On Saturday Bluey and I headed west, ploughing through the mist and the rain to attend a side saddle meet, by the very kind invitation of the Pembrokeshire Hunt. It was one of those truly hideous grey days when even the keenest hunter rolls over in bed, listens to the rain, and really thinks about how much nicer it would be to spend the day indoors. Fear not though reader, there was no way that we were missing our first ever side saddle meet.
What’s that, you say? FIRST side saddle meet. That’s right guys, until Saturday I had not attended an arranged side saddle meet.
The thing about side saddle meets is that they are… Smart. Everyone is wearing a top hat and has a nice cane and has spent more than twenty minutes cleaning their habit. In contrast I almost always have port running down my sleeve, find a bit of mud on my saddle as I jump on, and make an effort with make up and then find it all smeared across my face. To get over the first fence I normally need a few drinks, and so at the meet you can normally find me very tipsily telling an “amusing” anecdote about someone offering to “pay me in kind” for painting kennels, or something else inappropriate and vulgar. People with small children do not come and say hello, they want to speak to pretty ladies sweetly nibbling sausage rolls, not someone with a loud braying voice who thinks that “sausage roll” can be a hilarious euphemism.
My worries about being uncouth were confirmed when the night before, as I plaited Bluey’s tail (not going to lie, my tail plaits are coming along very nicely) I received a text from Tivyside (yes, that guy from last week who’s horse wouldn’t jump). It read Anna, please try to not be the scruffiest person there.
That was traumatic.
Getting to the meet was a bit tricky as there was no parking. I am the world’s worst driver, and the sight of me flying around in a 4×4 and a big cattle box is enough to frighten anybody. Fortunately, after a few trips around the block I found a lay-by, and slid to a stop. With Bluey tacked up and a decent amount of time before I needed to hack to the meet I sent a message declaring my presence and waited in my seat for the rest of the lorries and boxes to arrive.
It was a long wait.
Now, at meets at pubs its common sense to have a quick loo stop before mounting up. Nobody wants to lose the field while squatting behind a gorse bush. With the meet miles away and the rain lashing down outside I decided to (I can’t believe I’m writing this) have a wee in the trailer. Apologising to Bluey, I heard a car approaching. There was no sound of a trailer but it seemed to be slowing down…
Oh gosh the embarrassment.
So I had parked in a lay-by, and had pulled forward to leave enough room for the gate behind to open. The shepherd who owned the field decided that 10am on this horrid Saturday morning was the time to come and tend his flock. Seeing a truck and trailer parked, sans driver, in the lay-by he got a bit concerned and thought that he ought to check….
“Are you alright?”
“Oh yes, yes fine, I hope its okay to park here, the gate will open I checked, meet is up at x, and we were told to park along this road….”
I’m hoping that my gibbering and smeared red lipstick distracted from the fact that I was very hurriedly tucking my billowing white shirt (BHS, boys section, RIP) into my breeches.
On second thoughts he probably thought that I had someone else in the back with me.
Anyway, there is reason #76829 why I will never be a classy, elegant, side saddle lady. Shall we get on with the day?
So the side saddle ladies tacked up, at this stage there were three of us, escorted by T’s son on a gorgeous ex- racehorse named Woolly. You know that I have a thing for little throroughbreds, and I have to say that he was definitely my type; small and pretty and sharp.
We were running a tad late so we trotted down to the meet, not passing many horses or trailers on the way. The vile weather definitely put people off, and I can’t really blame them.
At the meet we found the other two aside riders; two young girls who were sensibly wearing waterproof coats over their habits. Stirrup cup was an absolutely excellent mulled wine. There were fourteen mounted and a huge number of foot followers.
The day was.. Wet.
We covered a beautiful part of Pembrokeshire, not far from the coast and composed of a mixture of arable and grassland farms. Hedges here are sparse and low, there are banks and a lot of wire. Gorse grows in abundance, and the roads are winding and full of tourists in the summer. The mist was low and in a field of fodder beet we could barely see the hounds running. H’s horse is afraid of dogs and hounds, and so had a few frights from hounds popping out of the mist.
The flat open fields meant that we had some really good fast work, the ponies leading for quite a bit of the time. The Pembs joint masters and regular followers were incredibly warm and welcoming, and all impeccably turned out. They were also very prepared for the weather and almost all had donned waterproof white over- breeches.
For a while we were quite smug in our habits, but this soon waned when the rain soaked through our coats.
Not long into the day one of the young girls was kicked and went home. She was fine but it wasn’t a pleasant occasion. One of the joint MFHs escorted her and T and her son back to the lorry- the Pembs really were the most considerate of hosts.
Although it had been raining steadily overnight, none of us seemed to have really noticed how wet it was until we rode through a gateway and found ourselves girth- deep in water. Coming out and galloping up, we pulled up and had a very welcome hip flask break.
The day continued with sharp gallops and muddy fields. Hounds were working well and we scrambled over some small Pembs banks, but there was no jumping. Bluey decided to remedy that when we hacked along a very narrow path between two gorse hedges, and jumped a low branch or large stone. There were some sighs of relief when we got out onto the road; the path was narrow and our riding through it brought up clouds of perfume from crushed needles.
H and I hacked home around 2pm. Her mare had made excellent progress with her canine phobia and generally kept standards high with her behaviour and carriage. Bluey of course careered around with his nose stuck out… That is not going to change. He did make a fan in the field who thought that he was pretty- easy enough to think when you don’t have to wash the little bugger down afterwards (he kicks).
I said goodnight (Bluey didn’t want to leave his friend so I dismounted at H’s lorry and led him back t my box) and then untacked Bluey and sorted him out. Under my habit my shirt was so wet it was see- through, so, keeping a careful eye out for sheep farmers and dodgy terrier men, I stripped out of it and pulled on my coat. Managed to get the heating to work in the car too. Excellent.
So that was our day with the Pembrokeshire! Not the longest of write ups as I have lost some of the detail over the last few days, but what a wonderful welcome we had from the Pembs. A huge thank you to them all for the very kind invitation and for looking after us so well in the field. Especial thanks to the joint MFHs, and also to the quad bike followers who gave directions, opened gates, and kept us entertained.
Next week I’m back in Pembrokeshire, but will be somewhere up a mountain with the Tivyside…. Bluey is having a week off and I’m borrowing something…
Until then… Good night! x