I remember the icy, gray December day vividly my friend and fellow barn-mate, Theresa, said those fateful words to me: “You know what I would just love to do one day? Foxhunting.” She laughed when she saw my face light up with a grin, probably because she expected me to tell her how crazy she is for having such a desire, but she couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
I immediately launched into stories I had experienced with Shakerag Hounds and insisted she come out to join in on the adventures one day. She was able to join us for New Year’s Day hunt and had a ball, so naturally I sent her a text about joining us this year for Opening Meet. However, it would bring a bit of a different perspective; this time, instead of riding or road whipping, I would be taking on the role of escorting the official photographer for the day, Eric Bowles.
Unfortunately, the trusty Honda CRV lacks 4-wheel drive, but thankfully master Daryl Buffenstein allowed me to use his Ford F-150 for the day. I ended up with a cab full of followers, but my main goal was to get Eric and his wife as close to the action as possible so they could document the day’s sport. As the day unfolded, I began to realize just how tricky this could be. I had a radio so I could follow along with what was happening throughout the hunt, but I had to fight all of the urges to assume my natural role as a road whip. Whenever I heard the hounds’ cries change direction or someone call in information on the radio, I knew exactly where I wanted to be as a road whip, but had to think a little harder about where I could take the photographers so that they could see the action without interfering with it.
Despite hounds having two excellent runs and hearing staff call in views on one fox and two coyotes, we never quite saw the action I was hoping for. Don’t get me wrong, the Bowles couple got plenty of photos of hounds, horses, riders and hunt followers, but it seemed like each time I got dangerously close to being in the right place at the right time for Eric and his wife to snap some action-filled photographs, hounds would turn away from us or have a check. At one point we stood just inside a tree line, listening to hounds race back and forth, maybe a couple hundred feet in front of us, and we were poised right along a trail I had seen Rupert take several times in the past. As we stood there in anticipation, I had the radio pressed to my ear, bouncing with eagerness and praying my prediction would be correct. But not this time; Rupert went to ground early, so we moved on to our next post.
Despite the failings of my crystal ball that day, I had a great time. There was something about bounding along in the truck on gravel roads and through cattle pastures, clarifying what was happening with the hounds, explaining why the staff were choosing to draw certain parts of the country versus others, and translating calls on the radio that just felt right. Every question was exciting for me to answer, and usually led to another story. And maybe it’s a coincidence, but lately these opportunities to share the world of fox hunting seem to be popping up more and more frequently.
Just a couple days ago, I was walking around one of the barns I work at, and getting ready to wrap up for the day. It had been a quiet, dreary day, and I was the only one home due to a large number of riders competing at various shows that weekend. I was doing a quick walk through the two barns while waiting on the final load of laundry to finish drying, desperately looking forward to a quiet night reading my book after a particularly exhausting week, when a dad and two young girls suddenly appeared from around the corner. I didn’t recognize them, so I assumed they were visiting out of curiosity—this particular barn tends to attract a lot of random visitors looking for riding lessons. The last thing I felt like doing at that moment was giving an impromptu tour, but I put on a big smile, introduced myself, and began to lead them around the facility.
Now let me be clear—this barn trains and sells show hunters and jumpers, not fox hunters, so while I always regale anyone who will listen (or pretend to listen) with stories from the hunt field, I don’t expect too many questions beyond, “You are INSANE! Did you really do that?!” But as I led the family around the barn, the dad innocently asked the question, “So what do people around here do with their horses?”
I paused, mulling over his question. I asked for clarification, “Do you mean what do people in this barn do, or what do people of Georgia as a whole typically do with their horses?”
“More of a general question, like the other horse people in the area.”
Oh, that is just too easy.
Exactly the answer I was looking for. I tried not to let my grin completely take over my face when I heard his reply. I casually explained show hunters and jumpers, eventing, and dressage as we moseyed from stall to stall.
“And then some people in the area even do fox hunting.”
“Foxhunting?” the dad asked in awe, and all three sets of eyes grew larger in wonder.
Yes, I have them right where I want them!
I gave them a brief overview on what foxhunting is, and all three of them, even the 8 year old, clung onto every word, looking away from me only to smile excitedly at one another. I was having a ball telling them all about the hounds, the quarry, and galloping across open country and through wooded hillsides. The tour ended with them wanting to sign up for lessons, but also to learn more about hunting, so I encouraged them to look up Shakerag’s website.
“Oh no, I’ve already decided, I want to hunt. It’s like a really really good book that you look at and the cover picture is awesome and bright and exciting, and you’re just like, ‘Yep! I want to read it, I’m in!’” the 11 year old chimed in as our conversation concluded.
Who knows if I’ll see these girls again or if they’ll follow up and check out Shakerag? But the most important thing is that I had a ten-minute conversation about the sport with them, they were interested, and they are now aware that this sport goes on regularly in their area. As Father James Keller once said, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”