Many of us remember the mixture of excitement and anxiety that accompanied our debuts in the hunt field. For riding instructors bringing out novice children and new ponies, however, those emotions are surely multiplied. In this recently-discovered letter from April 15, 1960, Honora Haynes described to her friend, Betty Morrison, the ups and downs of an ambitious day out with seven young charges at the now-defunct Millwood Hunt, in territory presently part of Old North Bridge Hounds' (MA) country.
(emphasis in the original)
You missed a hunt, the likes of which I’ve never seen. I don’t know if I am more exhausted from heart failure or from laughing. So you don’t have a heart attack, all the horses and riders got home safely - but there were moments…
The cast of characters in this farce were:
Wistful - Sue C. (OK)
Puppet - Owen H. (terrific)
Madre - Christine H. (OK)
Rock - Joanne F. (oh god!)
Noggins - Milo F. (?)
Checkers - Stevie H. (NO!)
Cricket - me
Ebony - Terry (NO!)
Act I: Mounted Riders in the Yard
Instructor nearly dumped off Cricket, renamed “grasshopper.”
Act II: Walked Behind Hounds
Walked up the road towards Easterly Farms; 25 riders out, 20 incompetent. Terry and Stevie run away with at walk. Wisty, in lead, goes sideways. Cricket sideways and up and down. Caught up with boys and got them behind me; gave Stevie lesson in pulley rein. Cricket bouncing up and down the whole time. Fortunately, we had a long hack to the reservoir so I had everyone under control. Even risked occasional trot along the edge of the road, to keep up.
Act III: The Hunt
Put Wisty and Madre in lead, with strict orders not to move or let anyone by them. Got Stevie beside me, Rock on my tail and Owen and Puppet, Terry, last. Waited until body of hunt out of sight, then proceeded at a walk. Halted at first bridge. Halt from walk to trot causes Joanna to fall over Rock’s head! Got off, put Joanna back on Rock (dead quiet). Cricket still hopping around. Proceeded at slow trot, Stevie complaining his arms being pulled out. Took him on lead line.
Trouble in front. Rearranged order of riders in group: Madre last and Domino second. Proceeded again at slowish trot, all horses now under control, riders already purple in face. Proceeded at canter. OK. Checkers on lead line and Cricket calming down. Puppet (baby could, and was riding) fine.
Half way down reservoir, 1 mile, riders exhausted. Walked. When almost at check, suggested trot to check, so we could arrive in style. Terry’s pony attempted to canter, but instead of letting him canter to keep up, he tried to pull him up to trot. Instead, pony continued slower at canter so that, instead of being a horse length behind Rock, he dropped back 10 or more lengths. At that point, pony took off at a gallop to catch up, and I heard yells of WHOA!
Turned Checkers and Cricket to block path - pony stopped. Terry said he remembered Willie, who was run away with at Groton last fall, and had told him he stopped his pony by running him into the woods. So, Terry had tried it, before he started to yell WHOA! He claimed the reason it did not work was that, although he had headed the pony for a tree, the pony did not stop: he just knocked the tree down and kept on running!
When we arrived at the check, the hunt had gone and there were only spectators to greet us. However, we presently caught up with the hunt, which was waiting for us. Horse on lead line caused mild sensation. Mrs. Hall then decided to go home, as everyone was tired and, from what I hear, senior hunters were in as much trouble as kids!
Performances of Horses
Wistful: excellent prospect - quieted right down
Madre: went very well except when crowded
Puppet: went like a dream (probably because she was tired)
Domino: OK, if he will learn to keep distance. Pulled like a train except when jammed on the heels of the horse ahead
Checkers: will be OK; was over-ambitious
Cricket: naughty pony
Many thanks to Owen Hughes, MFH emeritus, Norfolk Hunt Club (MA), who survived his ride on the well-behaved Puppet and shared this timeless story.