Someone asked me the other day if my quest to get my flighty old mare hunting had been aborted due to her over-enthusiasm. Or perhaps she’d thrown me off and it wouldn’t have made for very salutary reading.
In fact, almost the opposite is true. After my dismal experience on hound exercise, where the intended reconnaissance with hounds lasted just seven minutes, I’ll admit I hadn’t been rushing to reassemble my Orphan Annie outfit for an autumn hunting escapade. I do realise the cap at this time of year is fantastically cheap, but paying even £15 to be demoralised, dejected and possibly decapitated in under 10 minutes wasn’t appealing to me as a bargain. Plus I live three hours away from Fizz’s current residence, and the M4-M25-A12 trajectory on a Friday night is rarely worth it.
Wonderful Lizzie, my horse-nanny, had enlisted Wonderful Mel to keep Fizz ticking over during the week — or more accurately, to keep Fizz from boiling over during the weekend. And they’d changed her bit to a three-ring gag in an effort to curb her yawing.
And so the time had probably come to put the old girl to the test. This time, I had my own shirt, stock and jodhpurs — albeit a bit holey from a decade in the cellar and still reeking of mould despite various bicarbonate of soda treatments. Lizzie found me a jacket, still missing a button, and generously washed the pony — despite the likelihood that by the time I’d hacked over to the meet Fizz would be a lathery mess. But when we stepped out of the yard in the semi-darkness, we almost looked smart.
I was not going to let Fizz lull me into a false sense of security this time. My previous experiences had taught me that however peaceful the ride over, however stunning the misty dawn and however happy I was to be back on a horse on a glorious autumn morning, there could still be a caged bull-creature waiting to erupt beneath my saddle.
As we turned into the meet, hounds were milling around the huntsman, Joe Tesseyman. Fizz’s little ears pricked sharply and I readied myself for the ejector seat. Heels down, shoulders back, NECKSTRAAAAAP! I cursed, as I remembered I’d broken the hunting editor’s commandment yet again. How could I have forgotten it after last time?
But as it happened, I didn’t need it. Fizz fixed her bright eyes on the hounds, and stood like a rock. I backed her into a hedge as they moved off, where her hindlegs could do no damage, and waited for a delayed reaction. None.
And so it went on. We stood, we cantered, we walked, trotted and stood again. We lined up around fields, with and without other horses. Fizz was virtually angelic, watching earnestly as the hounds worked to pick up a scent on a warm October morning. She seemed genuinely fascinated by their skills.
‘I was thinking, “mission accomplished, here endeth the
The only testing point was as the field lined up to negotiate a small ditch, which proved quite beyond her patience levels and so I cantered away and round the field through a gateway.
I wouldn’t say we’ve cracked it quite yet — we’ve yet to jump a twig, and her jumping ability is one of the motivations for taking her hunting. The un-negotiated ditch doesn’t bode particularly well. But then when I think how well she’s settled in so few outings, I’m up for the next phase of the challenge.
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