For a long time, He and I were both without our own horses while we lived in the city. This meant that we hunted wherever there were spare horses — which, for the greater part of our relationship, meant we had a handful of days with His local hunt. I longed for us to have a day out with the pack local to where I grew up — a fantastically friendly hunt, with the most beautiful and varied country — but it never seemed to come together.
Fortunately for us, one season a kind contact from the hunt said they had a couple of horses spare that weekend and we could go for a day’s hunting. Obviously we jumped at the chance, clearing the diary and booking train tickets as soon as we could. Even better, it was around the time of another years’ anniversary! (Given our previous track records of horsey-anniversaries, I should have been more cautious…)
It wasn’t until a few days before that we realised we didn’t have any kit. Thankfully, I still had a hunt coat on long-term loan, but His trusty third-hand tweed hacking jacket had finally given up the ghost a few weeks before (not that I was particularly sad to see it go as it had been increasingly hard to tell if it had started life beige or green…).
A few calls later and the problem was solved, as a kind family friend had dug out their husband’s hunt coat, which was in remarkable condition considering it had been retired for a number of seasons. Leaving Him to collect the coat and try it on, I thought nothing more of it when he remarked “what a good fit it was” and “how nice its fancy buttons” were.
It wasn’t until I was loading the stuff into the car on the morning of the meet that I gasped in horror — the “fancy buttons” were in fact the hunt buttons awarded by the hunt we were visiting. As hunting etiquette goes, this must have been quite a clanger — nothing like a visitor turning up for the first time wearing said hunt’s much coveted hunt buttons…?!
After hours of scrubbing and cleaning, the horses were tacked up and ready to go — it was time to load up and head to the meet. Like any sensible horse wanting to test an unfamiliar rider, His mount decided to make sure He was paying attention. After hesitating for a moment on the ramp, the horse reversed backwards off the slope. This would have been fine if He hadn’t been distracted, but His laxity meant that the lead rope was pulled from His hands. Leaping up an 8ft bank in two strides, His mount then galloped triumphantly through the open gate and back into his field.
The once-gleaming tack and horse were soon covered in mud-splatters. Satisfied that he had taught horsey-boyf a lesson for not paying attention, the hunter mercifully chose not roll, instead waiting patiently for Him to dash across the field (also acquiring numerous mud-splatters all over his previously spotless kit). Reassured that his rider was now paying attention and could be trusted to guide them both safely through the day, the horse trotted up the ramp first time of asking as quietly as lamb — just much more ‘skewbald’ than before!
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My hopes of turning up to the meet looking smart and glamourous pair were pretty dashed by this point. I now just hoped we wouldn’t make the wrong impression, with Him flaunting (unearned) hunt buttons on a grey temporarily masquerading as a ‘coloured’ horse!
Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everybody was incredibly welcoming and we had a brilliant day. Mercifully for Him it was rather soggy, so He and his mount blended in with the rest of the field after the first gallop. Both our horses really looked after us, and after their earlier “miscommunication”, He and his mount were getting on well — enough so for the seasoned veteran to look after Him over some rails. As for the hunt buttons, everyone was very kind and either didn’t notice or didn’t care — in fact, I think He had found them to be a rather good conversation starter!