It has occurred to me on more than one occasion just what an unpredictable and rather exciting sport foxhunting can be. I used to be addicted to the show world but in hindsight those three minutes of adrenaline seem somewhat lame in comparison. I stopped and reflected on the many incidents that have happened to me and others in the field, mostly jolly good, but on occasion well…. some not so good!
If you ever have the fortune of sitting down with a group of foxhunters, you know that the tales of gallops and chases abound, and the jumps grow in size, hedges become wider, footing icier, fog thicker, and the rain comes down in sheets. Then of course there are all of the incidentals- the occasional broken reins, stirrups and martingales that make successfully navigating a horse at speed a bit complicated. After all you can’t hop out of the ring, skip to the on-site tack shop and purchase replacements because your trailer is at the meet an hour’s ride away.
Then with the unpredictability comes the issue of hounds and scent. Even the most diligent huntsman can predict or dictate the weather, ground temperature and degree of scent. An expected fast day at a particular meet can be so slow and your ride circuitous trying to track down Charlie Fox; and another venue, which has been marked by slow days, can be the opposite. I recall last year, where three foxes hopped out of some bracken and seemed to wave to us as they sped off in three different directions. Hounds went streaming after the first one, doubling back for the second and then the line was crossed by the third making them run back in the opposite direction. The field of course galloped up and down, across, then up and down again- it was great fun.
And then there are the horses. Last week my trusted old campaigner Declan turned into a complete idiot. Unable to contain himself with excitement, he tried out a series of bucks. Luckily I had been there before. I knew it was the prelude to a giant buck which would undoubtedly launch me into orbit. I gracefully and sheepishly retired from the field while in one piece. Another incident involved the great horse Mr. Nicholas taking a step backwards at a check and going into a drainage ditch, throwing Master Stephen and badly injuring himself. Thankfully with five days in the Furlong’s clinic and the team’s wonderful care we hope he will be allowed home this weekend.
Despite these malfunctions, of which there are few on a regular basis, I can recall times when the sun turning a vibrant red when rain was expected, or a newcomer who at first seemed very worried was later beaming in delight. You also have the opportunity to meet people in the field who you would never meet in your line of work. And if you’re lucky, they turn out to be a delightful and becoming a dear friend. It’s thrilling to see a young horse or even a former grand prix horse becoming the most well mannered horses in the field.
It is not surprising that so many foxhunters tend to be a little superstitious, wearing their favorite stock-pin, or boots or socks- even when they are worn out, or always putting the right boot on first even though the left happens to be closer. (It’s not just me, is it?)
Not so long ago, I would have never predicted I’d be running around the countryside following a pack of hounds, but hunting it is; what a wonderfully exciting, community oriented, fun sport!
Cheryl Buxton and her husband Stephen, Joint MFH, have followed the Amwell Valley Hounds through mostly preserved New Jersey land for 14 years.