Hunting Diary: A Dirty Weekend

Oh my dear reader…. Steady that breathing, put both of your hands where I can see them…. No, despite some of your requests for saucier material I’m not on about that sort of dirty…

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Photo credit Sally Robinson

So here I am writing after another absolutely cracking weekend with the Croome & West Warwickshire. Got to admit that I am feeling a little worse for wear, and parts of this weekend are a bit blurry, so bear with me.

Bluey and I headed up to the Midlands on Friday evening, arriving at the old yard at L’s. I did some trailer reversing which will have you all very proud of me, and settled Bluey in his stable. He immediately tucked in to supper and was completely unfazed; however he did live there for a year, and this season has seen him staying in a fair few new stables. I had brought a stash of crisps and houmous with me for the evening, but received a text message from L to say that they would bring me fish and chips back from the pub, and I could pick off the batter. Do you need to ask why I like these people?

Stuffed with food I spent the night being serenaded by the ducks on the pool, and kept the wood burner glowing in anticipation of a cold night- I didn’t quite expect to wake up to the sprinkling of snow and spits of sleet!

Bluey had been walking around in the mud in front of his stable in Wales, and so I pulled him out of his Croome stable to wash his legs….. And he was lame. I trotted him up to make sure- he was definitely lame. His leg was clean and I could find nothing obvious in his foot bar a big stone, so I put it down to a bruise, gave him breakfast and the day was saved by L, who offered me the ride on one of her horses, Steve.

Steve was quickly plaited and washed, tack located, and I was found a pair of cream breeches so that I didn’t have to turn up to the meet in brown breeches (for side saddle) and look an absolute mess. Fortunately I had chucked in my hard hat as well as my bowler, so we were ready to go.

J and Bouncer were the only non- hunt horse partnership out with us, and we put the horses on to the lorries and left. Not having to drive until the next day it was an ideal opportunity to regain my usual state for Croome meets- very drunk. I was pretty confident about riding Steve, but thought that a couple of ports before the meet would be beneficial. By the time J the Whip opened the bottle there was a queue of people climbing in to the lorry to share, and it was with much enthusiasm that we had our first drinks of the day.

The meet itself was held at a house and estate on the West Warwickshire side of the country, and was well attended. Port came around again and I made sure that I had a few- it was a very cold day! Everyone lined up for some photos in front of the house, and one of the MFHs called for hounds.

The hounds flew down the drive followed by field and foot followers. J had decided not to jump- it was a children’s meet as well as being a popular location, and we could anticipate some scrummage at fences. We were on the road as the field took the first fence, and there were a few stops, and some cut up ground. The first faller of the day was seen at the second fence, a classic Croome rail.

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It was odd to be riding a bay again, and to not see the world between Bluey’s ginger ears. A few people took two glances before saying hello, and there were comments about it being odd to see me riding astride.

“Yes, you have the immense privilege of seeing my legs,” I told one poor chap.

Steve was heavenly to ride, albeit different to Bluey, who is so used to me that I don’t really think about how I ride him. Steve was happiest near the front, and enjoyed being next to the Field Master.

Coming out of the park the jumping field caught up with us and we checked for a bit and passed around hip flasks. J had a wicked ginger and rhubarb concoction and there were some good raspberry liqueurs. It was great to catch up with everyone, at my last Croome visit the pace was fast and we hacked a way to the meet, so there was little opportunity to talk over a hip flask.

A dairy farming couple were out, it was his first season riding to hounds, despite having come through Pony Club. Dairy farmers are few and far between in C&WW country and they have Montbeliarde cattle and do some home processing of milk, two things which I find very interesting.

Scent was poor and the huntsman did an excellent job in limiting conditions. We moved on to a covert, full of pheasant feeders and the evidence of the estate’s keen shooting interest. The ground there can be extremely wet and boggy, but this time it was not too bad. Never the less Elomuddypuddle and her puddle- dropping pony had to pick their way around a few tempting patches!

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Steve and Bouncer at the meet, photo credit Charlene Smith

Coming out of the wood I spotted a little log and took Steve over it. He is a really good jumper and was disappointed with how small and pathetic it was!

The sleet that had fallen during the meet had stopped, but it was bitterly cold and I was very grateful that my borrowed breeches were fleece lined. Despite the weather and it being ball day the majority of the field were still out. J and I had instructions to go home around second horses as J the Whip would be retiring early, leaving the huntsman and KH with hounds.

A couple of gallop stretches warmed everyone up, and then we came to a nice ditch to pop over. As we rode down to it one of the other riders asked me what sort of crop was growing next to us. Keen readers will know that I work as a dairy consultant, and have a limited knowledge of arable crops, based on my work revolving around grass, and my having eschewed any arable- based work projects at college in favour of something or anything revolving around livestock. However I ransacked my brain and decided that it was OSR. No idea if it was or not, but she believed me.

Steve popped the ditch with no problems and we used a wide track as a reason to pull back to the front of the field. We again entered another wooded area, and hounds worked in the trees below us. Some of the chaps discussed the merits of moroccan argan oil for their hair, and debated whether or not to put in a bid at the silent auction for a range of hair care products. One of the more follically challenged followers decided that it would keep his scalp shiny if nothing else.

J and I went home at second horses. She and Bouncer caught one lorry and Steve and I hacked back with the whip and half the field to the main parking area. Finding our way back we came to a small hedge.

“Are we jumping that Mr Chairman?”

“Only if you follow me Anna.”

We didn’t.

Two of us started down a track only to find it blocked with bramble and impenetrable. Steve and Henry had to turn around on the narrow path, but neither caused any scenes and off we went, down the road and then on to an estate track.

The child followers came into their own with gates, and were rewarded with a nice uphill gallop back to the first jump of the day. Steve was faster than I was expecting and gave me a very good ride. He also allowed me to do the lying flat back trick, which impresses older people with stiffer backs and is very comfortable after ten or twelve ports….

At the lorry the whip produced a thermos flask and coffee, and insisted that I have a slug of Baileys to improve the taste… Well it would have been rude not to!

Back at the yard we unplaited horses and washed them off. The post- meet debrief over dirty saddles was always one of my favourite parts of hunting from L’s yard, and the heaters were always appreciated after a long cold day. With lots of helpers and surprisingly clean horses the work didn’t take too long- the whip even had the chance to have her hair done!

Hunt horses arrived back just as we turned out the last of the first set. I did some unplaiting and untacking and made my excuses t have a hot shower and do something with my face. My hairdryer had broken earlier that day, so I stuck some pins in my unwashed hair and fished out my dress from its carrier.

Armed with crisps we made a start on champagne and smoked salmon. There were some cocktails mixed, but given my recent alcohol related antics I decided to stick to champagne. Discussing make up L reminded everyone of my first few side saddle meets with the C&WW where I would turn up “with lipstick smeared all over your face. Oooooh we laughed.”

I reminded her that at my very first opening meet she called me a twat for riding side saddle. True story 😛

What happens at hunt balls stays at hunt balls (or at least until I write my memoirs and they are published posthumously). I will say though that we travelled there in the lorry and it was an absolute riot. I drank far more champagne than is advisable, had a brilliant time with brilliant people, and somehow ended up demonstrating that I can (almost) do the splits on the dance floor….

At 2am we were having a final port before bed.

This morning was a bit painful and I will admit that after feeding Bluey I went back to bed for a couple of hours, dosed up with tea and paracetamol. I really can’t do heavy nights like I could at 18…

I got back to Wales a few hours ago, and I think that that will be my final C&WW meet of the season. There are calls for Bluey to be permanently based in the midlands next year on hunt livery, but I think I will operate a similar system to this year of subscribing and travelling up as often as I can. The rest of this season comprises a Tivyside visit to the Cotswold, a Llandeilo Farmers side saddle meet, and possibly the Dulverton West closing meet with the Croome crew. Time willing I will attempt to have a day with the South Pembs too, but days are running out and the long summer beckons.

As always it was a brilliant weekend with my favourite English pack, and I can’t really do justice to their kindness, fun, and good sport in a write up. I’ll likely miss the opening meet because I will be in Australia, so it is going to be a long wait until November for our next outing with the wonderful hounds of the Croome and West Warwickshire.

My apologies also to anyone I harassed when drunk….

Good night x