I stepped into the empty Starbucks at 7 a.m. on the dot that cool March Saturday morning and waved at the two young ladies wearing breeches and crisp white shirts.
“Don’t you want a coffee or something warm?” they asked me as I quickly turned on my heel and directed them to my car.
“Nah, I thrive in this temperature! All right, so you guys are going to follow me out there. It’s I-20 to 22 and then a couple random little roads. Let’s get moving!”
And with that, I jumped into my car, cranked up the radio, put the pedal to the metal, and took off down the highway with two sleepy but still excited teenagers in tow. This morning would be an especially exciting day hunting; my two “little sisters," Quinn and Stella, were both hunting with Shakerag Hounds for their first time.
Boldly going beyond the In gate. Keith Sanders photo.
Both of my friends are beautifully skilled riders and have had heaps of success at the national level in the competition ring, but it has primarily been in the show hunter discipline. Now I am certainly not hating on the show hunters, seeing as how I myself have spent the vast majority of my riding career in the hunter rings, but, as we all know, the show hunters are about as similar to foxhunting as a kayak is to a space shuttle. So when Quinn contacted me about going hunting for Stella’s birthday, I was grateful that master Daryl Buffenstein helped me pair them with appropriate hunt horses for their first time out.
What followed ended up being a perfect day for the two show hunters’ first excursion in the “wild” discipline of foxhunting.
Temperatures were unseasonably warm, and certainly made for some tough scenting conditions, but the slightly slower pace was a nice way for them to settle into the sport and adjust to their mounts as well; sitting on the back of a stout 15hh quarter horse or a lean, mean, galloping machine Thoroughbred is certainly a bit different from the 16.2hh+ lopey warmbloods they’re accustomed to riding in the show hunters! It was a small group of riders in the field as well that day, so the girls were able to see an abundance of hound work. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I tried to quietly explain to them what was going on at that moment, and they always eagerly nodded in understanding. At one point, the trail got particularly trappy and required us to hop over a small ditch before scrambling up a rather muddy hill immediately after. I was riding a game little green horse belonging to second field master, Maryann, and as we started our ascent up the hill, I realized that Quinn and Stella have probably never ridden over land quite like this. I looked over my shoulder to check on them—Quinn was already determinedly helping her horse, Tivi, climb up the hill, and Stella was in the process of hopping over the ditch on Lucy with the biggest grin I’ve ever seen stretched across her face. I quietly chuckled to myself, thinking they’ve got to be having an absolute blast.
At the end of the day, they’d been able to experience a small taste of what my Saturdays during hunt season consist of: a couple runs to get their adrenaline up, fleeting views of hounds dashing by in pursuit of the ever mysterious scent, standing in complete silence with bated breath as you listen to the huntsman quietly encourage the hounds to keep looking, and, of course, lots of Georgia red clay.
As I said before, I have a thorough appreciation for the show hunters, but the experience of foxhunting is something entirely its own, and one I’ve loved to share with a number of new people this season. I’m a competitive person, but even when I was competing regularly in high school (on the weekends when I wasn’t hunting of course), I knew there was something amiss amongst all the competitions.
Competitions are all about goals—what your next goal is, what you need to do to get there, why you didn’t reach your last goal, so on and so forth. Once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing because it promotes work ethic and growth. However, in excess, like most things, it becomes a poison. It seems that everywhere we go, both inside and outside the horse world, people are either living entirely in their past or their future, thinking they’ll be happier once they reach xyz, or they would’ve been more successful had they not done xyz. There’s an Alan Wilson Watts quote that reads, “We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future.” Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten about the “now."
I believe hunting recreates the “now” for followers of the sport. At least, it certainly does for me. It’s an all consuming sport, and Lord knows when I’m hunting I’m not able to think about anything else until Shakerag’s huntsman, John Eaton, has confirmed the pack is all on and has blown end of day. For that time out hunting, you’re entrenched in the sport in a pure, stripped down state. There are no state of the art horse show facilities, no team of professional horse show photographers snapping pictures around every corner, and no gleaming trophies or boxes packed to the brim with a rainbow of ribbons. But several times each week during hunt season, groups of foxhunters around the globe experience truly exceptional days of sport that will honestly never happen again in quite the same manner. Every hunt is a little different from the last, so every hunt is sincerely a once in a lifetime experience. It is up to each individual to determine to what degree he or she is invested in this experience, but I know I for sure am entirely wrapped up in the day’s sport from start to finish, regardless of how good or poor scenting conditions may be that day.
Yes, it’s wonderful to set and work towards goals, and I’m certainly not condoning that we forget the past, but I believe it’s equally important that we expand our “now” beyond Watts’ “infinitesimal hairline” image and not fail to take in all the astonishing opportunities we have in front of us each day. Fox hunting has certainly done that for me, and as we drove towards the hunt that morning, I desperately hoped Quinn and Stella would experience that same feeling. And there were a couple of moments that confirmed it: seeing Stella and Lucy scramble up that slick hillside, watching Quinn and Tivi traverse a rather rocky creek crossing, and looking back to check on my friends only to find them both staring intensely through the thick woods, eyes always on the huntsman and his hounds.
They may not have completely understood what they were seeing, but they were there. They were in the “now."
“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions and ideas.” - Alan Wilson Watts