It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was stripping down to my underwear in a lay-by in the depths of Pembrokeshire, squeezing water out of my hair after the wettest, wildest day at the Pembrokeshire Hunt’s side saddle meet. Time seems to be flying along and yesterday saw our second visit to our hard hunting neighbours, for their side saddle meet.
Earlier this week I came across my horoscope in the paper, and it advised strongly that I learn how to use the word “no”. Being a massive sufferer of both #fomo and #yolo I had to concede that it was relevant…. and face palmed at the reminder that in the preceding few days I had agreed to be signed up for a postgraduate certificate, taken on a new tutoring client, and accepted a committee invitation. I had also been persuaded by my friend and colleague Laura that it would be an excellent idea to attend the YFC Queen’s Ball on Friday night, and to stable Bluey with her and go from there to the meet on Saturday. She promised to help with plaiting, roped her sister in to make espresso martinis and act as taxi, and we invited a few of the South Pembs guys to join us.
Therefore on Friday evening I found myself driving to South Pembrokeshire country, a combination of hail and snow lashing down. Bluey is making it pretty clear that he has taken an issue to my horse box, so he was back in the cattle trailer. With him settled down for the night we had a lovely evening at the ball, seeing a fun mixture of clients, hunting chums, and friends of my brother’s who insisted on sending him Snapchat selfies of us together. I’m normally pretty good at identifying people when they are taken out of their normal context, but on Friday night I did have a “who on earth are you?” moment, and if said person is reading I would like them to make themselves known! Basically the queue to the ladies loos was very long, so two of us decided to use the men’s room instead. As we came out of the cubicle (“we identify as male, but are currently anatomically incapable of using the urinals”) a man in the doorway raised an eyebrow and said to me “What on earth are they feeding those Tivyside stallions?” He refused to identify himself, and the bar beckoned…
Sea views- last year we could see none of this!
A few weeks ago one of the Ciren girls had been in contact to say that she was coming down to try a horse at the meet. Yesterday morning she sent me a message to check that I was still attending…. and I had to admit that at that point I wasn’t sure. There were no signs of my driver, and without her help I wasn’t getting to Bluey! In the end we got there, and plaited and saddled Bluey was loaded up and I took the drive north, out of the neat fields and deep mud of the South Pembrokeshire and to the banks and bogs of the Pembrokeshire.
Parked up, I had just done up Bluey’s bridle when he spotted a red coat down the road and set off after him in a brisk trot, me hobbled alongside him by my apron and badly attached spurs. Before Bluey embarrassed me further by throwing himself on top of the huntsman a friendly looking foot follower stepped in to the road and asked if I wanted a leg up. I agreed and he then offered to give me a “real side saddle leg up”. As I mentioned last week, I’m not the best with leg ups, and I was too hungover and tired to risk a road landing, so we went for the conventional option, and he held Bluey while I took longer than usual to sort out my apron, and remembered that my left foot would be better placed in the stirrup rather than dangling uselessly at Bluey’s side.
We hacked to the meet with the hounds, joint masters, and their whip, who had also been at the ball. The Pembs swap out of their red coats and Pateys after moving off, and so my foot follower friend followed on with black coats and safety hats- but made a stop en route to help out SSH, who had forgotten Summer’s side saddle girth. It was a lawn meet with lots of mulled wine, and Bluey stayed quietly while foot followers and supporters paid him compliments and he hinted that he wanted a sandwich and a glass of wine (hinted = moving his nose dangerously close to said refreshments). My Cirencester friend arrived and her horse was looking quite fresh so we went over to stand next to him, where Bluey acted as a calming yet bitchy influence. SSH and Summer arrived, making up the side saddle contingent- hosting meets, ice, and a horse with a fat leg had kept the rest of our set at home. One of the joint masters very sweetly thanked us for making the effort to turn out, hounds were called, and we were off.
Bluey and Summer went for the front of the field, and CF came with us, her horse still looking very keen. Usually at Pembs meets there is some road work to get to the first covert, yesterday we went through the first gate with the joint master shouting back “let’s have a hoolie” and we turned left at a gallop. Bluey and Summer cruised along up front, but as we came in to the second field I could see CF becoming a larger and larger figure, crossing from my peripheral to main vision as she galloped past, calling out “Anna, I genuinely can’t stop him”. I shouted something forward and we pulled up, and a Pembs subscriber offered to take her quietly around the road to the hounds, while the field continued their plans to stage a flat race across the stubble fields. The going was quite deep, and with the C&WW meet beckoning I pulled Bluey back to a strong canter and let everyone else overtake us.
We caught up with quads and CF on the road, and we stopped for a bit to watch hounds and pass around hip flasks. A really nice Irish girl, staying in Wales while she sorted out travelling plans, came over to tell me that Bluey (who she reasonably assumed was a mare) was a “pretty pony” and that she had noticed him as soon as he had hacked in to the meet, because he had “that look about him.” Its always nice to hear lovely things about your horse, especially when visiting. Bluey made friends with her chetsnut ex racehorse, and we spent some time discussing hunting in Ireland and her agricultural work.
The field crossed into another field, bordered by the banks, wire, sparse gorse, and stone walls that are characteristic of that bleak part of the county. It was clear enough to see out to the sea, and even the Pembrokeshire regulars paused to admire it. The field master trotted around both sides of a stone wall to find a good spot- and then came back around and invited people to follow her if going through the gate was too boring. I was the first to volunteer and Bluey came up to it in a slow canter, popped over, and turned sharply left to gallop up the wall line.
Hounds were at the top of the field, working a trail laid around some gorse. The field master went for the gate and found that on the other side electric fencing connected to the mains was still very much live. With her horse handed over she sat precariously on top of the gate and made some phone calls. A little while later we pushed and pulled our way through an overgrown bridle path, she performed the same trick on a gate, and fell off. Another one for the Pembs tumbler’s club… and great entertainment for the field!
Summer after we went for a swim in a bog
We covered a lot of ground very quickly, and when we came to a rest stop in a farmyard (where beef calves and sheep wandered around freely!) I was surprised to see that it was only just past one.
Some more galloping, overgrown paths, and drinks, and we were in a field with an amazing collection of unused cars. It was really very strange to see hounds moving through a field of ghostly empty cars…
Moving on from that farm we crossed into more big open fields. With stubble and re-seeds backing on to ditches and wide margins, these fields were the closest I have seen in Wales to our old English country. I am so lucky with Bluey that he never ever pulls- we gallop in a snaffle on the buckle, and all of his speed and power comes from behind. We set off at a gallop and I felt incredibly lucky for this, I was not in a state to deal with having my arms yanked about by a strong horse.
It has been very wet recently and some of these fields showed it. After his recent shoe pulling incidents I had decided to try Bluey in over – reach boots, and I was frequently looking down to check that they were still attached.
There were a few nasty crossings involving narrow gates, and stepping down a bank, over a ditch, and then back over. Bluey was completely unfazed and we spent some time crossing backwards and forwards on the same couple of fields while hounds worked. The shouts of “huntsman please!” were frequent as he flew around behind his fleet running hounds.
When the huntsman moved hounds on SSH and I agreed to call it a day and set off for home with about half the field (it was 3.3opm and getting cold). The Pembs however had one more treat for us- a boggy patch so deep that Bluey was pretty much snorkelling through it. Summer came out half brown and half grey, but miraculously both horses had all shoes attached – Bluey had even retained his overreach boots.
It was a long relaxing hack home and Bluey enjoyed looking at some pigs and suggesting that we go in to some stubble fields. He stopped to have a drink in a muddy puddle (about as much sense with drinking as his rider) and then I got him boxed and drove him home.
The snow is falling thick and fast here right now, and there appears to be a thick blanket over the West Midlands. So at the time of writing I am not sure what will happen with hunting on Tuesday, but we will make every endeavour to go ahead with our plan to journey east of the border, to hunt with the Croome and West Warwickshire.
A huge thank you to everyone who made this weekend happen- we will be back out with the Pembrokeshire on New Year’s Day, when they will have a joint meet with the South Pembrokeshire.
Good night x