Would you believe a tale of a New Year’s Eve joint meet (also the author’s wedding anniversary) that involved an unplanned dismount into a thorn bush, an ex-racehorse “going to ground” twice (not in a good way), a coyote, a deer, and a riderless horse running together, and a mysterious mechanical breakdown on the way home? Read on to hear about Elizabeth Hall’s auspicious 2016 finale.
For the New Year's Eve meet with the Glenmore Hunt Club, a joint meet with Rockbridge, I invited my friend Kim Eastep to join me on my mare, Indie. I was on Warrior, an OTTB who, in his second season of hunting, is turning into a fantastic hunt horse, but proper bit choice and upper-body strength are still of great importance. The huntsman, Dan Jones, invited me and Warrior to ride up with him. When the huntsman invites you to ride with him and your inner response is, "Oh crap," that might be a sign of things to come. Warrior is extremely fond of his girl Indie - I have trouble riding him alone if she is nearby. But I was honored by Dan’s request, so Warrior and I left Kim and Indie in the field and headed out with the pack.
As we moved off and cast hounds, I tried to keep Warrior's attention directed away from the field (Indie), but could tell he was thinking: "Where is Indie, is that her, oh there she is! Why is the lady pulling me this way? If I jig sideways, maybe the lady will return me to Indie.” Jig, jig, jig. Every time we got near the field, my horse behaved like an hyper teenager showing off for his girlfriend. But eventually, we had a nice little run after a fox and Warrior was well under control.
Then Dan cast the hounds at the other end of the fixture, where a fox was often seen. Dan asked me to stay on the high side of the adjacent field as he drew the covert. My inner voice again said,"Oh crap," as not only were we separated from our new friend, Dan’s horse Timer, but the other riders cantered up the hill opposite and kept running. I kept trying to re-direct my distracted partner's attention to me, or to Timer ("Look, you're not alone!") but Warrior’s eyes and ears were pointed at first flight. So we jigged sideways across the field as I eyed up a little jump next to the gate. You know how sometimes a 2' rail fence looks like a trot fence, and sometimes it looks like something to over-jump and then be run away with? I envisioned the latter and not wanting any excitement, I dismounted and went through the gate to rejoin Dan the huntsman, who observed our antics and said he’d stay put while I got back on.
Once remounted, however, all bets were off! The hounds were screaming! You know how sometimes, the musical sound of hounds speaking brings a thrill to your heart, and sometimes, it makes you say, "Oh crap?” Within seconds, Dan and his horse, good ole quiet Timer, flew away and were almost out of sight. No problem, I thought, I'm on an OTTB. A suddenly out-of-control OTTB! I almost fell off three times just negotiating trees, brush and a ditch. Warrior was thinking, "Indie! I must get back to Indie!" (no doubt he could see the field out of the corner of his eye), while I was thinking "I will NOT fall off today!"
Dan cut right to go to the trail that led alongside the fence. Warrior thought, "I will save time and turn right NOW!" My inner voice wailed, “Aughhh!” as we cut through even thicker brush and lept over autumn olive bushes until WHAM! We hit a thicket so dense it was like hitting a wall. Warrior stopped dead in his tracks and went down to his knees. I sailed over his head, thankfully, only from kneeling-horse-height, and more thankfully, into a briar bush, slightly better than the frozen ground.
The only downside to a briar bush, of course, is thorns. I landed face-first and had several thoughts simultaneously: "This would be really bad if I were on hard ground/I'm glad I'm in a bush/I see horse feet and legs overhead!" I watched helplessly as Warrior pulled himself out of the thicket, jumped over me, and was gone. All of my body parts seemed mobile, but I couldn't pull myself free because my helmet was stuck in the briars. RIIIIIP I pulled it out and stood up. I felt no pain, but I saw blood on my glove and wiped my face and there was more blood. No surprise, I’d landed in a briar patch. But as far as I could tell, it was only a few scratches.
About that time, the field master, Stacy Thompson, caught sight of me and motioned/yelled for me to come to her so she could take me to Warrior. I looked skeptically at her while she insisted I should climb up behind her saddle and she'd give me a lift. "He’s done this before!” she said, as her horse bounced up and down in anticipation. I took advantage of her stated belief that I must have a concussion and said no, I just didn’t think it was a good idea - surely one unplanned dismount was enough for the day. I was puzzled by Stacy’s horrified expression when she saw my face, but I assured her I was fine. Stacy said that Jake Wilson, a Rockbridge member, had caught Warrior and was holding him near the trailers. I set off on foot - most anxious to collect my horse and ensure he was ok - and I avoided contact with the field, lest they, too, think I was mortally wounded.
I met Jake and he warned me that Warrior was pretty banged up. Apparently my horse had gone through a fence, and was still running so hard Jake had to gallop along and catch him by the reins. Needing help to hold Warrior at the trailer, I got him untacked and loaded as fast as I could; fortunately, he was much soothed when Indie finally returned.
A quick peek in the mirror showed why Stacy and everyone else were so worried about me – there was more blood than face! But under that, just like Warrior, all I found were minor scratches. I also realized I had left my hunt whip in the briars, and was most thankful to John Meyer from Glenmore for retrieving it for me. He said it was pretty easy to find, as piles of briars ripped out by their roots marked the path marked where Warrior and I had detoured!
The day’s adventures weren’t over yet. I just wanted to get home and take care of Warrior, but Kim reminded me that I had wanted to re-fuel the truck on the way home. We had another joint meet in the morning, this time at Rockbridge. And I had a party to attend that night (did I mention this was not only New Year’s Eve but also my wedding anniversary?). So, I dutifully turned into the next station, filled up, and we headed back down the road.
Almost immediately, I felt a sharp decline in power and white smoke poured out of the exhaust pipe. Rattle, rattle, cough, stall. I'd grown used to smoky outbursts as my truck had the "bad" Ford diesel engine. I had warned the truck: next breakdown, I trade you in! Fortunately, my husband, Dr. Brent Hall, was home. He was able to coax truck and trailer the final short distance to our driveway, and we got the horses safely into the barn.
Even on close examination, Warrior seemed okay. Before I could give him a shot of banamine, he galloped off into the field. The nickname "War Horse" came to mind several times (he did have 41 starts on the track). As for myself, I had my doctor, aka vet, aka husband check my pupils and pronounce me concussion-free (again, I highly recommend landing in briars!).
Truckless, we missed the meet the New Year’s Day meet, but went to the tea. Jake Wilson, my hero from the day before, regaled us with a more detailed accounting of my boy's exploits. When he first saw a rider-less Warrior, the gelding was galloping side-by-side with a coyote and a deer along the trail that borders fence and brush (if you saw that in a movie, you would turn to your partner and say, "That would never happen, I can't believe these idiots would put something like this in this movie!"). The cross-fence was in a dip, so that even if Warrior were not galloping alongside a COYOTE and a DEER, he probably would not have seen it until too late. So he didn’t clear it, fell on the other side, but picked himself up and kept going, still at racehorse speed. Everyone who heard (or saw) the tale, was amazed that both Warrior and I were largely unscathed. I was touched by my hunt friends’ concern when the story spread and am thankful to hunt with such a great group.
We towed the truck to my mechanic. I figured I would fix it up enough to trade it in. His text message after inspecting it read: "Did you happen to see that you put gas in it...LOL." Miraculously, it's now running fine, just like the horse. War Truck. War Horse. Can't recommend them highly enough! As long as you keep in mind proper bit choice and maintain your upper body strength. And choose carefully where you fall, and remember to check the pump twice.