Hunting Diary: Three Shoes are Better than None

Another meet, another lost shoe. Having gone home early twice already this season with loose shoes it was no surprise to leave today clutching a hind shoe. With two others also returning home on three shoes I think it was a case of transitional ground.

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Photograph by Chris Harte

I got to the meet with plenty of time, having spent the morning admiring the sunrise and the distinct chill in the air. Whether we like it or not autumn is most definitely here. I turned down the offer of a port and chose a Diet Coke; perhaps a bad decision as I later heard that the pub is supposedly haunted and at the meet last year the same follower watched two glasses of Coke fly from the table and across the bar. Luckily my drink remained standing and no more was said of ghosts, the conversation turning instead to members of the mounted field padding their breeches with socks to give the impression of being better endowed… Following last season’s discussion of men’s underwear at the Croome I am now thoroughly educated.

Turning down a stiff drink was again regretted when I missed out on mulled cider at the meet. Sadder still was seeing plenty of full glasses of the stuff on a picnic table, but being unable to reach them because the hounds were between us.

My hair is almost waist length and securing it requires not just a plan, but a foundation degree in structural engineering. For some reason this morning I decided that it would stay up without pins. It didn’t. This meant that I spent part of the meet re- coiling it into a bun, a task requiring both arms. Luckily Bluey is very good at standing still! I knew that it would be a short term solution, and as we trotted away the whole thing unfurled, leaving me with a most incorrect long plait snaking down my back.

There was a smaller turnout than opening meet but still a decent crowd of riders, enough to make a good day without having too many.

The Carmarthenshire country is predominantly grassland, rough ground, and woodland. Farming is all livestock and a lot of the meets cover more marginal, beef and sheep, ground. Today was a little different because most of the land we crossed was the gentle green slopes of dairy farms, which made it one of the meets that I had marked out for side- saddle, rather than the sort that has lots of slopes and low branches.

This meet is doubly special because it was the location of my first time riding to hounds, opening meet eleven years ago. My lasting memory of the place is cantering up a hill upsides the chairman’s son on his pointer, and pulling up at the top to find that one of my girth straps had broken. Since then I have been out several times from that meet, and every time we go up that particular hill I remember that first day.

The first farm saw us waiting for hounds on a farm track, a perfect opportunity to catch up with everyone who was missed at opening meet. My hip flask came out and we had some fantastic views across the valley. The field overlooked a dual carriageway too, which kept the horses’ interest!

A short section of road brought us through another farm yard and onto our first grass track of the day. Unsurprisingly a few branches had been laid out as jumps. They weren’t very big but proved a welcome warm up. Bluey was behind two young members of the field who both got their ponies through the line; they kept us entertained later on by giving each other advice on riding down hill!

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Photograph by Richard Thomas

And then we came to “my” hill!

After opening meet I thought that I had put my stirrup up a hole. After jumping I realised that I hadn’t, and as we took off up to the rest of the field I could tell that it was too long. The gallop was over before I had too much time to think about it, and we had a breather and another round of hip flasks. Bluey had time to close his eyes and enjoy the sunshine, while two of the young men of the field sang a naughty ditty that they had learnt from one of the Joint Masters. They also knew a good range of naughty words, picked up from their fathers, which I’m sure will come to good use in the future!

And down hill we went, Bluey bouncing and snatching at the bit in a most unwelcome fashion. There were a few new horses out, including two beautiful young pointers, and his behaviour was not a good example to set. Once through the gateway we were off at a gallop, following the Field Master along the hedgerow.

Being in the middle of the field, Bluey was keen to be in front, and started to suggest that he would like to cut across and join the leaders. Without a right leg to correct him I steered him with my left rein.

Those of you who don’t ride side saddle are probably wondering where this is going, bear with me.

To sit straight aside it is crucial to keep one’s right shoulder back. A common piece of advice when jumping is to think “left shoulder to right knee.” You have probably seen photographs of women jumping hedges with their right arm and crop flung backwards; an extreme version.

So with my left arm steering and a stirrup that was too long I soon found myself pretty much sitting pillion as we moved along at some speed. The rolling grassland provided the perfect turf for galloping, and with the recent dry weather the going really was wonderful. It was therefore with relief that I saw the front runners standing at the top of the field, looking down at hounds.

Another break for everyone to catch their breath and disappear behind hedges for loo breaks. Someone brought out a bag of Haribo sweets which were much appreciated.

We then moved off to more fields, following a trip back up and down the jump track (jumps mostly taken down because of the terrier men and their quad bikes).

And here really we come to the end of the story. Having ridden a loop back to the top of the hill one of the riders who had been opening and holding gates rode along the line carrying a shoe. It was mine. I took it from her and called it a night.

Here I want to say a MASSIVE thank you to that young lady for picking up the shoe and finding its owner. Kudos to you.

At the bottom of the field the Field Master swung left down a hard farm track, everyone hot on his heels. With some difficulty I convinced Bluey to go right, popping him back over the jumps and checking the route home with one of the whips who was standing on point.

It was a nice, gentle hack home, the only excitement being me riding along what I thought was the way out of a farm yard, only to find myself facing a silage clamp! With Bluey and his shoe safely loaded I drove back and settled in for some tack cleaning and horse hosing.

Unlike last weekend I did get reasonably dirty and my habit needed a hose.

I was also out long enough to justify a bath, and am now writing this by the fire, Bluey is in his stable and waiting for the farrier.

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Next week I will (everything being well) be out with the Croome & WW for their opening meet (with a shorter stirrup).

Until then, good night!