With the official start of mounted hound exercise well underway, opening cubbing seems to be just around the corner, which also means the start of school is too. It’s such a flurry of excitement and dread, I can hardly stand it. My summer has been one happy mixture of work, hound walking, and riding, only to be brought to a screeching halt by piles of books, mountains of notes, and never ending lectures on the fascinating properties of hydrogen. However, until August 18, I am free to continue immersing myself in all things kennel/hound related (when I’m not at work, of course).
Speaking of work, in case you guys were wondering, I’ve discovered Chihuahuas are basically the dog version of Spiderman. When we tried to give one a nail trim, he moved so quickly, he somehow ended up sitting on my shoulder with his paws wrapped around my face. And words to the wise; never refill alcohol bottles after treating a cat. Apparently my arms have an uncanny resemblance to scratching posts. Lastly, when you’re babysitting for seven hours the night before you have to get up at 5:00 for hound walking, the sound of a garage door opening at 1:00 am sounds remarkably like angels singing the hallelujah chorus.
So, when I finally got a day off from being beat up by animals and treated as a dog and child jungle gym, guess where I went? Six Flags! ...I didn’t fool you, did I? Yes, I went to the kennels again! What can I say, some people go to the mall, some go to the spa, and I sit on the kennel floor with sleepy hounds to clear my head. In the late afternoon, I sat there with Lantern and Ladybug, two hounds that will be entered this year, pressed against my side and legs, both in a deep sleep as I took turns petting them. Nearly all of the hounds in the kennel were sleeping; the only sounds were the snores and heavy breathing of deep slumber, the splashes from a steady rain shower hitting the roof and dripping onto the concrete outside, and the occasional, low rumble of thunder in the distance. Do you know what is more therapeutic than this? Nothing.
As well as hitting my mental “reset” button, I did my normal role to help out as much as I could; I washed down the kennels, cleaned and refilled water troughs, and swept the barn aisle. I also took the opportunity that day to continue asking John Eaton, huntsman of Shakerag Hounds, countless questions about the hounds, hunting, etc. whenever he wasn’t too busy. I don’t know how I keep finding these questions, but they just keep coming. However, what I really don’t know is how John finds the patience to keep answering them. I try my best to help out whenever I’m at the kennels so he and his wife, Kelly, do not think of me as “the crazy blonde girl with 1,000 questions”, but regardless, I appreciate their willingness to constantly explain different aspects of the sport to me. I feel like I’ve learned more about this sport this summer than any summer before, and I definitely know the hounds better now than this time last year. John and Kelly are not the only ones I’ve badgered with hound and hunting questions, but I do believe I have asked them the most this summer!
I recently read an article titled, “Unsung Heroes of the Horse World-Little Girls”. In short, the blogger explains what she has taken away from boarding her horse at a barn where several little girls ride as well. Now, take away the “little girls” part and replace it with “a hound-crazy college student”, and substitute the horse bits with hounds/fox hunting, and I would say it accurately sums up my position in the foxhunting world.
Sometimes, and I mean sometimes, little girls will pepper you with questions and crawl under your skin to the point of insanity. Look at it like this- you are now the expert. You can teach them a thing or two about horsemanship, and in return you will wear the crown of ‘horse lady idol’. You will have unsolicited help in cleaning your tack and fetching things from the feed room: all for the chance to learn something. Be the role model. The girls will thank you for it. You can lead by example, and have your very own fan club. It’s a win-win. And, when they’re old enough to drive, you can place your coffee order with them.
Of course, I’m also already old enough to drive, but that doesn’t change the point of this piece.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been raving about a great run, ranting about a new draft, or telling an epic story about that cute/funny/bad thing such-and-such hound did while my poor parents listen, half trying to grasp what I’m saying, and half just smiling and nodding. But when hunt season is over, and I continue rising before the sun all summer long to go hound walking and help around the kennels, I start getting a whole lot more “you must be out of your mind” stares. I normally leave for hound walking between 5:10 and 5:30; earlier than I usually do for hunting. I’ll come home and when my parents ask what I was up to at the kennels, I go on to outline whatever task there was to help with that day. And if I don’t have a horse on the days of mounted hound exercise for whatever reason, I like to follow behind on foot (with permission from the masters, of course!).
Now I’m not saying my parents don’t support me going to the kennels or hunting; oh no, they’re perfectly supportive of it just because they know how much I love it, and I couldn’t appreciate that more! But Shakerag’s huntsman hit the nail on the head one weekend when he said to me, “Your parents must be real puzzled when they see you up here!” I laughed and agreed with him. I can’t really explain it myself, but the blog entry extract I’ve used is the closest thing to an explanation I can come to. I will wash down kennels, sweep the barn, scrub buckets, spread hay for horses, clean tack, clean out water troughs, unload hound feed, and help with any other task possible just for the chance to learn something. I will take careful note of the smallest details while out hound walking or hunting if it’s something I’ve never noticed or heard before. And I will continually revise my hound list so I can refresh my memory whenever I can’t make it up to the kennels. I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from the kennels without learning at least one new thing in regards to hunting or hound care, but even if I didn’t, I could think of 1,000 worse ways to have been spending my time. I feel like I’ve learned so much about this sport, but I still have so many questions!
So if you have ever answered one or numerous of my endless questions, given me useful advice, had a recommendation for a particular book or author, let me tag along with you for a day of hunting, hound walking, or hanging around the kennels, or even just told me a story about one of your experiences with hounds or hunting, thank you. If you haven’t, I’m sure you can think of somebody who constantly badgers you about these things, and I’m sure they’re equally grateful for the knowledge and patience. All that information is now locked in a cache of random hunting knowledge that I hope will someday make me a more educated, well-rounded foxhunter. As an unsung hero of the hunting world, you can now consider yourself to be crowned “foxhunter idol,” and if I’m ever driving by a Starbucks, I will gladly pick up your coffee order!