There was a steady rain falling as I left my home in our nation's capital to make my way to Virginia hunt country. Two of my friends, Jacob and Theresa, were visiting from Pennsylvania and had brought their horses with them to attend Virginia Hunt Week, as they do biannually. This year, it was held October 12-27, and 16 packs participated.
It didn’t take much persuading for me to join them this year. I had hunted a handful of times last season with Fairfax Hunt (now Loudoun Fairfax Hunt), so I was overjoyed by the invitation.
The three of us had planned to hunt with Rappahannock Hunt the previous Sunday, but I wasn’t able to go. After they regaled me about their day with Rappahannock, I realized I had missed out on a great day. They planned on going out again on Wednesday with the Keswick Hunt and I eagerly accepted their offer to tag along, as they had space in their trailer for one more horse.
As I drove west, my unease about the weather subsided; it began to clear up. As I arrived at the barn just after 6 a.m. in total darkness, several of my riding partners greeted me saying, “The good thing about owning a gray horse is that you can find it in the dark.” Well, so much for that old adage. Even with the help of a faithful hound from the stable, it took searching a five-acre pasture with a powerful searchlight to find my steed, a Percheron cross that weighs nearly 1,500 pounds.
Once we loaded the horses on the trailer, we drove for nearly 90 minutes to Keswick's Mount Sharon fixture in Orange and pulled into the fixture with ten minutes to spare. We had trailered our horses tacked, so we were able to hit the ground and mount once we parked.
The early morning sun, peeking through a cloud-filled sky revealed a spectacular setting among rolling hills, open fields, and woods. After the master’s welcome, the hounds were released and off we went. As the ground was still slick from the early morning rain, I opted to ride with the hilltoppers group, under the careful eye of our field master Mrs. Sally Lamb. Just five minutes in the saddle and we spotted a fox in the neighboring horse field -- so we were off!! Once in the woods, I breathed easier having chosen to go in the slower group. The trails were quite muddy and loose, challenging my mare, more sure-footed on drier, firmer ground. On this messy morning, had we gone down the slopes at full gallop, one of us would surely have gone down.
Meeting so many participants from across the country who came for this event was as rewarding as the brisk morning ride through the spectacular countryside and arrived back at the meet to a tailgate of pizza, salad, and a welcoming array of desserts, where we met a group of folks who had come all the way from Texas to ride during Hunt Week. Although my next Hunt Week is two years away, I’m already looking forward to riding the entire week and hunting as much as possible. I’m an avid rider, but Hunt Week made me a hunt fan for life.