Hunting Diary: Go Hard or Go Home

What a weekend….. Three packs, two days’ hunting, one hunt ball, and a lot of dry cleaning. Ages ago, I agreed to go as an after dinner guest to the North Cotswold Hunt Ball, working out that it would be a pleasant evening after a day’s hunting here in Wales. Shortly afterwards I received an invitation to hunt with the Three Counties Bloodhounds, and to be mounted on a large chestnut named “The Beast.” Intrigued, and fully embracing the #yolo lifestyle, I agreed…

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Saturday started off with the Tivyside, E#1, huntsman, Little M and I hacking with hounds to the meet, which was at a cross roads in the middle of a tiny village. The meet was well supported on foot, with lots of cakes- Little M ate a good ten, and would have put more in her pockets were she not worried about her mother’s reaction to the crumbs- and big mugs of tea passed around. It was the first time I have ever been offered a mug of tea at a meet, and I’ve drank a shot of tomato soup through a side saddle veil!

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Eleven o’clock came and went and the three of us looked at each other and tried to work out who would be field master for the day… We were about to source a horse for one of the foot followers when there was a loud clatter of hooves and Tivyside, Death Master, E, and the Dragon Tamer all appeared. Little M ate some more cakes, and one of our very loyal supporters brought over her granddaughter, pointing out her “favourite horse”- a certain grumpy, orange Irish thoroughbred! She exclaimed his name but decided against coming over to stroke him, maybe a good idea as he was upset at not being offered his own cup of tea.

Hounds set off with the Dragon Tamer whipping in and E#1 called up to lead the huntsman’s horse when he had to do some foot work. The rest of us made our way down a farm track and into some woodland. It was slippery and low-branched going, and Bluey behaved well to get through side saddle. Once out on the fields we made our own fun having a gallop and jumping a few banks.

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Some excitement was caused on a farm track when Little M spotted that a sheep had got its head stuck in some wire bordering the track. Everyone riding knew enough about sheep psychology to anticipate what would happen next…. Tivyside elected to be gentleman and get off to free the sheep. Once he had dismounted, handed his horse to E, and clambered over the outer line of wire (with directions from Little M on which part would be the best to climb) the sheep took one look at him and decided that returning to her flock mates would be infinitely preferable to being “rescued” by Tivyside. She galloped off into the distance and we were back on our way to follow hounds.

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Sheep rescue- sheep on the right hand side of the photo, running away from our joint master

We had a check in a field overlooking the woods where the huntsman was working his hounds. E#1 could be seen on a track on the other side of the valley, mounted on Arnie and holding on to Jack. She had an exciting day trying to ride and lead the naughty horses! Master Death got out his Percy Special and some cigarettes and underwent a question and answer session on his job- as his name may suggest, he is an undertaker. He offered me a mint, and I leant over to give it to Bluey, who was very grateful.

Five minutes later we thought that the field was moving on- but it was just the appearance of the Dragon Tamer that had sent Master Death’s horse rushing over for a reunion with his stablemate Prince. Coaxed apart, we went for another gallop and a jump.

There are certain tracts of country that were never designed to be crossed side saddle. In order to maintain my reputation as the maddest, baddest sideways rider in the west I have to regularly test myself in these areas. And so we pushed and pulled our way over and around branches, up and down slopes, with Little M ripping her boot on a gate post and all of us coming out covered in the green smears of disturbed moss.

Once out we caught up with E#1 and some of the foot followers. Bluey and I went with her on a mission to find a terrier man, at which point we saw that Bluey had half pulled one of his shoes off. A little amateur farriery saw the shoe off completely, and I bid goodnight, hacking home with a shoe in my hand.

I had a bit of work to do to make myself look presentable…

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The cloakroom was manned by our huntsman’s sister and her husband, who acts as the Tivyside’s visiting papparazzo

We were home and in bed just before 4am, and at 7 my alarm was ironically singing REM’s “Shiny Happy People.” Time to throw on my breeches and drive back to Wales…

While I’m quite happy to hunt with strangers and make friends along the way, its always good to have company, and so I was very very happy a week or so ago to find out that Side Saddle H had decided that she needed a day with the bloodhounds, and had pencilled in this meet. She got to the car park before my horse, and so I helped her get the lovely Summer ready- Summer was very very excited about the prospect of hunting, and it was with some difficulty that we got her over girth fastened!

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The joint masters of the bloodhounds had kindly offered me their chestnut gelding, The Beast. Before the meet I was given a briefing on his likes and dislikes, but as someone pointed out to me, a 17hh warmblood was unlikely to care very much what a flea like me thought!

He came off the lorry and was… Huge. Enormous. Most of my borrowed horses are pony sized. He towered above me, and once I shortened the stirrups to accommodate my stumpy legs there was zero prospect of mounting from the ground. Due to being a very heavy teenager I never really learnt to master leg ups. In more recent years I’ve had a number while playing polo, or on to Bluey. Polo ponies and Bluey are however rather small- and so it was going to be some task to toss me up onto The Beast’s back. my leg up was a little too enthusiastic, and for a moment I clung to The Beast’s neck, determined that I didn’t want to do an impression of an inelegant high jump, but on to concrete.

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Summer and SSH on the beach

The first run for the hounds was on the beach, and I was duly informed that for the past two seasons The Beast had succeeded in dislodging the MBH into the sand. Used to Bluey’s pony nippiness and racehorse acceleration it was a little odd to perch high on The Beast’s back and let him cruise along across the sand- like driving a very fast 4×4 after years of a sports car. Upsides us Summer was galloping fast, jumping a stream rather than getting wet crossing it, and probably setting a new speed record for side saddle!

Off the beach we mad our way over some pebbles and up onto the farm tracks and grass that would make up the rest of the day. The field were warned to stay away from the Beast’s giant feet if they wanted to stay clean, but sadly I didn’t manage it myself, and by the end of the first line was covered head to toe in splashes of mud.

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There was a lot of laughter in one field as a girl on a coloured pony got off to do a gate and the whole thing fell on her. Another follower went to her rescue- only to fail to kick out his stirrups and to find himself hanging by his foot! Boot released he helped lean the gate up against the hedge, and a short while later we were on our way again!

Bloodhounds hunt in short sharp bursts, checking to allow the human runner to lay a new line. I was slightly concerned to have pointed out to me all the lines where The Beast had previously bolted or forced his rider to make an involuntary dismount. I can confirm that I stayed in the plate all day, which was lucky as I doubt I would have been able to get back on!

There were some terrific views from the top looking out over the sea, and some rather excellent galloping tracks! The rain stayed away for once, it was one of the fastest days I have ridden at, and as we made a long hack home (we had covered a LOT of ground) Side Saddle H and I watched the sea turn red in the sunset. Such a perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

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To finish off we took the horses to wash off in the sea- the tide was right in. Then we loaded up, some of the riders went to the pub, and I made my final drive of the weekend- home!

A huge thank you to the joint masters of the Three Counties Bloodhounds for their extremely kind invitation to hunt with them, and for not only letting me ride The Beast, but for turning him out to an incredibly high standard. Thanks to Side Saddle H for her company and for setting the bar high for Tivyside side saddle ladies!

Next weekend Bluey and I will head to our mighty neighbours at the Pembrokeshire for their side saddle meet, and the following Tuesday we plan to make the long journey to our English pack at the Croome and West Warwickshire.

Happy hunting and good night x

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