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[Editor's Note: Belle Meade Hunt (GA) recently hosted Tennessee Valley Hunt (TN) for a weekend of back-to-back joint meets with their combined packs. Gretchen Pelham shared this reflection on the myriad elements that make up the joys of our sport.] What a day! I arrived at 11:30 last night - six and a half hours instead of four hours. Now, Siri always thinks that I can drive to visit Judith Craw and Epp Wilson, Belle Meade MFH, in Georgia in four hours, but I know better. There is a little place called downtown Atlanta that Siri just ignores.



High-spirited workers at the freshly repaired Natalie’s Crossing. Back row: Eric Doebbler, Epp Wilson, Lee Ann Carson, Winser Exum, Mike Coke, Terry Cooper, Kelly Holliman, Ed Maxwell. Front row: Anthony Coleman, Andy Blair. Gretchen Pelham photo.

I always add an hour for the 20 miles it takes to go through downtown. Well, last night Fate decided to give me a clear downtown on a Friday night. I went 50 miles an hour through the city, on a Friday night! I actually saw pavement between cars! But in giving me an easy downtown while hauling a horse trailer, Fate screwed me on everything else. Construction delays, insane fuel stops, and so I arrived very late.

But today made it worth it. After sleeping in (heaven), Judith and I took their eight three-month-old Crossbred puppies for a long walk that equated to a trail ride, sans horses, this morning. With her house dogs, Gracie and Marty, and my Holly with the puppies. Marty is a Jorkie - a Jack Russell x Yorkie mix. O. M. G. You could not have cooked up a more adorable dog in a laboratory. Holly is in heaven. And worn out. She’s going to sleep for a week.

Then we went hunting this afternoon. Belle Meade and Tennessee Valley have always had great joint meets down here. Somehow, our Penn-Marydels and their Crossbred hounds hunt amazingly together. Today the hounds hit within ten minutes of being cast and it was a barn burner! An hour and a half of running in amazing country. A double Rough Rider, as Belle Meaders say. I was asked to ride with Barbara Lee - Master Epp’s honorary first whipper-in.

Of my hunting career, hunting with Barbara consists of three of my top five hunts ever. She always has me in the perfect place with lead hounds, and today was no different. We heard the strike hound, a TVH deep-voiced hound, hit on the black coyote. I mean we were right there. We just missed seeing the coyote. And then one of the most fun 90 minutes I’d ever had. We got on a bad trail that tried to rip my ears off with saplings. I had a few ditch crossings that even Phillip, my master ditch horse, almost bit it on. I don’t know HOW we stayed upright on two of them. We ran and ran, all on a loose rein. Phillip has always been worth his weight in gold, but today he was worth TWICE his weight in gold.

Then Epp decided that one of the crossings that Phil and I really almost fell at needed to be fixed before tomorrow’s hunt. So in the dark, at 8:00 at night and with a few hot buttered rums, a bunch of Belle Meaders and I went to the crossing with axes, shovels and Quikrete to dig out that creek crossing to make it safe. It took less than 45 minutes with all the people, and a stump had to be dug out! Don’t mess with Belle Meaders when they get a burr up their butts. And after they’ve had a few libations.

I don’t think I will be able to walk tomorrow, but what a day! Today affirms my love of hunting. It affirms my love of traveling to different hunts. It affirms my love of spending time with same-minded others in a different part of the country. It affirms my deep appreciation of being outdoors, working in partnership with an animal, a horse whose brain is the size of an orange but whose heart is the size of an elephant, that wants what you want. To be in that primal chase - that ages old give and take of chasing down the game, only to be thwarted by said game at the last minute. To double back, cut over the previous line, foul the scent line in a creek, and then let’s circle around to do it all over again. I can’t say thank you enough to the Belle Meaders today. It was an awesome day. And we get to repeat it tomorrow!

[You can read more of Gretchen's adventures through our blog "written" by her other horse, Ziggy, right here; or in her several published pieces as the Naked Foxhunter.]

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