Fox Hunting

These are a few of my favorite things…

Ok, I’m going to be honest. Many times when I’m asked a question, my mind absolutely freezes. My brain flounders when I’m put on the spot, even when it’s just in casual conversation concerning something completely unimportant. Case in point, on the way home from yesterday’s hunt, Joanna asked for our favorite part of the day. I should have known this question would have been asked as it always is after every hunt, every lesson, every ride. It’s a good question. It makes you think. It makes for good conversation. You’d think I’d be prepared for it. Nope. I’m just riding along, enjoying life….la, la, la….la de da….la, la, la…. then the question arises and …. BOOM!! ……complete blank! I could have been reminiscing over all the wonderful adventures we’d just experienced, but it’s suddenly and utterly GONE! Total white-out!

I’m always thankful when there’s someone else in the truck to answer first. While they talk my mind relaxes enough to frantically scramble for stand-out memories. On this particular day, unbeknownst to them, it was Rosie and Rhema who came to my rescue. Saved by teens! As they chit-chatted, some of my own experiences resurfaced in the murky depths of my memory.
So, exactly what was my answer? What was my favorite part of the day? Could it have been that the love of my life had the rare, treasured, and gloriously difficult honor of hunting the hounds on the eve of his birthday, and I was there to see it all?

No.

That was definitely a momentous occasion in our lives, but that did not pop into my weirdly frozen brain.

The first memory to pop up was a strange one for the question asked, and it was of jumping Amanda’s Ascent. There was a snafu on the approach for the riders ahead of me, then one called for me to go ahead just as I had started stopping. So, we surged ahead, but there was this discombobulation in my body. It was like two-thirds of my body was going with Shaggy but the other third was dropping back… back…. baaaaaack. My leg was solid, my hands were giving, but my body was getting left further and further behind. It was an odd feeling, but thankfully didn’t keep Shaggy from doing a good job.

The second memory was the more fun of the two, so it was my answer, though I shall go into more detail here than I did when asked, mainly because at the time the details escaped me that are so very clear to me now.

As it so happened, I was right behind the Field Master who was right behind Jeff, the Huntsman for that very special day, and the Master, Susan. We were in a fast canter, maybe a slow gallop, headed towards a gate, and I was asked to get the gate. I’ve hunted enough now to know when you’re asked to do something, you better do it quick. But I was a bit hesitant because the thorns were thick and I just didn’t immediately see the openings. Really, I think it was just another version of that “on the spot” mental freeze…maybe because, normally, riding past the staff is a big no-no. But as soon as they yelled a little louder, urgency overcame any and all trepidation and I sent Shaggy on through what openings there were and over what openings there weren’t. I love that feeling. Galloping through the thorns, jumping the brush.

So, my hastily made plan was to jump the little creek, immediately stop, hop off and get the gate. It’s a tight spot on both sides, but Shaggy put me in the perfect spot to open the gate from his back, AND stood stock-still as I dropped the reins to get the snap undone. I had trouble pushing the gate all the way open, so we squeezed through and, as Jeff and Susan squeezed through, I jumped off and pulled it open wider.

FREEZE FRAME!

I’m on the ground, my horse behind me is broadside across the trail, butt 2 feet from the 10 feet tall game fence, one rider through the gate headed down the narrow trail, one rider inches from me as I’m pulling on the gate, a mob of riders lined up, coming through the creek to the gate… when I hear hooves behind me. Galloping hooves. And a loud cry of “WARE STAFF!” The thought flits through my mind “Shaggy better suck his butt up, because there’s no time to move him!” The Whip’s beautiful brave mare made short work of widening that two foot gap, and then all of First Flight was through and Second Flight was yelling for me to hurry on and they would get the gate. Miraculously, I managed to mount from the flat ground and, like a kid at a playday, I was clucking and kicking Shaggy into a gallop before my seat could even touch the saddle. It turned out to be a short run, which may have been very fortunate as the weather had taken a tropical turn. The horses were pouring sweat as we sweltered in our tweeds. Later, Shaggy was favoring his right fore as we headed out on the road home, so it was fortunate for him, though he wasn’t too happy about being tied at the trailer alone, after heading in a little earlier than the rest of the field.

While all of that made for the more exciting memories of the day, my favorites are actually more mundane. And yet revisiting them awashes my heart in glowing warmth.

Without the hounds, there would be no hunt. The hounds are everything. And it’s the hounds that capture my favorite moments of the day…

First, watching them work… work… work so hard in the poor scenting conditions. It was such a sight watching those beauties doing their best. Each time I’d hear a high pitched “yo-o-o” my heart would skip a beat. But no… not yet. And they’d work, work, work, and another “yo!” and my heart would flutter! But still not yet.

It was a hard day to be a hound! A hard day to be a Huntsman! But still, Jeff enjoyed every minute of it, despite his nervousness, and I enjoyed watching him have his day on the lovely Avatar. Oh, what a stunning picture they made beside Susan on her gorgeous gray and surrounded by hounds! An absolute symphony of color! I could’ve kicked myself for leaving my camera behind! But then, inspiration hits like a bolt of lightning. There is my next painting – my favorite memory.

And so it begins…

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