Whoever thought I could get excited about hound exercise? In my former, pre-ban thrusting youth, I rather dismissed hound exercise as mundane as, well, walking the dog. But in my late 30s, and with a horse that isn’t yet fit for the hunting field — certainly not mentally — a quiet trot round the lanes is about as much excitement as we both can handle.
Never mind that I happened to have a houseful of 20 guests staying at my parents’ house besides my four sprogs’ gaping mouths to feed and water, when my new horse nanny Lizzie suggested Fizz was ready for an outing, nothing was going to stop me. Hound exercise also fits in sweetly with my mad routine, being all done and dusted by 7.30am, leaving me quite enough time to fry up the bacon and eggs for the guests’ breakfast (I’m joking — they’re lucky if they get Coco Pops).
Lizzie texted me late the night before: “Have you got hacking jacket, shirt and tie?”
“I have absolutely nothing — it’s at home in Berkshire, and mouldy.”
“Oh sh*t… I have jods you can borrow, spare hacking jacket. Can you sort out shirt and tie? And boots?”
“No, just chaps.”
“Ok. Be on the yard at 5.15am so we can kit you out. You’re going to look like Orphan Annie.”
In a quick rifle through my dad’s wardrobe, I selected a (vast) Charles Tyrwhitt check shirt and a Hermès tie, which I felt offset the Orphan Annie vibe.
We got on the horses at 6am, Fizz’s tail bedecked in red and green ribbons, feeling thoroughly virtuous. Occasional early risers always do. Fizz was a delight to hack over to meet hounds, and I smugly felt — despite the Hermès tie now sporting some grass slime — that our switch from eventing to hunting was going to be seamless. The early September sun was rising over misty water meadows, Fizz had been tamed into a docile veteran and everything was well with the world.
When hounds first appeared, Fizz stood quite still, taking it all in wisely and serenely. I was thinking, “mission accomplished, here endeth the blog”. But then a crescendo of clattering hooves signalled the arrival of the followers and all hell broke loose.
“NECKSTRAP!!!” I shouted to myself, as I realised I had broken Catherine the hunting editor’s first commandment, and Fizz lurched into her own blend of stamping, striking and arching her back.
“Let’s keep our distance,” suggested Lizzie, watching Fizz’s flailing legs, as my cramping fingers tightened round lathered reins.
So on we went, trotting and snorting 50 metres behind the party, with me desperately tugging and bobbling around in the saddle.
After about 15 minutes, my insufficiently prepared core proved no match for Fizz’s yawing and launching, which was now being punctuated by bunny-hops.
“I don’t think I’m strong enough for this yet — she’s getting worse,” I told Lizzie.
“If you leave now, you’ll have achieved nothing,” Lizzie retorted, so I didn’t.
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Mercifully, the huntsman soon steered away from our yard, and I had the excuse of returning to the fictitious breakfast stove, and we began the jig-jog hack home.
In this second incarnation of my equestrian “career”, I have discovered that hound exercise is far from mundane — in fact it’s too hot to handle. And after the merest glimpse of a hound, Fizz’s road to the hunting field is looking very long indeed.
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