Fox Hunting

I survived Cloudline Hunt Weekend 2011 …and came out the other side with some new goals!

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It was touch and go there for awhile, but I managed to keep my seat through it all and, once again, my trust in The Shagster increased tremendously.

For us, the weekend started Thursday. We got the horses settled in, shared some meals with our Joint-Masters of Foxhounds and heard the story of how Cloudline began. As I recall of the story, when The Colonel and his wife received the offer of some hounds to start their own hunt, there were no kennels, no trailer to haul them in, but unable and unwilling to refuse the offer, they immediately set out for Virginia in their truck and brought them back to Texas. The Colonel wrapped some wire around some posts and turned them out into the humble beginnings of the current kennels. There was no gate.

As we enjoyed the joy and warmth of food and friends, the temperature outside steadily plummetted. The next day’s hunt had been cancelled, but we still had a very full day ahead of us. The next morning we bundled up and headed out into the wintry frost. We quickly warmed up as we panelled coops, cleaned stalls, schooled horses, hacked horses, washed horses, and cleaned, cleaned, cleaned more stalls. During our riding Jeff had a lesson on Snickers, and I on Shaggy, with Susan. Snickers had never before been over any jumps, but at 16 years old we didn’t think she’d give him any trouble, and sure enough, she did great and was jumping coops by the end of the lesson!

We both got some instruction on our release and the next day I felt I had made vast improvements psychologically as well as physically. The improvements can be attributed to Susan’s wording: “the release is saying to your horse I trust you to go over this jump,” as well as the realization (after having hacked the VERY strong, VERY hot Chateau) that my Shagadellic Beast is in fact a VERY easily controlled, VERY gentlemanly beast. Many fears were cut down in one fatal blow simply because I was reminded what a truly hot horse feels like, and that I am capable of handling such a creature. The difference was further made clear to me the next day riding out to hounds when I, still in “Chateau-mode”, gave a half-halt that would’ve barely registered on her radar but nearly stopped Shaggy in his tracks! He did get a bit strong (mainly because he was fresh from being kept up in a stall) and I remember galloping to catch up when I realized we were coming up to a coop and everyone but the rider ahead of me had gone over already when I first spotted it, then she’s over it and Shaggy goes into “don’t leave me!” mode and I was tired and finally thought “I don’t care if he gallops up to the jump. I trust him and I’m going with him!” And in that moment I must have relaxed because he came back to me just enough, then we cleared the coop and cantered up the hill to an easy halt where everyone was stopped. It’s hard to describe the feelings of that moment… suffice it to say that fox hunting has truly solidified the relationship I have with my horse.

Meanwhile, Jeff was having the ride of his lfe on Avatar, a 17hh 4 year old Belgian/Paint cross. It was the first time for Jeff to ride a horse appropriately sized for his 6’5″ frame. Needless to say, he felt an immediate difference, fell in love with the horse, and now my only fear is that he might try selling me on the black market to afford the horse!

While the day was a revelatory ride for the both of us, and quite thrilling as usual, it was incredibly taxing. The hounds carried us nearly to the country club where the Hunt Ball was scheduled for later that day, and one Whipper-in actually rode his horse up to the front door of the club house to call for the hound trailer. It was a long ride back home and while my quivering muscles were crying “Dear God, please, not another jump!”, I was willing to just get on with it and do whatever necessary to take the shortest route home, which indeed meant more jumps, one being a very large coop at the bottom of a steep hill, beside a railroad track-bed. Sure enough there was a refusal – a two horse pile-up right in front of me. So, from a standstill we took two quick strides, then over we flew! What a good Shaggy boy!!

That night, at the Hunt Ball, we were too tired for very much dancing but did manage to do a little bit. We had a great time watching the kids out on the dance floor and one little cat-daddy even got all us old fogies out on the floor to teach us how to dance to some club jams. It was all good fun, but the thrill of the Hunt Ball, for me, is the auction… particularly the live auction. Oh, how my heart pounds and palms sweat in the midst of a lively auction! At my first-ever live auction I won the bid on my first Quarter Horse, and at this, our most recent auction, we went home with “Huntsman for the Day” privileges for Jeff. Sometime soon he will get the honor of hunting the Cloudline hounds. And, happily, we actually stayed well within our limit. I have been known to get a little out of hand when caught up in the action, so it’s always nice to leave one with the item we were after and a little money left over. In the silent auction, we also managed to pick up our first piece of fox hunting art and the BEST hoofpick EVER – THE JACKHAMMER. PLUS, POLO LESSONS!!! YAY!

The next day, Jeff rode Avatar again. What a handsome pair they make! He rode out with a Whipper-in to begin his training. I saw very little of him, or the hounds, and pretty much missed out on the last half of the hunt as I had dropped back to Second Flight on Snickers and ended up escorting a sick junior rider back to the kennels. Eyes wistfully scanning the horizon, ears straining to catch a hound’s cry, I rode back a bit melancholy yet still happy for Snix having had her chance to get out. Next time, though, I will have her ready for some aggressive action! It was actually a good outing for her, as she hadn’t been ridden in a year, prior to her Friday lesson. It was just enough for her and she still had plenty left in the tank. I didn’t want to over-exert her and make her too sore.

It really sucked missing out on seeing the hounds work, but of even greater dissappointment was my piss-poor job of riding Snix up to the only jump I pointed her at. She refused twice, at which point I took her through a gate. It was a much smaller jump than the coops Jeff had taken her over, so I’m convinved I did everything wrong. I’m determined to get on her at home for a little jump school, more for my own sake than hers. Riding, as all of life, is such a mental game. The mind requires ever sharpening in order for a person to succeed and grow. If you’re not growing, you’re stagnating. Maybe that’s another reason I grew tired of barrel racing… my riding was stagnating. I needed to get out of my comfort zone, to be pushed, to be challenged. My goal has been to become a safer, more efficient rider and over this past year and a half I have certainly done so. Don’t you think, though, that that is a goal that can be kept forever dangling in front of a rider? For no matter how good we are, we can always stand to be better. So, while there are umpteen thousand ways I can still become better (and I intend to keep on improving as a rider), I want to expand my goal. I want to learn how to purposefully make my horse better. I want to learn the why behind the how through experience. All my life I’ve been reading technique and theory, but I’m not so sure that much of it has seeped into my experiential knowledge. I’ve played with movements and have made some of my horses better for my efforts, but there are gaps in my knowledge, holes in my horses’ training. It’s like the other day when I was running errands in town and I ran into a detour and took a route that I was only vaguely familiar with. I knew where I was, and I knew where I needed to get to, but I wasn’t 100% sure of every turn that I needed to take to get there…until…. until I saw the road sign. As soon as I saw the road sign all the gaps in my knowledge were filled and I knew exactly where I was, where I was going, and every twist and turn I’d have to take to get there. That is what my riding needs – a few signs to point me in the right direction … and keep me on the right path. Thankfully, I do have a perfect guide to help me hack through my mental wilderness, and I plan to make full use of her as soon as the hunt season ends. My goal is to take lessons twice a month April through September. In those lessons I hope to learn how to use foundational dressage work to better my horse. I want to learn not just how to get a certain movement, but why and when. Also, I want to learn that happy medium between too-long reins and too-short reins. Shaggy got pretty fed-up with my, apparently, too-short reins Saturday and pulled on me (very unlike him) until I grew too tired to deal with it and finally loosened up, at which point he went happily along like the perfect gentleman he is.

I think that should be enough to keep me busy over the spring & summer, especially as I’ll also be doing some cross-country schooling with our Master of Foxhounds, possibly doing some hunter schooling shows (Jeff’s idea, not mine, but hey, I’m game), AND taking Polo lessons (WOOHOO).

Plus, there may be something else very wonderful and exciting taking place that will keep me very busy learning and riding and working… BUT…. I dare not even breathe a word of what it might be at this early date. A little hint of what the future may hold? We entered into Hunt Weekend 2011 the same way we left – full of hope and love for the hounds. 😉

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