The moment I finished my last exam, I had one thing on my mind; the kennels. There were three new hounds Shakerag had recently drafted, and I HAD to go meet them! Plus Shakerag’s Leapfrog had recently won third place at the Southern Hound Show in the Single Entered Dog class, two puppies, Tarnish and Taboo, had returned to the kennels after completing their time on puppy walk, and Shakerag’s annual summer fundraiser, the Poker Ride, was coming up soon! It really hadn’t been that long since I had last been to the kennels, but there was so much to do, so much to learn, I just NEEDED to get out there as soon as I could!
May 5 was the day of the Poker Ride, a trail ride roughly six miles long, where riders ride at their own pace, draw cards at stops along the way, and each card is recorded on a small piece of paper riders carry with them. At the end of the ride, they turn in their hand, and the top four riders with the best poker hands win prizes of $100, $75, $50, and $25. Prizes are given out and winners of the raffle are called during lunch provided by members. Members of Shakerag and the community are invited to ride, and it has consistently had a good turnout.
This year, the Terrific Tobey was out of work due to…something. In typical horse fashion, he came up ever so slightly off one day with a knot behind and below his knee. The vet said he probably just knocked himself on something, causing fluid to flood the area, so we just decided to give him plenty of time off to rest. So, I went up with Mr. Wayne to help out in any way I could. Mr. Wayne was in charge of reading the poker hands this year and determining the winners, so his role largely came into play towards the end of the day as riders came in.
During a bit of a quiet time after the last riders went out and before riders started coming back, Mr. Wayne said I could go down to the kennels. My mom had agreed to come up to Shakerag for the event; I’m the only equestrian and fox hunter in my entire family, so it’s not every day I’m able to get my mom up to Shakerag. So once he gave me the okay, I quickly dragged my mom to the kennels and started introducing her to all the hounds. This is pretty much how the whole visit went:
Autumn: This is Lancaster, he’s the brother of Lark, Ladybug, and Lantern. They’re not entered yet, so they haven’t started hunting. Their mom is Lexi, doesn’t Lantern look just like her? And their dad is Satchel, the black and tan down there with the gray on his muzzle. Look here, doesn’t Lancaster have his dad’s face? I think he looks a lot like him.
Autumn: And see Georgia over here is a typical Penn-Marydel. See her build? The shape of her face? Her ears? Compare her to Casino over here she’s a crossbred…Casino! Come here! Here, see the difference with them side by side? *continues to confuse mother with explanation of different types of hounds as mother desperately tries to keep up*
A few days later, I excitedly rose before the sun and made a mad dash for a day at the kennels. That day I helped with feeding, testing tracking collars, vaccinating puppies currently out on puppy walk at nearby farms, and general bucket-scrubbing work. Early that morning, before we headed out for hound exercises at 8:00, I was watching Shakerag’s first whipper-in, Kelly Eaton, school her dressage horse in the distance. Huntsman John Eaton called to me and asked if I’d like to take the puppies, Tarnish and Taboo, out for a walk. I quickly responded, “Sure!” and jogged over to the kennels.
John instructed me, “Here, put one on a leash, and you can control the both of them. Take them down to Fox Field, and if they’re being good, you can let them off and let them play some. Then put the other on the leash and bring them back, alright?”
“Sounds good!” I responded.
So off we went, Tarnish, Taboo, and I, bounding, tripping, jogging, and weaving down Kennel Road in the cool morning shade. I did more tripping and jogging than bounding, and the puppies…they did a lot of everything. They just couldn’t figure out how there could be so many things to play with, investigate, and scents to smell, and how was I not down there smelling everything with them??? Taboo was the first victim of the Leash of Evil, and could NOT figure out why she had been chosen for this unjust punishment.
The entire walk down to Fox Field consisted of Tarnish scooting up the road as fast as she could until she got about 20 or 30 feet ahead, then turning around and playfully bouncing back towards Taboo. C’mon, let’s race to Fox Field! Last one there is a cur dog! After which, Taboo would excitedly leap forward until reaching the end of the Leash of Evil. Curse this strange device! I shall fight its strength and bring its reign of terror to an end! So what did she do? She would quickly turn around, jump up to bite the leash, and continue down Kennel Road for ten feet or so in a quick game of tug-of-war. After Taboo was convinced she had emerged victorious, the whole process would start over again.
We finally made it to Fox Field, so after I let them both explore around for a bit, I freed Taboo of the Leash of Evil, and she and Tarnish scooted off in a circle of celebration. Human! You have freed me from the evil grip of the Leash of Evil! Now we must celebrate! For the next twenty minutes or so, I watched the puppies race and explore around Fox Field. There were several wipe outs from both of the girls as they would try to take a tight turn to catch up with the other, and they would dash through the taller grass, only to emerge dripping wet from the heavy morning dew. After getting the edge off of their energy, Taboo trotted to the edge of the small field to investigate a particularly interesting log, and Tarnish emerged from behind a low pile of brush with a new toy; hay string.
After watching her throw it in the air a few times and then settle down to work on pulling it to pieces, I asked, “Tarnish, where’d you get that string?”
Tarnish paused mid-tug and looked right at me, Silly human, this is no string! These here are fox intestines! I killed it all by myself! And she set back to work with her prize.
But of course, Taboo had to help. She had taken notice of this enviable prize, and couldn’t resist. She started by trotting over to get a closer look, Did you really get that fox all on your own?
Tarnish ignored her and continued tugging on her string, Of course I did! It was actually a coyote, the biggest one you ever saw!
So Taboo took a step back, and started playing with a long tuft of grass, Oh yeah, I got one too! But mine was a wolf! TWO wolves, actually.
Tarnish took no mind, and continued devouring her toy. Mine was actually a werewolf. A whole pack of them! They were twice the size of Daddy’s horse! They said I would never catch them, but I ran so fast and leaped off a ledge to catch the biggest one in the group. After that, they were all so scared; the rest was a piece of cake.
That was the final straw, Taboo would have no more, so she jumped up and tried to snatch the string away from Tarnish, Let me play with it some! It’s not even a fox Tarnish, it’s a STRING!
But Tarnish held on as Taboo dragged her across the field, No! I did all the work, it’s MINE!
I stood there in Fox Field and watched the puppies frolic for a few more minutes before submitting Tarnish to the shame of the Leash of Evil and heading back towards the kennels. As I watched them leap and tumble through the wet grass, the sun beginning to cast a bright golden glow on the tops of the surrounding trees, rays of yellow and orange light beginning to slice through the long shadows of the trees, scattering light across the field, and burning away the cool mist in the air, I couldn’t help but think this summer was off to a great start.