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

Not often do I find reason or time to write in this, such pretty rhyme…

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A better hunt was never found
than when True Love celebrated Horse & Hound.
The morning crisp, skies clear and horses fresh,
A bold stiff wind was blowing hard from the west.

Port so sweet, but sweeter still the sound of hounds released.

So quickly they caught the scent, many a rider was lost in the wake.
Riding hard we strained, no sight of them could we make.
Onward we pushed, tracking, guessing, scurrying ahead,
Thorns, brush, waters rush, mud and bog, ever seeking Red.

Horses loose, riders down, further split the field did part.
No stopping, no turning, asking for all his wind and heart.
Now unsure, now a breather, HARK! and HOLD HARD!

Rider ahead, could it be? Did we find them? At last! At last!

Hounds AWAY!!! And crazy on we flew!
No more horse – I thought – but wings he grew!

Hunting homeward, all together again.
All safe, all flushed, all doing all he can.
Hound work prettily done, gates opened and closed.
Tired beasts put away to munch their hay and rest their toes.

Riders rejoice, wine and dine, celebrate and toast
This HAPPY DAY when a daring group, rather than the ordinary, chose,
To salute their love and write their Valentine
In the thick, deep mud of dear, beloved Cloudline.

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Fox Hunting

To Heaven and back with Horse & Hound

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I’ve read tales of wreck survivors who have journeyed to Heaven and back. The common thread between these accounts is that, once having tasted the exquisite joy of Heaven, the survivor realizes that, essentially, everything else sucks.

That is the tale of fox hunting for me… nothing else can compare to the thrill of a grand chase. Horse and Hound have transported me to Heaven. Skydiving is the only activity that can begin to come close to the thrill of fox hunting, but still dims in comparison because 1. it’s over far too quickly, and 2. you do have the relative safety of a parachute.

When in the heat of a mad chase, as this past Sunday, there is no time for fear… no time for prayers. Only time to breathe. Only time to focus on surroundings and footing, and do your best to guide your horse. Sharp turns, rough ground, thick woods, boggy creeks. Sometimes Horse thinks he knows better. Sometimes he does. Sometimes, though, what’s better for Horse leaves Rider with black bruises from cutting too close a path to a tree! No time to complain. Only time to breathe. Only time to sit up, be strong and demand more of a compromise. Only time to breathe.

Any second may be your last… Horse may leave Rider in the dust. Horse may go down. No time to worry. Only time to breathe.

Once it’s all over with and the thrill of the chase has given way to days of stiff, sore muscles… no time to complain. No time to fear. Only time to smile.

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