My alarm seemed to go off extra early for Boxing Day this year. I had a fitful night of sleep like I normally do when I’m extra excited to hunt. This was going to be the first time I could ride with the field in quite some time so I couldn’t wait to get out the door! But when I sit up to switch my alarm clock off, I notice something that feels like a brick lodged in my airway. And when I try to say something…no sound comes out.
No. No. NO! I am NOT getting sick. That tickle in my throat that I noticed Christmas evening? Obviously that was just from being outside in the cold all morning. And this? Well…it’s in my head. I’m imagining it. I’m not actually ill. And if I pretend I’m not ill, I won’t get sick…right?
So I do what any intelligent person would do and I kick the covers off, get dressed, and head off to the barn.
What? I never said I was a sane intelligent person.
As Mr. Wayne and I draw closer to the meet site, I’m nearly trembling from eagerness. Or maybe that’s the fever starting to kick in…No, that’s silly, because I’m NOT getting sick. My voice is just hoarse to the point that I sound like a man is all. No big deal.
We tack up and I check my pockets several times to make sure I’ll have enough tissues to make it through a couple hours of hunting. But I’m still not sick. My nose is running at 100 mph. But I. Am. Not. Sick.
As soon as we start hacking to the first draw, I begin to feel normal again. Tobey picks up a little canter to keep up with the bigger horses as we hack up the dirt road and take a left into a cattle pasture. I watch Shakerag’s huntsman, John Eaton, and the hounds carefully as they approach a hedgerow to begin the draw. For the first part of the hunt, hounds don’t find too much. There was about twenty minutes where we stood in a line on top of a hill as hounds worked diligently to work out a line in a wooded gully below us, but despite some beautiful hound work and cry that sounded extremely promising, nothing came of it.
We trot down a winding path into the woods and I begin to think we might just be chalking it up to a quiet hack with hounds as I notice the sun getting rather high in the sky. The field comes to a halt just before a turn in the path to listen to John draw the hounds through the thickly wooded area. I relax for a bit as we listen to the sound of huntsman and hounds working together echoing through the pines that blanket the hill to my right. I notice it’s starting to get increasingly difficult to breathe as whatever illness I’m still denying I have tightens its grip on my airways. Tobey and I take a few steps forward on the trail and then halt. Walk a few more steps then halt again. The field is silently inching its way down the path and I’m slowly noticing various symptoms becoming more prominent when a voice from behind jolts me back to the present.
“Tally ho coyote.” Second field master Mary Ann stated very quietly. Upon hearing those three words, I feel as though an electric pulse has surged through my body and my eyes frantically scan the path and woods around me. What is she talking about? Where is it? I see nothing, just the rest of first field standing quietly in front of me. But far off in the distance…yes, very faintly I can hear a hound’s voice, maybe a couple voices, bellowing.
I spin around to face Mary Ann, “What?”
“Tally ho coyote!” Mary Ann replies with a bit more enthusiasm this time, and then I realize she’s hearing talk on the radios with the attachment in her ear.
I shift my attention to trot forward a few strides with the field and then come to a halt again. I can faintly hear John encouraging hounds on, but we’re towards the bottom of some hills and he must be at the top or on the other side. “From who?” I ask eagerly when we come to a stop again.
“Kelly!” Mary Ann reports but then seems to look off into empty space and I realize there must be more information coming in on the radio. I can feel my heart pounding as I anxiously wait to hear what’s going on. Or maybe breathing is just becoming that difficult. Or maybe it’s both. “Weasel and Mandolin are on it!” Mary Ann tells me and my excitement swells as I know exactly which hounds she’s speaking of. First field begins to trot off as I say over my shoulder, “Kelly always sees the coolest stuff!” to which I hear Mary Ann reply, “It’s because she stands on top of those big old hills!”
Tobey picks up a brisk canter to keep up for a few strides before we’re slamming on the brakes again. Second field is not far behind, and I turn around to hopefully get another update from Mary Ann. We stand in complete silence for what seemed like several minutes but was actually just a few moments when Mary Ann gets more information, “Kelly’s going to put them on it.”
First field begins to move off again and I give Tobey a little squeeze to pick up a trot when I hear it. Shakerag’s professional whip, Kelly Eaton, begins to holler to call hounds to the line. The sharp, high-pitched holler flies down the hillside and seems to bounce out of the gully to my left to completely envelop us in its haunting tune. Tobey and I move into a strong canter and Kelly’s clear, steady hollers continue to grow in fullness, so I assume we’re getting closer to wherever she is but the sound still seems to be coming out of nowhere as we climb our way up hills and out of the woods. We’re moving up the trail, keeping up a strong, rhythmical pace. Kelly’s holler fills the air and the only things I notice are the pounding of Tobey’s hooves into the damp earth, goose bumps from hearing Kelly’s final holler reverberating amongst the trees, and this hot, sharp excitement coursing through my veins as I anxiously wait to see where we’ll be heading next.
Unfortunately from here I really don’t remember a ton of details about the run. Maybe it was the plague that eventually did hit me (apparently pretending to not be sick doesn’t work…who knew?), or maybe it was the week of heavy duty Vicodin post-dental surgery that erased the details from memory, but I have written down that the run was pretty fast and lasted a solid half hour before the coyote ran out of country. I remember holding back laughter as we hit a dirt road and I knew we would be pressing the gas pedal to make up some ground. I remember fighting a bit of a coughing fit mid-gallop (thank the good Lord for saintly ponies like Tobey who continued to gallop on despite my lack of piloting in this instance).
When I finally made it home after making sure tack got cleaned and horses were settled in their stalls for the night, I had a bowl of ice cream for “dinner” to soothe my throat; at that point I was beginning to think about admitting defeat to whatever plague was at work. As I headed towards my bed at 6:30 pm (typical wild college student), my mom asked, “Well, was it still worth it?” And even when I woke the next morning shivering beneath a pile of blankets in a room warmed by space heaters, my answer was still, without a doubt, “Is the Pope Catholic?”