As we blasted by the horse lorry on the A3 (highway) stuffing ourselves full of Pan Au Chocolat (chocolate filled pastry, a pre-hunting must for breakfast I’m told) my nerves started to get the best of me as we left the city and started cruising through the countryside. What if I couldn’t control George? What if I ate dirt and had to make the long walk back to the lorry horseless? What if I didn’t enjoy it?!
We parked and waited for the lorries to pull up behind us. My English friend, Ellie, took the obligatory “nervous wee” behind the car. I was too hyped up to think about following suit, wrestling with my stock tie (who invented these bloody things), and anxiously waiting to see what kind of mood George was in when he came off the trailer. My American friend, Michelle, mounted first onto her perfect mare Promise, then Ellie got up on her antsy cob mare, Secret, that was itching to go. I eyeballed George and accepted the helping hand to hold him while I jumped from the lorry ramp into his saddle and jamming my feet into the stirrups in case he got any funny ideas.
That was it. We were on our way to ride!
We met the rest of the group outside a very British looking fancy-schmancy house where we were served mulled wine and snacks while aboard our mounts. Hunting is not only a traditional sport but it is a social gathering as well. I chatted amongst some of the other riders, drank more wine and sloe gin, and felt the knot in my stomach unraveling a little. I kept repeating the wise words that my instructor told me about George: Hunting is his job, it is his favorite thing to do. Stay out of his face and he’ll take care of you!
A few announcements were made, the horn sounded, and we were off!
I parked George’s face behind Ellie’s mare, Michelle was lost somewhere up toward the front of the crowd. I gave him his head and he settled into a nice cadence with the other horses. I started to relax and look around, what a countryside! We trotted and galloped through terrain that would make most of the people I ride with cry with worry about their horse’s precious legs. George was as surefooted as ever and I let him pick his way through the mud, stones, and roots. After a couple of hours, about half the group decided to turn back. Since I came for the full experience I decided to crack on! George and I were in a good rhythm and I was really relaxing with the numerous flask-sipping breaks.
Those sipping breaks eventually caught up to me and I sheepishly leaned over to Ellie and told her I was busting a gut, especially since I forgot to take a “nervous wee” before we started out. Eventually the group stopped in a densely forested area and she said “Now’s your chance!” After a bit more convincing (I wasn’t sure my legs would work, let alone my short self be able to get back on my giant steed) I leapt to the ground, found a spot away from prying eyes and made it back and in the saddle before the hounds sounded and we were off again!
As we continued through the beautiful countryside, blessed with balmy 50* weather for February, I learned a bit more about some of the riders. One of them was the owner of the fancy estate we had started at. He was keeping a 30+ year tradition alive by having the hunt on his grounds each year! I learned one of the riders I was oogling at (she was such a good rider) was in fact a 4* eventer for England . What a great sport that lowly adult amateurs such as myself could ride the same course as a 4* eventer!
We came over a ridge to the back of the estate a mere 6ish hours later and meandered down to the lorry. Horses were stripped of tack, sponged off, and loaded as quick as it took me to wrestle my damn stock tie off.
What a day! George was a model citizen! I immediately requested him for next week when we were taking on a more jump-based hunt. I bid goodnight to the field master and we headed to the pub to stuff ourselves full of all the good carbs. I knew I was in for a world of hurt for at least a couple days but I didn’t care, I was hooked!
The following Saturday couldn’t come fast enough!