A Day with the Golden’s Bridge Hounds (Part 1. Part 2 appears in the winter issue of Covertside)
Each year representatives from the hunting elite of America, Europe and Australasia meet up to discuss issues, problems and developments that affect our sport and to learn from each other what new legislation, disease or animal rights initiative threatens our freedom to hunt with hounds. Each country benefits from the sharing of knowledge. Where possible, we take a little time off from reporting and debating, to experience at first hand the cultural and other values that both define and unite us globally in mounted hunting. In September 2012, it was America’s turn to host meetings of the International Union of Hunting with Hounds (IUHH) and delegates from Belgium, Canada, England, France, Ireland and New Zealand congregated in Leesburg, VA to take part. Australia did not send a delegate this year, but did provide a report and several written submissions.
The New Zealand delegation, having furthest to travel and the most extreme jetlag to contend with, were first to arrive in America and having availed of the opportunity to spend a couple of days in the “Big Apple” were able to get an extra day's hunting at the invitation of The Golden’s Bridge Hunt in New York State.
The meet was at Windswept Farm, the home of Senior Master Gene Colley and his wife Lois. When we arrived at 6:15am on Tuesday September 25th there was a nip in the air with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees, but our thoughtful host was standing by with hot coffee laced with Jameson Whiskey. The cold abated and the first shard of light broke in the eastern sky. Our Kiwi visitors were matched up with quality horses from the Colley stables.
There are no foxes or coyotes in New Zealand. They hunt hares; large strong hares that give great sport. The horses regularly jump wire fences up to 5 feet high. These visitors were used to a style of hunting with a formidable reputation throughout the world. Naturally there was a desire among the Golden’s Bridge hunters to give the visitors a memorable day. As we all know, great hunting days don’t come to order. The pressure was on for Huntsman Ciaran Murphy and 15 and a half couple of Penn-Marydel hounds to show good sport today. I mentioned to Ed Kelly MFH, my sense of occasion, privileged to be hunting in the company of three Presidents. Ed of course is currently President of the American MFHA and Ivan Bridge MH and John Savill MH are both past presidents of New Zealand’s governing body, the New Zealand Hunts Association (NZHA). Ivan was riding a stunning little chestnut mare called Billie from the Colley stables. I rode her the previous week. She is fast, sure footed and brave and jumps like a stag. John was riding a mare called Gypsy on which Ciaran has often hunted the hounds. Treasurer of the NZHA, Bruce Calder MH and his wife Tessa were very happily mounted on a pair of Grays called Lisa and XO and Rebecca Bridge was riding an old favorite of mine belonging to Teresa Colley. He was all of 17 hands and called d’Artagnan. I, too, was riding a Colley horse, a polo pony called Phil. When Teresa Colley saw me on him, she asked, “Is that Phil?” adding, “He has never jumped”.
There was just enough of a smile to make me realize I was the object of a prank. I had hunted a Colley polo pony before and he was awesome.
Gene Colley MFH, gave an eloquent welcoming speech from his horse and announced that his son Bruce Colley MFH, would be leading the first field today and Ed Kelly would lead the second. At 7am exactly, we set off at a trot with hounds drawing covert right from the meet. All five visitors rode up front with Bruce. Amid hallowed whispers of introduction among the field, we listened intently to the rustle of undergrowth with the expectation of that first note from a hound on the discovery of scent. We had barely been in the saddle for ten minutes when our expectation was realized. Moments later we were at full gallop along a forest track. As we turned a corner, Bruce suddenly raised his right hand to stop the first flight and those of us up front watched as hounds crossed the track, less than a hundred yards in front. Both our Field Master and Whipper-in Jack Manes had viewed the quarry and confirmed we were on a coyote. We gave the hounds some space then followed at break-neck speed to the most glorious music of those Penn-Marydels.
The coyote and hounds were running straight, but we needed to do a bit of twisting and turning to stay on narrow forest trails, which were a better option than trying to duck and dodge the trees in a pretty dense wood. John Savill and Rebecca Bridge were ahead of me, right up with Bruce Colley. Bruce and Tessa Calder and Ivan Bridge were right behind me. Up ahead I saw a small coop that lead to an open field of grass. At this point I gave some consideration to the possibility that maybe it was true that Phil the polo pony had not jumped before. I have never worn spurs in my life and only once in thirty years of hunting had I carried a stick. Giovanni, Master Colley’s groom, had offered me a stick when leaving the barn, but I had declined his kind offer. There was a slight hesitation on the take-off and the action was a little more catlike than show jumper, but my skills are far from perfect so I imputed the feline deportment very reasonably to rider error and kicked on. Phil lacked nothing in speed. We crossed a few fields each accessed from the previous one by chicken coops of varying sizes. With each coop we jumped, I trusted Phil more and he repaid me by taking them in the comfortable stride of a seasoned hunter, which by this time I had concluded he really was. The chase continued at speed to the symphonic accompaniment of the Golden’s Bridge pack. The next coop brought us back onto a forest track and over some pretty rough terrain. We hopped over stones and through creeks with sparks flashing from the horses hooves. We climbed steep slopes, dodging trees, and galloped along narrow tracks, where the footing would have put a mountain goat to the test. Occasionally we travelled along reasonable dirt tracks and hopped over some stone walls. After a relentless hour of hard chasing, the wiley Coyote set a course for a main road. Radio phones were snapped into action and mounted whips, Jack Manes and Peter Moritz rode like the devil to try and head the coyote and avert the potential mayhem. The coyote did cross the road but aided by some skilful driving from road whip, Richard Knowlton, the hounds were stopped and danger averted.
The next ten minutes while Ciaran gathered hounds and walked them to another covert was a chance to catch our breath, and I for one needed it. This type of country is, I gather, very different from the sheep farming land hunted in New Zealand. Rebecca Bridge was astonished that at 17 hands high d’Artagnan could be so sure footed. We had had a good run, but the time was just 8.10am. The day was not over yet.
From a path on high ground we were sitting chatting quietly, when our field Master Bruce Colley pointed out a coyote slinking by some sparse bushes below us. The field went quiet and most of us got to view this handsome quarry. We watched in silence while the pack picked up the strong scent and opened before us. They gave chase and we chased after, thankfully heading back towards the meet, but more particularly away from the road. At first this route felt a little easier than the first. There were more stone walls to jump but less rough ground. We passed Bruce and Teresa Colley’s home and around a grassy hill to where hunt member Dr. Elizabeth Almeyda lives. We came to an obstacle that I could see at a glance was going to be difficult or, I suppose, more tricky than difficult. There was a small ditch about half astride on the near side of a substantial wall. A few horses and riders cleared it, but Elizabeth jumped the ditch and got too close to the wall. The horse stopped and Elizabeth summersaulted over the wall, still gripping the reins. She hit her back and appeared to be in some pain. I was right behind and escaped the indignity of a similar fate by getting off to lend assistance. Teresa Colley also stopped to help and in a flash the rest of the first flight had found a different route and were gone. We persuaded Elizabeth to take her time and make sure she was not seriously injured before deciding to re-mount. There were no signs of concussion and, being a medical doctor Elizabeth would have weighed the situation correctly, before deciding to continue.
Slowly at first we set about finding the hunt. In a short while the hunt found us. We heard the hounds coming towards us in the distance and we met up with Giovanni who had just viewed a coyote. We were cautious not to cross the line, but luckily his was not the hunted coyote. Eventually we caught up with the field and slipped into line. The next obstacle was the biggest wall I had seen all day. Teresa Colley put her horse at it and sailed over effortlessly. Now was the moment of truth. Another moment of doubt? No way! God hates a coward. I galloped full tilt at the wall with one hand on the reins and the other in the air. This is a style known in Irish hunting circles as “Hailing a cab”. On landing Teresa turned and asked, “Did Phil jump that?”
Of course he did! He is a terrific jumper. Phil is a made hunter, who also plays polo.
After two hours on the second hunted coyote, a third coyote surfaced. I viewed this one also and he was slimmer and lighter in color than the last one. He managed to split the pack, so after a total of 3 hours and fifteen minutes of fast and furious hunting Ciaran decided that hounds, horses and riders had had enough, in what after all, was still the “cubbing season.” I for one, had more than enough. I needed another visit to my chiropractor, but wow, what a day’s sport and the time was just 10:25am.
Back at the Colley residence we enjoyed a hunt breakfast, where the hospitality was, as ever, lavish. Speeches were made, both witty and emotional. The Kiwis presented Gene Colley with a book “Kicking On,” straight off the presses, on the history of hunting in New Zealand. They also presented some New Zealand hunting ties. Gene Colley took off the American hunting tie he was wearing and presented it to Ivan Bridge. Ivan wore that tie at the IUHH meeting a few days later. In the midst of all the fun and camaraderie, Lois Colley was a picture of serenity while being the perfect hostess. From the Kiwi delegation and from this Irish import a very sincere thank you to Gene and Lois Colley and hearty congratulations to the huntsman and hounds and everyone at Golden’s Bridge Hunt.