Fox Hunting

And now for something completely different…

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I am sad to report that the season has ended and it will be another long summer before we see again the sport that has so warmed us through the winter. The Closing Meet of Cloudline Hounds dawned upon us with just enough of a chill in the air to allow us some small measure of comfort in our coats, however there was more than one hardy rider wilting in the sun by the time the three and a half hour hunt was done.

But, before I get too far ahead of myself, I must say I had many strange looks when I unloaded my mount for the day. A 13.1 hand high Paso Fino does not your typical hunt horse make, and I nearly began to doubt my decision until I reminded myself of the fire and grit and indomitable spirit housed within that lilliputian body. To quote Shakespeare, and Red Pollard, “though he be but little, he is FIERCE.”

Shaggy is on the mend and doing well, but there is still a bit of puffiness in his knee, so I decided to take it easy on the old boy. I had originally intended on riding Snickers, but when my Yankee friends offered me the ride on Viento de Pleybeyo I could not refuse. It had been over two years since I’d last ridden “Little Man”, or “Little Shit” as his New York owner is wont to call him, but it was one of those rides that stays fresh in the memory for years and will leave one smiling a decade later. There was nothing fantastic about the location, the terrain, or that day in general aside from him. It was only a short ride in the pasture, but sitting upon his back is all it takes to make the dreariest day bright and beautiful.

Ah, but I digress. The day in question is not that one so long ago, but rather that of our most recent hunt. And THAT day was indeed a bright and beautiful one, made even more so for me by this fleet-footed, smooth-gaited, high-spirited little pony. We started out at the back of Second Flight as this was his first hunt and I had my doubts of his ability to make the jumps. Somewhere along the way, though, he managed to prove his mettle and put me back where I most desire to be – helping with the hounds. And he laid all my doubts to rest as he took jump after jump with all the bravado of a pony on a rip-roaring tear! And, most wonderful of all, his jumps were just as smooth and easy to ride as all of his gaits on the flat! Now I know exactly what I’ll be in the market for when it’s time for The Shagster to retire… let’s just hope all Paso Finos have that same fire in their blood as that little gust of “Wind”!

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Fox Hunting

And we wonder why more people don’t do this…

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We were in Arkansas for the Misty River closing meet, and it was dark, and cold, and rainy, and storming. This was our first “away” hunt, and it was looking iffy whether we’d be going out or not. After pulling through the gates and showing our health papers to the poor drenched soul checking riders in, we pulled ahead to search for solid enough ground to park when the skies released a smattering of hail followed by an enormous crack of lightning. I warily eyed the blackened sky, wondering if we might be in for a tornado. The guys checked the radar and were confident we’d have a break between two lines of storms just long enough to hunt and “Tally-Ho Down”. Sure enough, the rain eased up to a heavy drizzle as we saddled up our ponies and not long after mounting up into the saddle the rain stopped and the hunt began.

My shivering Shaggy boy was wanting his winter coat as we stood around waiting to ride out, but he warmed up quickly after we took off. Riding in the mountains is always a treat for me. The scenery is divine and the terrain is a fun change of pace. Another big change were the coops. They were a bit more upright and taller than the majority of ours, but up to and over the first coop Shaggy and I had not a single problem. The second required an even bigger effort and we got over it nicely. So, you’d think every one after would be no problem for me. Well, sadly, that was not the case. Sadder still, my “boo-boo” caused my dear fella to get a boo-boo of his own. At least that’s the only explanation I can come up with. On the approach to this coop, I suddenly thought “Oh crap!” as I looked down at it, and Shaggy put on the brakes. Onlookers say I even slowed him down as we came up to it. The second try was an exact replay, with the exception he picked his front feet up to try to crawl over it. I immediately turned him away from it, and ended up going through the gate with second flight, then hurrying ahead, galloping up a big big BIG hill, before realizing that yet AGAIN I had lost the hunt! So, back to second flight I went until I was later able to rejoin first flight.

The moment after I left the one group to join the other, hounds must have taken off, and everyone took off to keep up. I sent Shaggy into a hard gallop up Up UP another steep hill, passing one rider after another after another after another. By the time we got to the top my steed had caught me back up to my Cloudline buddies at the front of the field. We slowed to a walk and I got the first feeling that something was a bit off. Jeff couldn’t spot any lameness, though, and I thought maybe I was paranoid. We picked up a trot and he felt fine, so we continued on. Another big run up a big hill and The Shagadellic Beast powered up it like a monster. At the top of this hill we had a long check. Flasks were passed around, jokes were shared, pictures taken and tales told. After a long time of merry-making we headed out again to hunt our way home, and then I knew. Shaggy was dead lame. We hobbled back home, and by the time we made it to the trailer he wasn’t putting any weight on his left foreleg at all, and he had a huge swollen knot on his knee. My friends helped me get him fixed up with some wraps and bute, and he was looking and feeling much better the next day.

Despite the mishaps (we had also had a blow out on the trailer, a wreckless driver nearly caused us to wreck into him,  and some of our friends had a horse get loose at a rest area, and another friend had a lip to match Shaggy’s knee from getting slapped by a branch when scrambling up out of the river), it was a pleasant excursion for all, and though I think we are all just glad to have made it home in one piece, I think it’s safe to say we all look forward to the next bit of adventure, whenever and wherever it may be. Amazingly, Jeff was one without casualty. He’s usually the one with all the misadventures – falling off on his head, busting his kneecap wide open on trees, etc ad nauseum – and now, after TWO SEASONS of hunting we’re told it’s bad luck to have your coat cleaned! Well, he happened to be borrowing a coat for this hunt that hadn’t been to the cleaners in two years. Mine hadn’t been to the cleaners in a few weeks, so what’s up with that? Oh well, I guess you can’t win ’em all. I know one thing for sure, though… my dry cleaning bill is about to decrease considerably!!

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Fox Hunting

Think long, think wrong!

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The weekend before last was hot and windy and should’ve been a blank day, but those Cloudline beauties are on FIRE! It was as wild a hunt as ever, and, yet again, I lost the hunt. I did have company this time, and I learned another way NOT to go. I could pass the blame off and say that I didn’t have the best guidance, but the fact is, when it came down to the critical moment – that point in time where a “not-so-great” fast decision would’ve been better than a great slow decision- I didn’t go with my gut. I might have still gotten left behind had I gone with my first impulse, but I doubt it.

Thankfully, I no longer fear mistakes as I did in my youth. I am learning much from them! In the words of some guy I heard on the radio the other day, “I’ve learned more from my failures than my successes.” The lessons learned are burned deeply into the murky depths of my psyche and shine brightly on the ever developing Cloudline territory map in my mind… right now, big sections of the “map” are still dark and unreadable, but the points of light are getting more numerous and perhaps soon the whole map will shine just as brightly as the Eastern Seaboard at night.

And next time I will have in mind these words of wisdom…

“A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.” -General George Patton

“In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. Lord Takanobu said, “If discrimination is long, it will spoil. ” Lord Naoshige said, “When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.” When your mind is going hither and thither, discrimination will never be brought to a conclusion. With an intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.” -Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

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Fox Hunting

The hunting gets impossibly faster and wilder each weekend!

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About the best I can give you for today is to quote Diana – “Someone must have been hauling butt, because those hoofprints were REALLY far apart!!”

As for me, I think it’s possible that I might have done something right, but I really don’t think so as I pretty much got lost, made several bad directional decisions, and ended up being left behind. On a high note, I managed to avoid hitting another tree (it was a spectacular near-catastrophe in front of everybody), and managed to find a few “lost” hounds, as well as the remainder of the field that got left behind when “The Fantastic Four” (Susan, Jeff, Mary & Carey) jumped a barbed-wire fence in pursuit of the hard running hounds. Once again, the hound trailer was called to the Webb Hill Country Club to pick up hounds off the golf course! The Fantastic Four and their handy hunters passed us in the trailer as we hacked home. It was a long, long ride home. Overall, CardioTrainer tracked my day’s ride at 15.5 miles in 3.5 hours… NATRC eat my dust! As for me, I’m still coughing up The Fantastic Four’s dust!

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Fox Hunting

A beautiful day + a wonderful hunt = pure happiness

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Was I really that tired this morning??? Right now, headed home, basking in the warm rays of sunshine streaming through the windshield, I am tired, yes, but only in a happily-full-belly-and-needing-a-nap sort of way.  Otherwise, I am completely rejuvenated. No more hurting ol’ bones. No more exhaustion. No more weariness. Only lazy contentedness remains. That is what fox hunting does for me.

You would think it would be the opposite. I mean, it only makes sense that a body would be tired after an 11 mile, 2 hour ride, especially a ride like the one I had today. I had the honor and pleasure of riding up front with Susan, our Huntsman & MFH, to learn about the duty of the Whippers-in. At the end of the hunt, she asked me if I’d learned anything, and I had to tell her that I think so, but it was all such a blur that I’d really have to let it “stew” awhile before I can be sure! Once again, the hounds took off right away and left us riding hard to keep up. As wild as riding First Flight can be, it can seem tame compared to riding directly behind our Shu Shu… you just never know what that crazy woman is gonna do next! I LOVE it! Actually, we had a relatively safe ride behind her compared to when I was sent through the woods to the tall game fence, to head off hounds. Finding, and staying on, the right path got a bit tricky due to some “extra” trail markers, and I ended up blazing my own path until we got it sorted out. Galloping through the trees, careening through the vines, veering from one opening to the next through the brush, my face came within inches of a tree trunk as Shaggy darted right while my body wobbled left. Thank God I had a very strong leg on and was able to stick with my horse! In that moment, time slowed to a near standstill and I thought about how that was exactly the sort of accident that killed Dr. McCurdy last weekend. But then, we were safely past, and all that was quickly forgotten, and I had to hurry!! So, kick on through the creek, up the bank and on into Mr. Thacker’s field where we held the hounds until the trailer came to pick them up.

Once we all caught up with one another, got the hounds in and began hacking home, it quickly became apparent that a certain someone also had a bit of adventure getting up close and personal with a tree. Poor Jeff busted his knee-cap again. It only just healed up from the last time! Well, at least he’s getting some good use out of his stock ties!

What a wonderful day, blood and all! This is our first really FULL season of hunting, and what a season it has become! Could we ever have this much fun fox hunting any where else? I honestly don’t think so. I truly believe Cloudline must be one of the most wonderful hunts in the world, if not the most wonderful. However, I have no other experience to compare it with. We will have to venture out and visit other hunts in order to test this theory. Our first excursion is coming up in just a few weeks – Misty River’s closing meet in Arkansas. I look forward to the “taste test” challenge!

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