Today we were joined at the C&WW by a visitor from the Tivyside, and also by a couple of ladies sporting Albrighton and Woodland buttons, therefore I think that their presence really confirms the title. Anyone who wants to prove otherwise, please supply an invitation to visit…
Anyway, I can’t spend all night telling you how the C&WW is better than whoever you subscribe to, because that would be boring and would encourage you all to visit en masse, taking away some of the joy of hunting.
Parking was a little way away from the meet, which worked out well for giving the horses a bit of a warm up and taking the edge off. Bluey has not been out since the 5th November (abscess, hunt ball, London) and so was feeling pretty keen.
As always the lawn meet was warmly and lavishly hosted with plate after plate of food and constantly refreshed glasses of port. With the novelty of not driving I made the most of the port, topping up the breakfast sloe gin we had at the yard before leaving (I’ll add here that Bluey and I were put up for the night by L, another clear tick in the “best hunt” criteria). I love meets where you have your whips and reins in one hand, a full glass of port in the other, are trying to bend down to hug a foot follower AND have someone waving a tray of sausage rolls at you.
Bad news was that the hunt chairman was on foot following a fall that morning, and he missed an absolute cracker of a meet. Better news for his horse, who got to go out with the MFH who was acting as field master for the day.
A coloured cob demonstrated some pretty acrobatic rears at the meet but it was otherwise a very happy affair with around 5o mounted and the usual excellent foot support. C&WW foot followers are a great bunch who follow all day and are also very very helpful at gates.
Moving off a group of us were swiftly pulled away from the field by L, who had seen hounds changing directions and was keen to follow. We had a good run around the margins of some big arable fields, where Tivyside quizzed us on the crops.
“Errr… big leaf.”
“It’s a brassica.”
“Swede?” (hopeful tone)
“Oil seed rape?”
I work with livestock remember.
So there we were, hacking at some pace through a village when L turned to me and said “There are some nice hedges here.”
Now, sometimes my hearing isn’t that great, especially when bowling along on a road, so I asked her to repeat. She said the same thing again.
“I’ve never jumped a hedge!”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Bluey has never jumped a hedge!”
“On the FLAT”
Fortunately it didn’t come to that as we found hounds and the rest of the field. They had been for a good run around some fences, one of which was brand spanking new for the day. Our horses were sweaty and we were glad for five minutes to pass around hip flasks and catch our breath.
Crossing over onto the road we heard the cry of “Jumpers straight on, non- jumpers follow X”. I saw J hack off down the road, Bouncer feeling a fast and flat day, and L and her sister with the jumpers. The Tivyside visitor was keen for some jumping so I harnessed the power of port and sloe gin and kicked on.
The first rail was huge.
Oh my goodness it was a big one.
A footie opened the gate.
The second one… Similar.
Tivyside jumped it neatly, grey Irish draught with the sort of fifth leg and reliability that is needed for whipping in across the bogs and stone walls of the Preseli mountains. Bluey was bred for other purposes.
Through the gate and we could see L and her sister pulled up. We stopped to find out what was wrong and were told that one of the horses was bolting, and that we should kick on.
And so on we went, and the next fence had no gate and no footie. Bluey spied it on the approach and locked on. The hardest bit about jumping is always a stride or two out when you still have the option of pulling up, but are carried away on your own daring. At this point Bluey slowed to a trot, I kicked on, slipped my reins, and over he flew.
“He jumped that from a trot”
Yes, have I mentioned how much I love my horse?
Anyway the field were checked and waiting for us. I asked MFH if we had time for a quick hip flask- we did. There were more jumps ahead and I wanted all the Dutch courage I could muster.
And so onwards to the most interesting part of the day. Up to this point Tivyside’s grey, also named Blue (come on guys, having a grey horse named Blue is boring, having a ginger horse named Blue is frightfully original and edgy) had definitely had the upper hand in terms of jumping. I was envisaging him teasing Bluey all the way back to Wales about his lack of jumping prowess. And then things changed.
Bluey flew the next rail, I was showering him in praise and sneaked a look over my shoulder, seeing a big grey horse circling again for the rail. Was he going to jump it? No. Grey Blue had had enough. I pulled up and left a few riders past me and rode back to the fence. My Bluey will jump from a stand still- I suggested that he try likewise. Apparently Irish draughts do not give rails the proper respect from a stand still, and neither of us wanted to break a fence. So I jumped back over, away from the running field, to give him a lead. Still no jump.
Using some mounted games style dare devilry he found a gate and was through it an upsides me before I could pull out my hip flask. It takes me twenty minutes to get off and do a gate so I was suitably impressed.
A few more rails and we caught up with two members of the field, one of whom was having a cigarette and both of whom were appraising a nice big rail. They cracked on over it, but this time both Blues decided to stop. I was very disappointed, and we were struggling with how to get out, until a pair of footies started to move some rails and let us through. A quick gallop and we found the honorary treasurer and his fire- fighting partner, both planning a hack to a noted crossroads to find hounds. Firefighter’s father was on foot and very kindly passed over some sweets (I need to stop or this post will become some sort of ode to the C&WW foot followers).
It’s always good when a plan to find the field works out, and so we caught up with everyone; jumpers and non- jumpers alike. We cantered down a field and while some riders were looping around and through a gate, a few others were taking on a rail in the hedge line. Normally I subscribe to the belief that jumping should only be done when necessary- one of the older followers later told me that every time he jumps when he doesn’t have to something bad happens. This time I wanted to give Bluey a jump after his refusal, so I swung him around to jump. He stopped, but fortunately the former hunt chairman and the former master (referred to last season as Handsome Master by the female followers) appeared and offered me a lead. With a little vocal encouragement we flew over and slid in to the field.
A pretty big wide tiger trap. Bluey stopped, probably more because of my lack of balls than anything else. Hunt chairman was watching on foot and suggested that we go around and skirt a field margin to find the next jump, rather than join the non- jumpers and miss the fun. This we duly did, Bluey showing off his ex- racehorse credentials in eating up the turf.
And so there was another tiger trap, and here I put my hand up and admit that I committed the cardinal sin of jumping it while the gate next door was open. It was pure unadulterated showing off. Sorry.
We stopped for a while with the same two ladies as earlier, had a swig from my fast emptying hip flask and watched hounds work. They were having the best day for the new huntsman who is having a fantastic first season.
The first sign of the children approaching was a lot of happy screams, and an admonishing that facing one particular tanking pony at a hedge was not the best way to stop it. We moved off with a few of the younger riders, catching up with the whip and then the rest of the field. L’s sister and niece were hacking out second horses, and while the field was still large a number of people had called it good night.
Off we went again, and this time the jump ahead was a hedge. Eeek. I was in some sort of haze of oblivion, in the first flush of riders, with Bluey bowling along. Crusing there I could tell that he had his heart set on jumping it, and my own heart was hammering at the prospect. I was about to shout back a last witty remark to my field companions (should the attempt prove fatal) when something happened to quash that flicker of courage; legs and hooves spiralling upwards and an awful fall. Fortunately horse and rider were both okay but it was a nasty one to see and everyone went through the gate. We had a bit of a check near the road and one banterous follower asked if the Welsh contingent could find her a wealthy sheep farmer. I am keeping my eyes open and if I find one he will be posted up to Warwickshire for her.
At this stage we realised that Bluey had pulled a shoe, and that we would have to start to make for home. We followed a group around fields and out to a village near the meet, and then called good night and hacked back to the trailer.
It was probably the best day’s hunting I have had, and another reminder of how lucky I am to have Bluey, and to subscribe to the Croome and West Warwickshire.
Next week Bluey and I are heading west for our first ever side saddle meet. There is not supposed to be any jumping, but I’m hoping that that will change. Next C&WW meet is Christmas Eve, where I might be joined by my fourteen year old cousin!
Until next week, good night xxx