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Autumn Clarke aboard Tobey. Photo by Kit Paryzek

We jumped the staff coop on that crisp October day, and turned left into Ramsey’s woods; hounds had yet to really strike on a line. Curse the clear skies, curse the wind. It’s only been twenty minutes or so, and it’s still cool out, so maybe we’ll get lucky.

We followed hounds and huntsman into the woods, and we heard one or two voices toying with a line; the huntsman sits still, and gently urges hounds onto the others, he knows this could be good. A few more voices join in the melody; all of a sudden the entire pack explodes into a thunderous chorus! We did a quick reverse field, out of the woods, and off we went! We carried a strong canter over the crest of a hill, and we see the huntsman streaming ahead of us, and a few tail hounds to our right; a quick turn to the right when we get to the road, and we’re flying down Sam Swindle Road, as hounds are crashing through the woods to our right.

If I had to choose one feeling to have for the rest of my life, this would be it; galloping along the road, not looking straight ahead, but instead 90 degrees to my right; seeing those beautiful hounds storming through woods and fields, absolutely screaming their heads off; sliding my hands forward to give Tobey more rein, feeling him extend his stride underneath me; balancing carefully over his back; looking to my right, trying to see between the trees we’re zooming by, seeing the lead hounds flying alongside us; at moments, only seeing flashes of the hounds because the branches are getting too thick, then I can’t see them at all, but I still hear that music, and Tobey and I don’t drop the pace for a minute; keep galloping, keep balancing, a wave to the landowner watching us breeze by, look to my right, there they are! Watch the pack come streaming out of the woods, match our pace to theirs! Time to turn! Balance! Balance!

Hold hard! Watch the pack fly across the street, through the fence, and tear across the field! Hear the huntsman cheer on some of the slower hounds; see them dig down to catch up! Over the coop, up and over, now keep running! The hounds are way up front now! Hear those voices singing, echoing across the Georgia countryside! Jump off to get a gate, vault back on, and kick on! Kick on! Catch up! Catch up! There’s the field, going down a gravel road, hooves churning the ground, crunching the gravel, pounding the earth; I can still hear the hounds! Into the woods, lean back going down the hill! Careful over Devil’s crossing, trot up the hill, gallop on! Hear them cry! Crash through the woods to catch up! Their voices are beginning to grow faint; it’s harder to hear with the leaves crunching and the branches snapping! These twisting, winding trails try to slow us down, but we gallop on!

But suddenly, it’s very difficult to hear hounds; we slow down, still can’t quite hear them; have they stopped running? Voices on the radio, coyote ran out of country. Horses are huffing and puffing, steam rising from their heaving sides fog up the air; I realize the sides of my face hurt from smiling the whole time, but I can’t stop. Adrenaline is still coursing through my veins, I can’t control the thrill the chase instills in me. Hear the huntsman, “Coooooome on! Coooooome on!” Hounds are collected.

This one got away; but we will be back. This is what keeps me coming back, what keeps me hungry for more. The thrill of the chase will never fail to light a fire in my heart. It’s what wakes me up in the morning; how I can somehow be wide-awake hours before the dawn. When it’s been a long week, when relaxing and sleeping in tries to tempt me, I will be down at the barn, clipping muzzles, cleaning tack, loading the trailer, in anticipation for how the next day will go. It’s the ones that get away that keep that fire burning.

Shakerag Huntsman John Eaton. Photo by Holly Clarke.

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