Hunting Diary: Like A Virgin*

*Hunted for the very first time…

A month or so ago I wrote a beginners hunting guide which I originally prefaced with lots of wonderful innuendos along the lines of “it might not last as long as you expect” and “if you do it incorrectly, it will hurt.” Unfortunately the editor didn’t think that such filth was suitable, and so I have saved it for you, and the intro to this particular report.

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Bluey reminding AJ who the Tivyside’s senior and most important ex racehorse is

Firstly apologies to everyone who was expecting a Croome and West Warwickshire write up last week. Bluey and I were all set to head up when the meet was cancelled due to snow. I know that C&WW write ups have been seriously lacking and that they are particularly enjoyed; believe me when I say that I miss hunting there more than you miss reading about it! Snow keeping away, we will be out on Saturday, where, if memory serves me correctly, I have a longstanding pact to jump a certain Ledbury hedge the next time I see it… Grandma J and Auntie S, I hope that you have your jumping shoes on to fulfil your side of the deal!

Saturday was the anniversary meet of my very first time hunting with the Tivyside, but I had plans in Cardiff that evening and the meet was too far away to be able to justify the drive there and back for such a short amount of riding.

And so we get to today…

I may have mentioned previously that in October E#1 took ownership of a big bay thoroughbred, three years out of racing, ten years old, and ready to take on the world as Bluey and Prince’s naughty sidekick. We had planned a few times to take him out, but injuries, loading issues, and poor weather had kept scuppering our best intentions. Finally today we both booked annual leave (Full English was working two separate grooming assignments and Christmas shopping so was unable to join us), the ice and snow stayed away, both horses presented sound and with four shoes, and so we made our way to the meet.

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AJ looking happy at the meet

Bluey and I got to the meet with no problems and I was very happy to see that the hosts had marked out a parking area with a huge CAR PARK arrow. Such hosts go straight to the massive lawn meet in the sky, where the sausage rolls are warm and gluten free and the mulled wine never ever runs out.

We were anticipating a quiet day, it being a Saturday and in the north of the country. E#1 arrived and I reeled off a list of people I knew were coming based on conversations at last Friday’s hunt party. Nice and quite we still thought. And then another trailer turned up. And another. Lorries. More foot followers. AG hacking to the meet and leading a group of women, wearing a velvet hat which D and I declared a very special, once in a season event.

Once mounted up we took AJ for a short stroll away from the overfilled car park, riding back just before hounds moved off. Our lady master was field mastering and we headed off down the road behind her, I pointed out two very exuberant cobs who were frolicking between the field master and hounds, and reassured E#1 that at least she wasn’t in that situation!

Our huntsman hopped off his horse at pretty much the first gateway (he loves a foot day so much that I sometimes want to suggest a career change to beagling) and his horse was led in front of us as the field made our way down the first farm track. LM told us kindly that if AJ wanted to avoid a narrow track with a steep slope we had permission to hack around a field and a road that would run parallel to hounds. We agreed that that would be the best idea, and after the Owen brothers manoeuvred some wire out of the way we had a steady canter along the hedge line, joined by Cee who felt that avoiding a river crossing and deep mud would be beneficial to her mare.

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I got off to do a gate, filling my boot with water in the process, and we moved off the field and on to a neat stone road. Bluey was in a very grumpy mood all day, and pulled faces at the other two as we stopped in a gateway to watch hounds. By this point our huntsman had been reunited with his horse, and was gambolling along the top of the field, near the hedge, while hounds hunted the trail beneath him and back into the woods. Seeing them moving off we pressed on, knowing that the trail would take the hounds to a point where we would meet the rest of the field.

Coming down the road Cee commented that we would be crossing the line of the hounds, and I was volunteered to apologise to the huntsman when we saw him. See him we did as he approached, cigarette burning in his mouth, kennels rescue horse making a good day of it. The field followed behind and hip flasks were passed around.

We were all standing quite close when AJ decided to take a sniff of Bluey’s stifle, and Bluey lifted a leg to warn him to not repeat the experiment. I know exactly where Bluey comes from with that behaviour, I personally find that kicking men who touch me inappropriately is also a good tactic. Tivyside was sampling hip flasks as this happened and wondered why Bluey was so grumpy-

“Oh Bluey, are you the only chestnut allowed out?”

Actually a reason that I could imagine Bluey giving..

I had my sparkly hip flask out in order to finish the blackcurrant gin I had pulled out for the bloodhounds meet. Although I have seen other sparkly hip flasks in the field, this one seems to garner particular comment, and I was most surprised that our huntsman drank from it without saying anything, or worse refusing it. It must be a sign of his incredible manliness that a bit of glitter didn’t pose any threat. Anyway the blackcurrant gin went down well, apart from Tivyside suggesting that it had some sort of tabasco sauce in it, giving it a “kick”. The hip flask was drained by the end of the day, and so far no ill effects have been reported.

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We kicked on to some lovely big fields, the younger Owen brother doing a very good job of untying baler twine to get us in and out, and showing his vaulting skills back on to his pony Cally. At one point we had a discussion, with LM asking about last week’s side saddle meet. I told her about CF’s galloping escapades, commenting that the horse she tried was “probably a man’s horse anyway.” Everyone then started to discuss this, leading to YO saying that he thought that a horse could be defined as a lady’s or a gentleman’s mount depending on what you would imagine it to be were it human. Cally, he said, would be a mad farmer. I suggested a real life person who could be her human doppelgänger, and YO agreed.

AJ was a bit fidgety so it was suggested that we take the two horses for a nice walk around the perimeter of the field, while everyone else waited for hounds. It was a very large field and it was a long walk, catching up with the rest of the field three quarters of the way around, where the huntsman was again on his feet.

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YO in charge of OO and Tivyside’s horses

E#1 pulled out some polos which got Bluey very excited- so much so that I dropped my glove while unwrapping them and had to get off to pick it up, also rescuing someone’s saddle knee pad which was also floundering in the mud. Eventually the huntsman reappeared and we headed off around the hedge line at a fast pace.

Until now Bluey has always been capable of leading the field. Bred and trained to race on the Flat, Bluey has ran circles around every field in every county he has hunted in. He has always hated heavy going, and is probably not as fit this season as he used to be, but it was with two heavy hearts that we watched AJ and the kennels rescue pull ahead of us, with the field not too far behind us. In January Bluey turns 15, and I am well aware that his hunting seasons can now probably be counted on one hand. Today was the first indication that he really is getting old, and the day that he refuses to load on a hunting morning, stops pricking his ears at the sound of hounds, and really does stop at a Croome rail, will come far sooner than I had expected. Earlier this month marked eight years since I bought Bluey from a racing yard in South Pembrokeshire, he owes me absolutely nothing, and he really has been the most faithful, eager, and loyal servant.

Back on the road we were quietly riding along when the field stopped. A few weeks ago we had a day where Little M spotted a stuck sheep, and by the time a rescue mission had been organised, it ran away. Today’s sheep was also stuck, but this one really meant it. LM got off her horse and freed the sheep, and all was well.

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LM rescuing a sheep

More unusual sights were beheld in the next field, where an exercise bike had been abandoned and was swiftly utilised by YO.

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We really do see some amazing things!

AJ had a loose shoe, and Bluey has a busy day planned for Saturday, so we called it a day, if everyone goodnight, and hacked for home, joined by AG’s gang who had left him with the Dragon Tamer.

Some skilful reversing from E#1 and we were all set to head off home.

Over Christmas we are of course heading off to the C&WW on Saturday, and will be spending Boxing Day visiting our favourite neighbours at the South Pembrokeshire. We then have a joint foot day, a visit from the Vale of Clettwr, and on NYD I think I will be heading with Side Saddle H and Full English to the extravaganza that is the Pembs/South Pembs joint meet.

All I can say now is that I hope you are all enjoying the build up to Christmas, that all hunt parties are going well, and to remind you to whip out your contributions to hunt staff, who will all be working exceptionally hard over the busiest time in the hunting calendar (albeit with a bottle in hand for some!).

Good night x

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