Happy New Year!
Apologies for the silence over the New Year, I missed both NYE and NYD meets and slinked off down to Dulverton for a house party. Oh yes, and I was kept busy as the final Country Life frontispiece of the year. Its a bit ghastly to boast about such things, but as I spent the first eighteen years of my life having boys murmur “f**k, you’re ugly” as they passed me in the corridor, I feel like waving this around is acceptable (at least for this week).
Hunting plans over the New Year were a bit messed up and so I found myself flipping through my earlier hunting plans, and finding that for the 7th January I had pencilled in “visit the Llandeilo Farmers.” And so reader, I picked up my phone, and arranged that.
Now earlier this season I made plans to visit the Tivyside, and had sufficient time to write to the secretary and wait for her response by e-mail. With less than a week to go, and the holidays still interfering with post, AND a lack of address for said secretary, I messaged the hunt’s Facebook page and asked if I could join them.
I received a response in the affirmative, and then the line Are you the mad side saddle lady X has told me about? Oh dear…. I let the side down by admitting that I was not going to be out aside, but confirmed that I am indeed the side saddle girl who could do with some Sedalin most of the time.
Last night was spent putting 25 plaits in Bluey’s ever growing mane. It desperately needs a pull, but he has a low tolerance for interference, and I haven’t wanted to risk my (healing) toe with his dancing hooves- I take enough of a risk every time I take a brush near him. Having not been out since Boxing Day Bluey was very keen to get into the box, and so I set my satnav for the meet, and hoped that my thermals would keep out the cold of the mountains.
The Llandeilo Farmers hunt in the north of Carmarthenshire, bordering the Carms, the Cwrt Y Cadno, and the Towy and Cothi. There’s is a country of sheep farms, woodland, and the gorse and bracken of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Sweeping down the Towy Valley there are dairy farms as they meet the Carmarthenshire, but today’s meet was in the north of the county, about an hour’s drive from my house.
This part of Carmarthenshire is what visitors to Wales expect to find; it is beautiful, and sometimes bleak, and there are countless jokes about men that are men, and sheep that are scared. Bar a joint meet with the Towy and Cothi eight or nine years ago, I had never hunted with them until today, but had heard many good reports about a friendly field, good houndwork, and a fondness for finding jumps to keep the mounted followers happy.
Some of you (well, okay, the dog walker who witnessed my full scale panic at trying to manoeuvre into the car park at the Tivyside’s Boxing Day meet) will be aware that I am not the best at driving, particularly reversing, especially with a trailer. So the day did not get off to a good start when I swung around into the drive of the meet, attempted to buzz through the electric gate, had no answer, and then found a message on Facebook saying that the location had been changed. This season I have unashamedly batted my eyelashes at some man in a red coat every time I have needed help reversing (or, in their absence, begged the help of a dog walker). Today, I managed it myself, and off we went again to the new location, finding a nice big lay by to park in, and opening an emergency Diet Coke.
The morning had been misty as I left the lowlands, here it was clear enough, but the mountains on the horizon were obscured, and rain threatened all day.
There was a small field of eight riders, huntsman, and Field Master. One lady hacked down on a young Connemara gelding, and I was pleased to see the familiar face of side saddle T and her son. I was given a very warm welcome as a visitor, and thanked for my efforts with Bluey’s plaits. Bluey himself was very relaxed, without a crowd of foot followers at the meet he has no-one to show off in front. Either that, or his birthday (he is now 14) and my warning that we were “visitors, not guests, so you better behave” had made themselves felt.
We set off down a small road, hounds taking up the trail in some woodland below us. Hip flasks were passed around, and T’s son kept everybody amused discussing the legalities of consuming alcohol under the age of eighteen. The views as we turned towards the mountain; and the Iron Age fortress, were spectacular, even through a sheet of swirling mist. At the edge of the National Park the hills here seem trappier and less wild than the open bleakness of the Preselis.
Coming off road we headed at a brisk canter up a bridleway, hounds still moving through the bramble of the woodland. There was a warning that the bridleway was riddled with gates, and I was glad to be out astride, as side saddle one becomes a bit of a liability, not being able to get on and off for gates.
For those of you who care (all of you, of course) my broken toe is a lot better, especially now that last week’s cold snap has thawed (I suspect that I am going to spend the rest of my life complaining about it when the weather is cold). In fact, it was feeling so good today that i forgot that it is broken, and slid off Bluey as normal to get a gate. Throwing my reins at T’s son I knew that I had made a bit of a mistake, and the next dismount I continued with a one-legged dismount. Managed to get back on off the ground though, and Bluey behaved as he was led off the Field Master’s horse, although he did not like being referred to as a “pony”.
Once out of the woods there were more amazing views across the Black Mountains; I brought Bluey up there over the summer, and on a clear day there are few places that can beat it.
Everyone was relieved to see that a few gates had been propped open, and so we moved onto fields, owned by the lady who had hacked to the meet on the lovely Connemara.
She had some jumps set up, and Bluey disgraced himself by refusing several of them on the basis that they were show jumps rather than hunt fences. However I got off lightly, as T’s horse, the aptly named Diva, decided to lie down. Most of us in the field (myself included) had a similar tale to tell, but Diva was placed in the day’s naughty book!
While we waited for hounds we had a good strong gallop up some fields. Bluey was working well, and calls made earlier in the season for him to make a racing comeback in a side saddle jaunt are now being seriously considered. Some of the other side saddle ladies are hard at work convincing various committees that certain Welsh point to points could be livened up with some side saddle racing.
Our hostess had very kindly laid out a course of low brush fences around one of her fields. Bluey had a lot of fun zooming around them, and we then lined up as a whole field to take on the widest one together. I rarely jump upsides anyone, and Bluey got a little bit competitive, prompting questions about his “steeplechasing” past.
Having got most of the excitement out of the horses we hacked home quietly, along the edge of the common land that holds the fortress. The rain, that had threatened all day, had come in and started to fall. I bid the field good night, looking forward to the side saddle meet that they are hosting later in the season.
All in all it was a lovely meet to start the new year, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what the Llandeilo put out for their side saddle meet! Not sure what will be happening next weekend, but right now Bluey needs his rug changing, and I need to get ready for a romantic date with my favourite girl from Gloucestershire (courtesy of my brother, which sort of makes up for his New Year’s message to me; Happy New Year Bow, better get yourself under a 5/10 man you slag, because you’ll never find a 9/10 man like your brother. Arrogance is clearly a family trait).
Until then, happy hunting, and good night x