The 8 Outdoor Melton Hunt Club Ride, which takes place this Sunday (19 November), is an extraordinary test of horse and rider. It demands an extremely high level of fitness from both, as well as bravery, scope and stamina from the horse – and mental agility and planning from the rider.
Between 30 and 40 horses usually line up to race across natural Leicestershire hunting country – this year the Cottesmore Saturday country south of the Oakham-Tilton-on-the-Hill road. They will tackle hedges, hunt jumps and the odd ditch, but what makes the Melton special is that there are very few direction flags on the course, and riders must choose the line across country that best suits their horse.
Between the start and the finish of this year’s course – created by Cottesmore farmer Richard Walker – there are only seven red or white flags. This means that there are a variety of ways to tackle the three-mile track and competitors must walk the route very carefully to suss out all the options.
The course has Withcote Hall as its pivot point and there are at least two possible routes round the house. Those on fast thoroughbreds may prefer one route, which is slightly longer but only contains hedges, while those who find it easier to ‘pop’ and turn may take the twistier, shorter route through the orchard and over hunt fences.
Among those expected to be among the leaders are last year’s winners Rowan Cope and Arthur, Ollie Finnegan and Rivage D’Or, Dominic Gwyn-Jones and Another Puzzle, and a pair of former winners in Zoe Gibson and Rory Bevin.
Viewing this year will be good for spectators – the early part of the course is easily visible from the hill above fences four and five, and those at the finish will also be able to see quite a lot.
It costs £5 per car to enter, and the race starts at 12 noon. There is a hog roast and bar available, and the weather forecast is good!
The postcode is LE7 9XN, and the race will be signed from the Oakham-Tilton-on-the-Hill road.
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