My First Hunt
by Mari Edmondson
If someone mentioned Fox Hunting, all I could picture was a scene from the PBS series Downton Abbey. It never occurred to me that Fox Hunting was practiced so close to home. I knew it was a tradition in other countries and on the East Coast, but Southern California?
Late April of 2016, I made arrangements with Meg and Ted, landowners, to ride their daughter’s horse Comanche. (I like to call him Bob.) I found I was given the opportunity to ride a very unique horse. Don’t be mistaken by his cute appearance, Bob is a lot of horse. Strong, powerful, spirited, and wicked smart. Normally, we would be out by ourselves on countless acres of land and rarely did we ride with other horses. On occasion other horses were around but they were only there when cattle needed to be worked.
November 16, 2016 was opening day of Hunting. The day before Meg asked me if I was going to be around for Opening Hunt. “Opening Hunt?” I asked. “What’s that? When is it?” She started out by saying...“it’s tomorrow” then proceeded to explain the rest. I was fascinated by what she was telling me. She noticed my excitement and asked, “Do you want to join the Hunt?” I said “Hell Yes!” before thinking what I was getting Bob and myself into. I had nothing. No hunting attire, no English saddle, no hunt bridle—nothing. All I had was Bob. Meg became our “Fairy God Mother.” She dressed us from tip to tail. Surprisingly everything fit! Figure that! By opening day, 24 hours later, she transformed the ranch horse and the rider into what appeared to be royalty. Meg patted Bob and me on the head and said: “Have a good ride!”
Bob was blown away by the amount of new horses. The sounds and the excitement had him in a trance. He felt like a big ball of electricity under the saddle. My eyes were as big as banjos, and I felt like a doe in the headlights. I had no idea what to expect and neither did Bob.
At first, when talking to Meg, I was concerned. I explained that jumping was not in the cards for Bob or me. She assured me - no worries. There are three fields. First field jumps the coops and stays up with the Hunt Master and hounds. Second field keeps up with the Hunt Master and hounds but goes through gates with no jumping. Third field is slower. It’s perfect for people new to the Hunt and for those who want to walk and trot. That was my field for sure.
I was assigned to the Third Field. My Field Master was Clarice. I stayed close to Clarice so she would coach me on what to do. She explained to me where I needed to position myself with regards to her. No one is to pass the Field Master. She made sure I knew to keep my voice down so we could hear the cries of the hounds. I felt so welcome by the other riders despite Bob’s respectful but rambunctious nature and my naïveté. If Bob had his way we’d be in first field, but I am choosing to keep us right where we are. Third field is an ideal speed for me – for now.
My first Hunt was thrilling – a fun and memorable experience. I love the traditional aspect of Fox Hunting. Having a dress code keeps us looking like a unit. The colors that different riders wear tells us who holds what rank. There are formal hunts and informal hunts. Informal hunts keep things a little bit more casual. It’s not unlike golf; you must wear certain attire to be allowed on the course.
I would highly recommend this sport to anyone who rides, regardless of their discipline. This is a great outlet for horses ridden primarily in the arena. Horses are designed to move out and instinctively move as a herd. Being penned up and confined to a small space can make them cranky and naughty. Hunting is sort of like a controlled recess. The horses get to move in wide open spaces, see and smell the landscape, hang out with other horses, and maybe even see some wildlife or cows. These are things most horses today never experience. Let’s not forget the social element of Fox Hunting. This is an awesome group of people to hang out with. After a few hours of riding and everyone is back, savory and sweet refreshments are served. What a great way to socialize and get to know fellow riders. It’s also a rewarding sight to see your horse tied to the trailer and happy to be your friend.
We now have several hunts under our belts and Bob and I are starting to get the hang of it. I look at us when we move out as a group; we look so uniform and regal. If I didn’t know any better, we could easily be royalty hunting on the lands of Downton Abby.