And so opening meet has been and gone! On one of the warmest October days imaginable the Tivyside hounds met in muddy conditions to kick start the 2017/18 season. Mid- October may seem particularly early for an opening meet, but to misquote Hartley, “Wales is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”
Photo credit Efa Jones
En route to hound exercise last weekend Bluey had an accident in the trailer and has flaked a chip of bone off his pastern. He is on box rest for a couple of weeks (pre x-ray I was pretty certain that he was about to make a final visit to hunt kennels) and should be back behind hounds once I am back from Australia. Being horseless I was again very kindly given the ride on Molly for the day. In the howling wind and torrential rain of Friday night she and her hunting mate Prince were pulled from the field and she was washed and mane pulled and plaited ready for the day. Being black, rugged, and hogged, Prince had a quick hose of his legs and settled in to his haylage. Molly wasn’t impressed with this.
I think I’ll write here that I bought and wore a hairnet for the occasion. Obviously I won’t be taking it back up to the C&WW lest it be ripped from my head and deposited in the mud AGAIN.
A few weeks ago the Doctor had informed E#1 and myself that the London Commuter, a chap we met at the Christmas Eve meet last season, would be out on a hireling and we were to keep an eye on him in her absence. Molly started this process by leaping and broncing towards he and his rather excited parents. At this point I hacked Molly down the road to “have words”, jogging off to her owner’s threat that “if this carries on Molly, Anna will put in you her side saddle next time.” Oh the threats. Anyway we jogged past our Lady Master and Master Death, narrowly avoided collision with foot followers and both Secretary S and Tivyside’s mother, who were weighed down with raffle tickets and cap collection buckets. What a fabulous start.
The meet was in a big field and I had no option but to circle Molly around and avoid the green- ribboned tail of a pair of visitors from the Pembrokeshire. Along with our esteemed neighbours at the Vale of Clettwr (I have to be nice because I now live just inside their country- Tivyside land starts about a mile away) we start hunting earlier than the other local packs. This meant that we had a couple of Pembs visitors, although sadly none from the South Pembrokeshire.
I didn’t count horses at the meet but there would have been around 40 out, and a lot of foot followers and supporters. We had punch at the meet (quite difficult to drink while Molly was napping back to Prince, who was whipping in and standing with the hounds). E#1 and the London Commuter arrived mid way through the meet on their hired horses, after a delay with a last minute farrier session… In true commuter-on-a-hireling style LC had no idea what his horse was named, so he had to go off and check.
“Her name is Bess.”
“That’s good, its soooooo I work in London and someone else plaited my horse to not know her name.”
And then, after a quick speech and thank yous hounds were off!
There was some major excitement (well for me anyway) when word got out that our huntsman had been busy putting up rails for opening meet. For those reading from the other side of the border this will not seem like much of a novelty, but permanent hunt jumps are an exceptionally rare sight in this part of the world, and to both go to the effort to do it, and to get landowners to agree to it, is something to be commended. Here are some of the fences, and they wouldn’t look out of place anywhere else.
M had stripped out of her waistcoat at the meet, but within ten minutes of setting off some people were already complaining of the warmth. Somehow sloe gin just doesn’t quench a thirst quite like a nice glass of water.
Our first faller of the day came as we cantered into the first field. A big dappled grey came careering past from the back of the field, and his young jockey- a visitor from the Pembs- was on the floor. He was unharmed, but one of the young Tivyside followers stated that it supported his assertion that we shouldn’t be galloping…
Hip flasks were passed around at the first check, I had brought my lime and ginger gin, but had issues with the relative sizes of my hip flask and coat pocket. Master Death had filled his with Percy Special, and there were some good sloe gins, pink gin, and port. And calls for lemonade. Next time…
Hounds clearing a rail, photo by Efa Jones
We came quite quickly to the first rail of the day. I gave it a miss as I wanted to take Molly over one of the smaller cross country fences first, and so just watched as the LC almost made an unplanned dismount. Once the field were all across or around our resident photographer turned up and suggested that people could jump back over for a photo. Everyone decided that to do so would inevitably be to tempt Providence and so our man with a camera was directed to the cross country course and to take some photographs there. At the time of writing his images have not been published, and so you are all saved the horror of again witnessing my “jumping face” as Molly hopped around the course.
Corporal Pedro and Arnie the kennels rescue making easy work of a rail. Photo as above
Keeping one eye on hounds our field master led us on a jolly around the permanent fixtures of the hunter trials course, while the non- jumpers enjoyed cigarettes and some more drinks.
Conditions were far from ideal for hounds and we had a long check watching them, while horses caught their breath and one of our followers realised half way through that her horse was pretty much standing on a fresh sheep carcass….
Molly near the end of the day, my hair making a bid for freedom. Photo credit Emma James
It was inevitable that we should head towards the hunt jumps, and so we found ourselves clearing a nice rail into a field of cows. And then back over it when hounds came through. After some time standing still Tivyside, as jumping field master, decided to take the jumpers back over the rail and around to a stubble field to have a better look at hounds.
I will say here and now that last week I was asked to compile the hunt newsletter, and to make some suggestions for content. The C&WW have long had a tradition of providing amusing write ups of every fall that happens in the field, and so I suggested that the same thing could be done in our newsletter… Everyone loves a falling-off story right?
I’m not sure if I believe in karma or not….
Molly and I cleared the rail with no problems, and as we galloped across the field I was very aware that the herd of cattle were running across us, rather fast and determined. With horses flowing through I was sure that they would stop. They didn’t. Molly spooked and stopped and I had what seemed an eternity of looking at a gap between her neck and my outstretched arm before I made a very soft landing in the mud and she ran back to the non- jumpers. Its certainly not the estate for me, as mere fields away I broke my coccyx falling off in the hunter trials back in May. And so the very first entry in the subscribers’ splat club is yours truly (if we pretend that our huntsman did not fall off in the mud out cubbing).
Some evidence of mud…
I caught Molly and got back on and we all went for a wonderful jolly over the other rails, coming out onto the road and into a village where we met D rounding up hounds.
We had a long check in a field with E#1 and M making unhelpful comments about different refreshing drinks and meals that they would like to consume. There were suggestions that we hack to the village shop, but before anything too exciting could be planned Prince reappeared, his bridle held together in baler twine after an incident with a gate…
Never underestimate the power of baler twine to save the day
It was always going to be an early day, and so we returned to the meet, jumping back over the “cow rail”, Molly doing it upsides E#2 and her horse Finn, which would have been, we agreed, a very nice photo. Sadly our photographer had retired for the day, and we would not see him until we were all back at lorries.
Blowing for home, photo cred Lyndon Harris
Back at the meet we had a debrief as a nice foot follower handed out port and ginger bread men.
“You’ve had your English day,” said the huntsman, and I have to agree. They call Pembrokeshire “the little England beyond Wales” and yesterday it certainly was.
And here I guess comes the second piece of incredibly exciting news of the season. Over the summer I was asked to invite the C&WW down for a joint meet, and so later this season they will be coming to West Wales, hounds, and horses, and riders, for what I expect will be an absolutely amazing weekend. Its a rare privilege to hunt with one pack like this, two feels close to a miracle, and to have them both together is something that I can hardly believe is happening.
After cleaning horses and tack a few of us went for some drinks in town. Opening meet is over for another year, and now we have the full season to enjoy.
Tomorrow I fly to Australia for three weeks and will therefore be taking a brief hiatus from both hunting and writing. Once I am back I have everything crossed that Bluey will be back hunting, and we shall bring you reports of the antics of the best pack of hounds in Wales, and the best pack in England.
Good night x