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Autumn oct 13Autumn Clarke photoAfter holding a 12-week long working student position for the summer in Virginia, a quick I-have-to-make-sure-I-still-know-all-the-hounds-before-I-go-back-to-school trip to the kennels, and the first 7 weeks of my junior year in college, I’m FINALLY sitting down to write another blog entry for e-Covertside.

I had a wonderful time working in Virginia and learned more than I could’ve ever imagined. I was at a large hunter/jumper sales barn; the days were long and extremely fast-paced. With roughly 60 horses on the property and more than 40 horses to work each day with a team of 3-5 riders, everyone had to be on their A-game all the time, or else things would begin to fall through the cracks. The only down side to the gig was, despite being in the middle of hunt country, I actually went all 84 days without seeing a single hound.

Let’s just take that in for a moment.

I’m pretty sure the last time I went 84 days without seeing hounds was before I started hunting. But with 10-12 hour days and rarely getting a day off, I simply didn’t have time to go bother a hunt club somewhere. To say I was “hound-sick” is a bit of an understatement. My mom teased me incessantly that the only reason I was agreeing to come home after the 12 weeks were up was because I wanted to get back to the kennels. I’m not going to comment on whether or not she was accurate in that statement because I don’t want to be disowned by my family.

I managed to slip in a visit to the kennels during the 10 days I was at home between returning from Virginia and moving into school and was happy to see that I still remembered everyone in the pack, aside from a few new drafts. I even decided to move in at 5:00 PM on move-in day so I could go hound walking that morning. Did I forget a lot of stuff at home because of it? Yes. Was the majority of my packing in Tupperware bins and plastic bags? Of course, real luggage is too time consuming! Was it worth staying up until 12 AM the night before hound walking/move-in day so I could see the hounds one more time? Absolutely!

I haven’t been able to make it out there too many times for cubbing so far this season, and, unfortunately, I’ll be missing Opening Hunt because I’ll be competing with my school’s equestrian team that same weekend. However, one September cubbing morning had enough action to hopefully hold me over until November. 

After trying to contain my excitement for the hour and a half drive up to the meet, I figured we may not get much with the perfectly clear skies and quickly warming temperatures, but I really didn’t care. All that was important was that I was FINALLY back in the hunt field. I definitely got enough gates to hold me over until November; opening and closing 20 gates in one hunt puts me only one gate short of my record. But after some persistent work by hounds and huntsman, John Eaton, pieces began to fall into place. 

I had just closed what seemed like the hundredth gate for the morning and quickly leapt onto the Trusty Tobey to catch up with the field again. Mr. Wayne had hung back with me, and we wasted no time in moving on to join up with the field of riders on top of a large hill. The sun was throwing heat onto the earth, and the thick grass rolled gently with the light breeze. The woods where hounds and huntsman were working wrapped around the bottom of the hill and we were able to view nearly the entire surrounding wooded area from our spot. We watched for anything, game, hounds, or huntsman, as we followed the sound of hounds trying to work out a line and the huntsman’s encouragement as they slowly worked their way through the woods. 

Suddenly, the pack erupted. We all anxiously started scanning the tree line, and before too long, we viewed a coyote lope along the edge of the field before diving back into the woods. We spent the next 25 minutes standing on that hill, watching the coyote pop out and back into the woods as hounds chased after him. We were standing stark still, and it was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever witnessed. Listening to the roar of the pack circulate around us as they worked through the woods, viewing the coyote multiple times as well as seeing the hounds stay right on track, and hearing the electrifying echo of a holler from professional whipper-in, Kelly Eaton, as hounds pressed on…needless to say, it gave me goosebumps. 

Now I’m sitting in the middle of midterm week, praying that I can somehow keep my head above the water. However, I have discovered a new way to increase my efficiency while driving home to hunt: books on tape. As an English major, having 250 pages to read in one week is a downright light load. So maybe I’m drowning in school nearly every moment right up until the hunt itself, but for the time I’m out there, I’ll forget everything else that’s going on in life and just be happily wrapped up in this thrilling, ever-changing sport we call fox hunting. 

On that note, I’m off to conjugate approximately 10,000 Spanish verbs into the imperfect subjunctive tense. I should probably figure out what that means.

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