How many riders have experienced the elation when their horse extends mid-air over a hedge and acknowledges the hidden yawning ditch?
Unfortunately, the humiliating crashing fall often lingers longer in the memory.
Remember one thing before you follow the field master gracefully gliding over a fence suited only to Pegasus: his mount is often infinitely superior to yours. Not only that, those experienced, quality beasts have been subjected to hours of schooling.
How to jump hedges
“You soon feel whether they have got it — and you know very quickly if they haven’t! And I would never press the button on a youngster until after Christmas,” warns Rupert Nuttall, one of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale’s masters.
“Your horse must take you and attack the fence. In those last few strides, it’s not your speed that increases but the length of stride.
“And it doesn’t matter if you are a foot out on the stride pattern; what matters is you have the power beneath you to land safely over the hidden strand of wire or ditch on the far side. Don’t even think of fiddling and farting about in those last five strides.”
Joey Newton, who won Aintree’s Fox Hunter’s twice and is now the Liverpool track’s senior steward, as well as a former Belvoir master says: “The art of hedge jumping is knowing what a good take-off spot is.”
“You have to have an eye for it and understand what is inviting for the horse — often not where the fence is smallest.
“Even if you wisely choose to follow somebody who knows what they are doing, never get too close,” he warns.
Where to find the biggest hedges
The hairiest and scariest hedges are found in Dorset and Somerset. Head for the infamous Blackmore and Sparkford Vale. If you and your horse cross this challenging country successfully, you should be proud. Check for thorns when you get home.
Neighbouring packs are the Taunton Vale, Cattistock, Portman and South Dorset. The rivalry at the front of these fields is intense and there is no shortage of testosterone.
In the Shires, hedges are a little more “manicured” and the going usually better. However, they still demand a lot of respect. Head for the Quorn (pictured top), Belvoir, Fernie, Atherstone, Meynell and South Staffordshire or the Cottesmore.
In the south, the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray’s country features pockets of hedges — as does the Crawley and Horsham’s and the weald country of the Surrey Union.
Further north, the horsemanship of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynns’ thrusters is never to be underestimated. The nearby South Shropshire is also a delight to cross and, on the Welsh border, you will need to kick on to keep up with the Ledbury’s David Redvers.
This feature was originally published in H&H magazine (8 November 2012)
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