Monday, March 12, 2012

Foxhunting, Galloping, Flatwork and Fences!!!!!!!

It was a jam packed weekend, full of all kinds of successes and new experiences.  Saturday morning came bright and early.  I was out of bed at 5:45 to jump in the shower, dress in hunt clothes, and then put the obligatory layer of pj pants on top to keep myself clean.  Off to the farm to feed horses, throw hay, and turn everybody out; and then off to Jeanine's farm to finish getting ready for the hunt.  Momma DeVaney lined us up, pinned our stock ties, and Tommy doled out the freshly loaded flasks.  It looked like I was in line for the full foxhunting experience!

After a minor boot mishap (I spent plenty of time breaking them in, but the few pounds I've packed on plus the extra layer of thicker breeches was too much to overcome....) I gratefully accepted a pair of paddock boots and half chaps with the assurance that I would be far more comfortable with the ability to actually FEEL my feet over a three hour ride....  Everybody put my mind to rest that it would be no big deal, as MHI is one of the more laid-back hunts, so we loaded up and shipped out to the old steeplechase field.

There were quite a few trailers already there, each with multiple horses it seemed.  Before long, someone was shoving a silver tray with glasses of port in my face, and weird as it seemed to down alcohol at 9 am, I obliged in a last ditch effort to ease any nerves I may have still had. 

Okay, okay...I ended up having two shots of port.  Nevertheless, I felt ready to go as we mounted up and the hounds were let out. 

The first thing I have to say is that there is something innately magical about foxhunting.  Walking through a dewy field, seeing the sun beam off the red coat of the huntsman, the hounds milling about, tails whipping a million miles an hour, and the long line of horses and impeccably dressed riders (except for me, with my ever-so-tacky half chaps, which I tried desperately to hide....)  I felt as though I had stumbled into a century-old painting, and the air of tradition was absolutely spellbinding.  I had little more than a few minutes to absorb this before the chase began, and suddenly the line took off at a fierce canter. 

I remember thinking ten minutes into the experience that I would never physically make it for three hours.  I was already panting a bit, and the borrowed wool canary vest made me feel like I was in a sweatbox.  After the first few stretches of canter though, I began to forget the aching legs as the adrenaline started to kick in.  We crossed creeks, jumped up and down ditches, walked through rocky ledges, hopped logs and was such an incredible feeling.  One minute you are walking peaceably, and the next moment you are tearing through the trees in hot pursuit, trusting your horse to remain surefooted and carry you through to the other side.  At one point, three horses behind me ended up moving up, and we literally all jumped a wide creek at the same time, spread four horses wide. 

The best part of the morning by far was the tail end of the hunt.  I had ridden second field (which really ended up being first field, as Jeanine was the fieldmaster and does NOT like to be left behind!) but at the end of the hunt, most of the first field riders split off to go to the old steeplechase field.  I honestly didn't know what we were going for when I made the last minute decision to go with them, but it didn't take long to discover they wanted to experience the steeplechase field at the only speed meant for a steeplechase track....a full blown gallop.  Before I knew it, our easy canter had turned into a full out gallop, seven or eight horses in our little pack, breezing around the track in a blur.  Tears started streaming out of my eyes, and all I could do was focus on staying deep in my heel and soft in the elbow to allow Leo the room to run, and oh, how he ran.  I still vividly remember the moment I felt his body drop toward the ground and flatten out as he galloped away.  We went from the back of the pack and caught up the several lengths of distance between us and the fieldmaster, and I had to hold him back to keep him from cruising past them.  I had a vivid remembrance of an old friend commented about horses galloping, and why they run around the way they do.  This person had looked at us and said, "because they CAN!"  I have felt a gallop before, but it has been so incredibly long ago, and it was nothing like the experience of going full out on an open track.  It was hands down the most magical thing I have done in an incredibly long time.  We slowed up, went for another gallop, then retired back to the trailering area to cool out the horses and have a quick lunch.

After the foxhunt we headed home for powernaps before the evening festivities - the black tie hunt ball.  I finally got to take the tags off the most incredible Donna Karen black label dress from Bergdorf Goodman, and slip into it before heading to the event.  It was comical to watch Robyn and I trying to hop up into the truck in our slim-fitting evening wear, and I'm sure at least one of the neighbors got a good laugh.  The hunt ball was a blast, and we were joined by Jamey and Kelsey, who brought out a stunning red dress that she last wore in Ireland for a hunt ball.  We had a great time hanging out, eating, and watching the awards ceremony. 

Back to the more horsey-things though!  Sunday arrived bright and early with us meeting a client to try Jonah for the first time.  Robyn hopped on and showed him first, then she hopped on to try him out.  She rode him very well, and seemed to figure him out pretty quickly.  We then headed off to breakfast to sit and talk about it some more, and I think there may be the potential for a good match there in the very near future!  Kelsey is going to hop on him today and see what she thinks, and we will hopefully move forward from there.

We still took him to Ivy's in the afternoon for her to try him out, give us her opinion, and see if she might be interested.  If our first possible option doesn't work out, she has a few options in mind for him as well and will help us market him.  She watched Robyn ride him, then hopped on to try him over a few combinations.  He did really well, and ended up jumping nicer than we have ever seen him go.  He definitely jumps much nicer over a little bit of height, and he seemed to pick up on things quickly.  Ivy seemed to really enjoy him which was really exciting.  There is something really rewarding about having a little validation, especially when you take a totally blind gamble like picking up a completely unknown horse....

My lesson on April was next, and it was so incredible.  She started us out with a relaxed but forward walk on a completely loose rein.  She had me working on a little extra weight in the outside stirrup to move her out, and a gentle feel of the outside rein to balance her.  As we went into the trot, we had the most relaxed and rhythmic trot work that we have had in a very long time.  Ivy commented that my hands were incredibly soft yesterday, even more so than usual, and I know that had to have played into how wells things went.  She still had to work on me to relax in the elbows, especially the inside elbow.  I have a terrible time of shutting down the relaxed feel in the elbows, and I think April ends up feeling trapped as a result, because she feels like she has nowhere to GO.  We worked on a little shoulder fore down the long side of the arena, and balancing in the turns by putting a little weight in the outside stirrup and taking a little feel on the outside rein to balance the hind end. 

As I am writing all of this, I am also realizing that Ivy never even hopped on my mare at this lesson...I actually did everything myself, which is pretty huge considering we had a REALLY bad ride only a few days prior.  I talked through that with Ivy during the lesson as well, and she told me I need to be careful about not overthinking things and not trying to micro-manage too much in the saddle.  And not to beat myself up as well.  It was a really positive and encouraging lesson, which was something I needed after the mini meltdown of the previous week.  (Long story, but it involved a really bad ride, lots of tears, and maybe even a helmet being thrown....I know, I know, full-blown 12 year old hunter princess temper tantrum.  Sometimes it happens to the best of us....)

We did some canter work on the flat, and she worked with me on turning out my toe a little to get off of my knee and keep my calf on consistently.  When I ride off of my knee, I end up being thrown back onto my butt which drives my mare forward,, which starts a whole vicious chain reaction of things that are not particularly pretty....

Then it was time for a little work over fences.  I think we had a good bit of improvement since our last jump session, because we quickly moved past the crossrail stage and onto the oxer.  From there she added in a bending line to a pretty good sized oxer, and we discovered my immense need to work on using my outside aids.  Again, same line, and this time April ratted me out on trying to hold her too much in my hands...she stopped dead four strides out and refused to move.  Again, to the same line, this time SOFT in the elbow and ALLOWING with the hands.  Jumped it beautifully, in stride, but tore away to the bending oxer like a freight train.  We made it in the correct five strides, but the landing was awkward because I didn't balance her enough on the approach, and she ended up snatching a front shoe.  It was really disappointing, because I felt like one more time and we would have nailed the line correctly.  Nevertheless, the lesson ended with me feeling really positive and excited about trying to remember all the little things I need to keep working on.

Sadly I have to take tonight off, because we probably won't get her shoe put back on until Tuesday.  I suppose my muscles could probably use a day or two off though...I do kind of feel like I was hit by a bus....Oh well.  This weekend was TOTALLY worth it!!!!!!!!


  1. Foxhunting rocks! I've been a member of Old North Bridge Hounds for four years now and I can't believe how fun it is. And your description of the beauty of the field... priceless! Welcome!

  2. It DOES rock! I am pretty bummed my first outing was the close of the season...but it gives me something to look forward to! I think I *may* have found the perfect career for my other horse Samson. And I have plenty of time to get him fit for it!!!