Though Western riders aren’t an unusual sight in hunt fields across the country, in central Virginia, they tend to be the minority for many clubs. Some hunts offer an annual Western invitational day to introduce local riders to hunting and give them a chance to experience the sport first-hand.
Glenmore Hunt in Staunton, Virginia, is one such club that offers a yearly hunt for Western riders. They’ve offered these invitational hunts every year for more than a decade, and at their 2019 event in late December, more than 30 riders participated in this special cap-free day. The hunt posted invites on social media as well as at local tack shops, and of course, news spread quickly through word of mouth in the community. Some riders were prospective new members, but others were just curious to learn more about hunting.
During the hunt, every effort was made to give the Western riders a chance to safely enjoy their day and also learn more about hunting etiquette and traditions. Joe Manning, MFH, made announcements before the hunt began, explaining the different flights and what they were.
“When the hounds were cast, the group was so large, I just held my third flight back for a few minutes and talked with them about basic etiquette,” says Mary Lee McDavid, a long-time Glenmore Hunt member who led third field. “I told them about being quiet when hounds were working or nearby. I also told them what ‘ware wire,’ ‘staff please,’ or ‘hound please’ meant. I also advised them about getting out of the way and turning their horse’s hindquarters away from passing staff. I answered questions as we went along as well.”
Many of the riders who’d never hunted before were curious about the process. “One older gentleman, who was the first one to arrive, was very attentive the whole time,” recalls McDavid. “When we finally got on quarry, he was really fascinated with the different horn sounds and how our huntsman gathered the hounds. We were lucky to get anything...it was pushing 65 degrees and hot!”
“Some of the riders had experience working cattle, barrel racing, and trail riding, but none had ever galloped in a group in an open field like we did,” notes McDavid. “The grins on their faces told all!”
Though many riders that day had no previous hunting experience, some actually came from local hunts. “One girl who came was very nice and had just joined Rockbridge Hunt and may join us as seasonal capper,” says McDavid. “She does reining but is transitioning to English riding. She was very helpful in getting one of our member’s horses across two water crossings. The poor horse completely melted down. She got on it and took it across two crossings for our member. She was an amazing rider.”
McDavid also enjoyed getting to know two older cowboys, one of which who was riding a young horse who’d never been with such a big group of horses. “That horse was perfect,” says McDavid. “I had no idea [he was so young] and he was in my flight. Those good ol’ boy trainers are worth their weight in gold. A good cowboy-trained hunt horse is often the best kind. These men live so close to our hunt and we are hoping they come out again.”
Though Glenmore would, of course, love to increase their membership through these types of special hunts, they also enjoy building relationships with other local equestrians in the area. “We have many Western riders and trainers that ironically didn't make it that day that often come,” says McDavid. “It's a way for us to connect with them as some are landowners and some are farriers and some even train our problem horses. In the summertime, we often trail ride together, too.”
As a flight leader for the day, McDavid admits that she was a bit nervous as it was the largest field she’s led, and third flight can be tricky as there can be all kinds of riders. “With third flight, there are some riders that don't want to go fast at all because they don't like to and sometimes it's a problem horse that needs to settle. Or sometimes there are new people that like to go fast but are just checking everything out. I had all of the above that day, so it was a lot of pressure to go the right speed and offer good sport and keep people safe and happy. I find it very rewarding when we end the day and all the riders are thankful and leave with big smiles on their faces. Knowing that I had a part in that makes me feel joy!”