Shakerag Hounds’ Closing Meet fell on St. Patrick’s Day this year, and the masters sent out an mail the night before saying that in spirit of the holiday, anything that is normally white could be green for the day. I started to get creative with my ideas, but by the time I drove home from school, got horses and the trailer ready, I was frankly too exhausted to make a night-time run out to Party City. Thankfully there are a lot of creative members at Shakerag, and we saw everything from shamrocks painted on horses and giant green bow-ties attached to breast plates to vibrant green and shamrock patterned stock ties, and even a horse that had been painted green!
Georgia has had an unseasonably warm winter this year. The whole week up to Closing Meet had temperatures in the mid 80s, and while my friends at school busted out their tank tops and shorts, sporting their new tans from Spring Break the week before, I hoped and prayed that somehow there would be a drop in temperatures. And I most certainly did not sport a new tan, considering wisdom tooth surgery kept me bed-ridden for a good bit of my spring break. As I made a beeline for the highway home that Friday before Closing Meet, I flipped through the radio and heard the dj excitedly announce the forecast for a “beautiful weekend to spend outside, temperatures in the low to mid 80s, etc.” I coasted along the route home, and through the light dusting of pollen on my windshield, I could see the colors of fall were long gone. Soft yellow, white, and pink blossoms were in full bloom on the Bradford pear, cherry, and dogwood trees that dotted the Georgia countryside, and vivid green leaf buds were starting to open up. I couldn’t help but wonder how Closing Meet was going to progress the next day.
As Mr. Wayne and I pulled out of the driveway with trailer and horses in tow at 6:40 Saturday morning, a crescent moon was still high in the sky, and the very edges of the sun’s rays were trying to peek over the horizon. The sky seemed to be split in half; the east was mostly clear, but thick gray clouds hung low in the west, promising that the 30% chance of scattered showers would come true.
As we tacked up for the 9:00 hunt, I could hear eager hounds crying at the kennels at the bottom of the hill. This Closing Meet happened to be a joint-meet with Moore County Hounds; Shakerag had 16 couple out, and Moore County had 12 couple. The first hour or so was spent mostly at the walk and trot with a few canter steps thrown in, mostly because the Terrific Tobey I ride is 14 hh (but don’t tell him that he’s a pony, he likes to think otherwise!) A light rain began around 9:15, and continued on and off for the remainder of the hunt.
After about an hour of hacking through the woods, both huntsmen took hounds across the road to Ramsey’s woods. We cleared the corner coop and began to canter down Sam Swindle Road on the way to the next draw. Tobey and I settled into a strong, steady canter rhythm, and with each stride, I could feel all the stress from the weeks before slowly fading away. The temperature was holding steady at about 60 degrees, thanks to the rain; not ideal temperatures, but certainly better than 85 degrees and sunny! We had been wandering through Ramsey’s woods for maybe ten minutes when hounds struck on a red fox; after a hard week at school, the sound of 28 couple of hounds in full cry echoing in the gully of the woods was just music to my ears. We galloped across the side of a hill, and I couldn’t help but start laughing as Tobey and I leapt over a log and a couple of fallen branches. I had to force myself to focus and navigate a little more as we approached a sharp right turn out of the woods and a straight shot over the staff coop into the neighboring field. A sharp turn to the left upon landing, and we raced down a hill, and up towards the chute coop, where I quickly collected Tobey for an even sharper right turn on the landing side, and then pushed my hands forward to gallop on down Adams Seagrave Road. We quickly came to a halt when huntsmen realized our crafty little fox threw us a curve ball and ran back in the other direction, but hounds didn’t miss a beat; we quickly reversed the field and continued flying in pursuit.
At the other end of the gravel road, we shot across Sam Swindle Road, and tore across a large planted field with a road through the center. We dove into the woods where we splashed across a creek crossing, took a brief “break” as we did some fast trotting on the trails snaking behind the huntsman’s house, and continued to dash back across Sam Swindle Road, through Ramsey’s fields and back into Ramsey’s woods! Hounds were held up in Ramsey’s woods as the pack was beginning to get strung out. The fields waited patiently by the edge of Ramsey’s woods, and horses were grateful for the break. Even the fittest horses had heaving sides, flared nostrils, and necks lathered with sweat. I reached forward to pat Tobey and tell him, “Good boy,” for keeping up so well, and walked him in a small circle a couple times until his breathing slowed down.
Hounds ran for about 45 minutes; we hoped to be able to find the red fox after getting hounds together, but in typical fox fashion, this one just wouldn’t be found again. Hounds bumped along a few lines for an hour or so afterwards, but, due to the quickly warming temperatures, never really got on another run. At the end of the day, I watched both huntsmen turn towards home with their hounds; their candy apple red coats stood out against the deep green grass of the cow pastures, and the blue-gray skies that blessed us that day with just enough rain and cloud cover to keep the temperatures somewhat cool. I think I speak for the entire fox hunting community when I say I’m sad to be sending my coat off to the cleaners for one final time until next season. But it is with eager eyes and excitement that I look forward to a summer full of hound walking and spending time at the kennels. Here’s to a great past season of cold early mornings and hours of preparation paid off with bad days that were still good, and good days that were spectacular, great friends, fabulous staff, days that burn brightly in our memories, and beautiful hound work. And here’s to a summer to come of continuing knowledge of hounds and hunting, even earlier mornings for hound walks, throwing handfuls of dog biscuits into the dew coated grass for hungry hounds, continuing to watch puppies come up the ranks, and many more memories with the same wonderful people. After final exams, of course.