“Well sat! Kick on, he’s just having a cheeky day.”

I swallowed hard as I gathered my flapping stirrups while staring down at a profoundly proud George who’s latest attempt to make me eat dirt was only thwarted by sheer stubbornness and luck on my part! I watched as my friend, Michelle, easily cantered the simple line of jumps on her perfect little draft cob hireling, Promise, looking like they’ve know each other for months not mere minutes. My hireling, a big Irish-drafty-paint-something, was 16++ hands of Neanderthal that decided for today he would actually USE his brain and have a little fun with the sleep-deprived American.

Back track several hours: Michelle and I deplaned at London Heathrow, ready to take on an English hunt with our good friend and fellow equestrian Ellie! We had met nearly 8 years ago at a summer camp where we all worked and have stayed in touch with one another ever since. Two years ago, the girls came and visited me in North Carolina for some Halloween fun. This time, we decided we would cross the pond and venture into England to visit Ellie and have her introduce us to the wonderful world of hunting!

Hunting/foxhunting originated in England and is still very alive and prevalent today! I’d always been a bit enthralled with it… the hounds sounding off, the port in my hip flask, the huntsmen in their red coats, galloping around the fields and  jumping hedges, the port… All hunts in England are drag hunts (spreading a scent for the hounds to follow, no actual chasing of foxes) and are riddled with tradition that I often find lacking in this modern world that we live in. When Ellie suggested we try it out, I enthusiastically said YES! Our assessment ride (to ensure we could actually ride something) was scheduled for the day we landed at the wonderful Chessington Equestrian Centre in Surrey, England. Imagine a quintessential, busy, shed row barn and you’ve pictured Chessington.

“Pick up your canter and have another go. Don’t be afraid to use the whip, doesn’t do much good sitting in your hand!”

I smiled and nodded at our instructor Viv, glancing dumbly down at my hand and realizing that indeed, my whip was there. I ride a dragon at home for goodness sake! I can handle this! Determined and ready with my newly discovered artillery, I asked George for the canter and we leaped into some beautiful crow hops down the long side.

WHACK!

I cracked that son-of-a-gun right across his ass and he stopped short, bewildered that the rider he had been previously dragging around the ring would reprimand him so. I shortened my reins and jammed my heels down and pointed him toward the line. He collected, launched, landed, one-stride, launch, landed, flying lead change with a little headshake for pizzazz!

“Well done girls! Cool out and I’ll give you some pointers for hunting as you do so.”

Viv launched into an obviously well practiced spiel while I grappled in my brain if I could handle my giant beast in an open field with other riders. I voiced my concern and she smiled and said “Hunting is his job, it is his favorite thing to do. If you can sit what he threw at you today, you’ll be just fine. Stay out of his face and he’ll take care of you!”

All righty. Looks like George and I would be partners in crime! Bring on the port, I’m going to need some serious liquid courage for this!

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