Three years ago, I never thought I would be galloping through open fields, flying over coops, watching the hounds, or saying, “tally ho!” when I saw a fox. But now, I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m always planning the next time I can go foxhunting. I read foxhunting books, draw foxhunting pictures, and decorate my room with hunting décor. I have found what I want to do for the rest of my life.
When I turn 17 this December, I will have been riding for 10 years. Up until I tried foxhunting, I did mainly hunters and jumpers with a little eventing here and there. A couple of years ago when I decided I wanted to get serious with my riding, I needed to choose one of the two disciplines to focus on: hunters and jumpers or eventing. It was a real struggle for me to decide which one—both had positives and negatives in my eyes. After a while of contemplation, I finally chose hunters and jumpers as my focus. I love to go to shows and compete, but I got to thinking, is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life?
If I were to work in the hunter show world, would I have the passion to do it day in and day out? Quite frankly, I wasn’t entirely sure, and that scared me a little bit. I knew I loved horses and wanted them in my life and career, but was hunter jumpers the way to go? When I applied to Foxcroft School in Middleburg, VA, I thought it would help take me to the next level in showing. Little did I know, it would help me find my true passion.
Throughout my freshman year and at the beginning of my sophomore year at Foxcroft, I expressed interest in trying foxhunting. The school gives its students many opportunities to go hunting, so I figured I might as well try it. On October 1, 2011, I was able to go hunting for the first time with Middleburg Hunt. The adrenaline rush was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I had so much fun galloping through fields, weaving through trees, and soaring over coops and stone walls. I reveled in the whole atmosphere of the hunt—I loved to watch the hounds work together as well as the staff of the hunt.
After my first time out I knew that this was for me! After all my years in the riding world, I finally found my passion. I was more than willing to wake up early on a Saturday morning and do anything necessary for the hunt. I was only able to foxhunt a couple times during my sophomore year because of the weather, but this year (my junior year), I have already been out four times as of mid-October, and I’ve loved every minute of it. While I really enjoy continuing to train in hunters and jumpers, I’ve made foxhunting my priority for the fall and part of winter seasons. I’m so grateful to Foxcroft and Ms. Laurie, one of the riding instructors there, for letting me find my passion.
I can honestly say I’ve never seen animals love to do their job as much as the hounds and horses of foxhunting. I have been hunting a horse named D2, a school horse at Foxcroft that has been hunting for many years. I wish I had my own horse to hunt all the time, but I couldn’t ask for a better school horse to ride. He is somewhere in his mid-twenties, and he still loves to go and hunt and has plenty of energy and zeal.
On a hunt morning, when I walk over to his stall, he looks at me grumpily as if to say, “What are you doing here so early?” But when I take out the studs and he realizes we’re going foxhunting, a smile emerges on his face and he starts pawing the ground with excitement. From the first second of the hunt to the last his ears are pricked, and he watches the hounds and staff just as much as I do. He is such a trustworthy hunting companion; even if we get into the stickiest situations, I know he is going to take care of me. D2 and I are foxhunting buddies.
The last time we went out we saw two foxes and had some great runs. The views of the countryside with mountains in the background were breathtaking. When the hounds opened, my heart started pounding and D2 lifted his head—ready to run. There were some fun jumps along the way and I was so sad when it was over. I can’t wait until next time!
Ashleigh Dove is a member of the Class of 2014 at the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, VA.