no avail. Once your are galloping with the pack it takes a very good horse to allow the rider to stop, or even slow down. I was never on one of the mythical "good" horses. My mounts tended to careen along, plunging sideways, mouths wide open, eyes rolling, crashing off of the horses in front of me, and if I pulled too much on their mouths, this would usually incite a massive bucking fit and no one wants to get bucked off in the middle of nowhere and lose your ride home. Needless to say, I began to absolutely dread hunting days. My trainer had grown up hunting and he truly thought that I was just being a baby with all of my whining about not wanting to go out again. Of course, he was always on one of the nicest horses in our barn, looking very sporty in his habit, as he charmed all of the hunt ladies and gents. He would return from a hunt as fresh as a daisy, flipping his reins to a groom, as he would swagger off for a bit of hunt breakfast gossip. I would always arrive back at the horse trailer with my horse and I in a complete lather, my hair would be sticking out of my helmet, and my arms and legs would feel as though they had been put into a taffy puller. If my trainer happened to see me he would usually have a few words for me, such as, " for God's sake Michele, pull yourself together and remember you are representing our stable!". I would nod feebly to his chastising comments, then grit my teeth and prepare to dismount and see if my legs would still hold me. No, I have no fond memories of chasing beautiful red foxes across the New England landscape. My eyes were usually tearing too much from the colossal speeds at which I traveled for me to see much of anything at all. I will admit this morning it was a beautiful sight to see all of the riders streaming across the top field, ducking in between the rows of cornstalks. I can thoroughly appreciate the reverence of the hunting experience, as long as I'm watching it from my kitchen window, clad in fuzzy slippers, with a steaming mug of coffee in my hands.