It was 1995 and I had no idea that my life would change forever. My friend, Katy Sheesley and I were at a meeting in Nashville comprised of professional women, and the meeting happened to seat us according to hobbies. Our table was marked, “Horse Back Riding.” We sat together and I learned that she foxhunted. I had no idea that the hunting activity depicted in the traditional paintings and prints that I had seen and collected all my adult life did not just take place in England, but was a very active sport in the good old USA. Not only that, but that there were several foxhunting clubs in Tennessee. One thing led to another and a few weeks later we were riding trails at Panorama Farm in Leiper's Fork, TN because as a responsible foxhunter she wanted to see if I had the right stuff to hunt.
I must have passed the test because within a few more weeks I was invited to my first foxhunt. After reading Wadsworth’s, “Riding to Hounds in America,” and taking in every word, I showed up at the fixture that morning at one of middle Tennessee's fox hunting clubs, the Hillsboro Hounds. I don't know how I managed it, but I forgot my stirrups and leathers. Katy came to the rescue with her daughter's set and I found myself ready to go, albeit with stirrups so short that I faintly resembled a jockey. I was so naive. I had never hunted, my horse had never hunted and to say it was a wild ride is an understatement. But somehow we survived, managed not to embarrass my sponsor too much, and made it back home intact.
The man who ran the boarding barn where I had my Tennessee Walking Horse, Napoleon, the one that I hunted, said he knew that I was over the moon, hook, line, and sinker, toast, sold, done when I came back to the barn with a smile that wrapped around my head. I was in love, and had found my passion, one that I would follow for many years to come.
In my early days of hunting I was working full time and took my vacation days to hunt; a Wednesday here, another one there. When I began working part time I was able to hunt even more and by that time had bought what would become my once in a life time hunt mare, Nancy's Angel. She taught me to hunt, she did not suffer fools lightly, and I landed on the ground more times than I could count while hunting. In those days we called it, “buying a piece of hunt property” and by my reckoning, I had bought a big chunk of it.
There was an understanding where I worked that said asking me to work on any given Wednesday was not a subject to be broached. It wasn't going to happen. Everyone, even the non-hunting, knew where I would be, and it wouldn't be in the office.
I spent so many happy hours in the saddle running like a lunatic across the hills of middle Tennessee. I had many wonderful hunt mentors, Ellen Williams, Lindsey Burns, Maratha Chardavoyne Athon, Chris Knoedler, David and Maggie Kendall, and Henry Hooker, MFH, all more experienced that I would ever be, had forgotten more than I would ever know, but so willing to share their knowledge of fox hunting. I rode second flight, first flight, third flight, rode in cars when my mare or I were not in riding condition, and loved that as much (almost) as hunting with my favorite hunters, which by the way, were both mares, a Thoroughbred and a Thoroughbred cross, Nancy and Molly.
I learned to listen to nature, watch nature, the sudden flight of birds, the cawing of crows, the waving of tall grass that would suddenly burst forth with the quarry being pursued by those wonderful chopped mouthed hounds singing to the tops of their lungs. Hunting taught me patience, endurance, determination, organization and it gave me a camaraderie that only comes from fellow fox hunters.
I have retired from mounted hunting, but I will never leave it. Whether in a vehicle following, reading the GPS reports from my friend, Jennifer Walker, or reliving in my mind the wonderful, heart pounding, exhilarating rush of a run that only could be described as ethereal, unworldly, a piece of Valhalla. I will be eternally grateful for the experience, for a husband who supported my passion, going so far as to build me a stone barn that even now houses two former field hunters and their retired Thoroughbred hunter jumper baby sitter.
I wear my hunting tweed coats to lunch, errands, to teas; I love the look. Our home is decorated with sporting prints, paintings and sculptures. I even designed the stained glass above our c.1843 house's front door that depicts Molly, Nancy and me with hounds all on and the fox hiding in a tree trunk. Our farm's name, Laughing Fox Farm reflects my love of the sport, and my undying devotion to the tradition of mounted fox hunting. I will die a happy woman just for the experience.
I don't know to whom this quote is attributed, but it well describes my life. “She never changed the stars in their courses, but she loved a good man, and rode good horses.” …and REALLY loved foxhunting