This past weekend I went cubbing with my hunt, the Tennessee Valley Hunt. We went to what is fast becoming our “Hit and Run” fixture, Big Valley. We started off in the corn at the bottom of Big Valley’s hills, and we were off!
I had a junior member in my saddle this day, and let me tell you I was happy it wasn’t the Scarlet Wench. Her ever-expanding derriere has been in my saddle far too much this season already. I was happy for the weight relief! [Gretchen’s Note: Your weight tape says you top 600 pounds, My Little Hippo. I’d keep the fat jokes to yourself, or I’ll put you back in the grazing muzzle again just for spite!]
I have never worn such a horrendous thing. She’s just mad because I know her breeches popped their snap this weekend! Too many donuts and chocolate milk, me thinks. [Gretchen’s Note: Hmm, and just who’s extra-wide haunches did a House Finch land on because there was so much room about? My snap did not break. That was the sound of your tail crupper, groaning from the strain.]
The Wench lies.
There were three of us from my barn out hunting this day. The two juniors were Michaela in my saddle and Katherine, who has been riding with Gretchen for over 10 years, was on Tabla, aka the Old Girl. The Old Girl Tabla was Gretchen’s first hunt horse, but she’s been mostly retired from hunting these past few years. Gretchen decided to take her out this weekend because she would be able to lead a slower Field and therefore take care of the Old Girl’s legs. At first I was miffed at this because it would mean I was stuck in the Walk-Trot-And-See-Nothing Field. But I would be pleasantly surprised!
Ryan Johnsey, our professional huntsman, got off his horse to cast the hounds into the corn. We were in the back of the Field, following until Gretchen felt that we had to divert course to protect the Old Girl. The hounds nosed around in the corn for about 20 minutes, and then they hit on a coyote! Ryan bolted out the corn to reclaim his horse.
The pack circled in the corn and then went up into the hills of Big Valley. The easiest way out of the corn is to cross Lick Creek, which was running high. There are three crossings of Lick Creek, and none of them are easy. The closest one to us is a bad ‘un. Cannon-deep mud is on the bank, and the creek is a drop down into the water from the bank. The water, I knew from last week, was up to my belly and that is if you didn’t happened to walk into a hole before you got to the other side. The other side was a jump up into an equally muddy bank. It takes a brave hunt horse to cross the creek at that spot without hesitation.
Gretchen decided that the mud would be too much for the Old Girl. I think it was because she was on a still green hunt pony who she knew would leap off the bank into the creek. The Wench didn’t want to go into the drink! Lazy, no-account, pretend foxhunter. [Gretchen’s Note: And just WHO brought you your mint tea and oatberry scones this morning? Like I do EVERY morning? Call me lazy again, and you’ll never see another Black Stallion episode on Amazon Prime again!]
I know I can do a much better job at playing The Black than that nag they have on TV. If I can just hot-wire my internet connection to hook up my Skype account again, I’m sure I can get a hold of the producer of that show. One look at me and they will surely hire me! [Gretchen’s Note: Dream on. The only show you’re qualified to star in is the “My Little Pony” cartoon.]
Anyway, Gretchen decided that we would not follow the Field through Lick Creek, so we turned around and left the corn via the farm road and an obnoxious farm gate. By the time we got through the gate and up the steep ridge, the hounds had been circling in the corn again, crossed the creek and were heading our way. Gretchen trotted us around the undulating ridge top that is a groomed cattle pasture, bare of cover. The valley’s down below were thick in hard woods. Joint Master Grosvenor Merle-Smith was in front of us in his electric farm vehicle, and he let out a Rebel Yell just before we turned the last curve to see him.
We had just missed the first view! So we waited by Gro until the pack came roaring up the hill and over, into thick cover. Black and Tan Penn-Marydel Ariat, one of our best hounds, was in the lead. Ryan wasn’t far behind. That boy can keep up with lead hounds, alright! [Gretchen’s Note: Don’t call him “boy”.] Will you please stuff it for once? Scheesh.
The Field came a few minutes after the pack, and went to follow Ryan into the woods that lead down the ridge to the dam of the small lake in the valley. Gretchen didn’t want to go down that trail, the one she called the “Scary Trail”, because of the Old Girl’s legs. So we went back across the ridge the way we had come. The pack happened to be working left handed, our direction, so we kept going until we had to go back down the ridge to the farm road. Here Big Valley is divided into thirds: the side we were on was a small ridge with cover in the bottoms, across the farm road from us was an even steeper ridge that was bare in the valleys as well as the top, and the third part to our right was the lake with the thick cover all along its banks.
We were waiting at the top of the ridge for as long as we could to be sure that the pack was indeed heading to the lake and would not be circling back up to our ridge. I must say, Gretchen was being very careful to stay up high for as long as she could so the Old Girl didn’t have to climb up and down needlessly.
We could hear the hounds in full cry as they worked through the cover at the bottom towards the lake. They sounded great! Then we heard Joint Master Rosie Merle-Smith, the only Whipper-In out that day, give the Rebel Yell. Another view! It sounded like she was by the other end of the lake.
It took us a while to walk down the steep hill to the farm road to get to the lake’s edge. We were about to go into the woods at a gate/coop combo, when the Field meet us on the opposite side of the fence in the woods. They hadn’t heard the hounds in the while, but they decided to reverse field and go back into the woods to search for any sounds of the pack.
We opened the gate to follow them when I heard the hounds behind us – they must have passed the lake and crossed the farm road without us seeing them when Rosie gave her yell.
The girls scrambled to get the gate closed again (without us ever going through it), and we waited for hounds. They were ROARING! Then we spied him, a very healthy looking coyote came over the farm road up the little rise right towards us. At first he didn’t see us; he was looking back over his shoulder at the pack that was still over the farm road on top of that ridge. Then he looked right at us, but he didn’t slow down. He ran right passed us into the woods, about 50 feet from the gate/coop entryway into the woods.
Awesome! This was the first coyote viewing for the girls, and the first viewing for the Old Girl in many years. Wahooo! Gretchen scrambled to get her helmet off and point the way while standing on the heel line.
Both Gro and Rosie got to the farm road just as the hounds crossed. The pack came down off the ridge and crossed the farm road a little off from the coyote, so they checked down by the lake’s edge. But the check last only for a few seconds, as Ariat worked up the rise towards us. They hit right in front of us, right on the line that Gretchen’s helmet was pointing the way.
Ryan was right behind the pack, galloped past us and jumped the coop we had been standing next to go into the cover. Gro headed down the farm road to the other end of the lake, and Rosie stayed on the road. She hollered to us to stay out of the cover and stick to the lake, as the coyote had already circled once around the lake already. Odds were he would circle back again, and if we went into the woods we would risk getting thrown out of the hunt.
So down the lake’s edge we went. We heard the hounds off in a distance through the cover, but eventually they were gone. They had circled back to the first ridge we were on, down that ridge, back into the corn all the way to the other side. Eventually we ran into Ryan, who was calling in the lagging hounds. He had run afoul of those woods Rosie told us not to go into – he couldn’t follow the hounds out of the woods as he got wired out from the crisscrossing fence lines hiding in there. I see new coops in Big Valley’s future!
Eventually the pack was called off after over two hours of chasing the coyote. Temperatures were rising fast, and Ryan had run out of horse. What a great cub hunt! What a great start to the season! And the best part was when my peep, junior rider Michaela, asked Gretchen if the hunted coyote was running in circles because this was his home territory instead of him being a visiting coyote, which would have run out of country. I was so proud – I taught her that!
Ziggy Pelham, One Amazingly Talented Hunt Horse!