It’s the time of year when living in the country feels a bit like living in a Christmas card, in between the downpours anyway.
Pheasants strut along the hedgerows. Deer ping across the bridleways. Holly, mistletoe, Christmas trees in the wild, etc. We’ve had no snow down south yet, but the hunts are in full swing so we have our picturesque Boxing Day meets to look forward to.
My own skirmish with hunting was short and sweet. Coming from a pony-less family, I did not hunt as a child and when we moved down here and I bought my mare, I knew that she was a bit of a loony out hunting so I was never tempted.
It was just a few years ago, post-ban, when my middle daughter had a lovely New Forest mare who was very mild mannered and had hunted extensively, that I decided it was now or never.
So my youngest and I set out for the meet, both of us first-timers but she, at just six-years-old, the more obvious greenhorn of the two of us.
She was determined to go off the lead-rein on her little grey (at this point the more health and safety conscious among you might wonder what on earth I was thinking letting her fly solo first time out. The hunting people will be thinking: “She didn’t go off the lead-rein until she was SIX?! I was flying hedges at two-and-a-half!” etc. Since the pony she was on had vastly more experience than either of us, it just seemed sensible to put him in charge).
She asked me what to do if she couldn’t stop so I told her to circle, and on no account to go ahead of anyone in a red coat, which was pretty much the extent of my knowledge of hunting etiquette.
She was absolutely fine. My own mare set off beautifully and all seemed to be going well. But as the morning progressed she, who had whipped-in for the whole of the previous season with a hunt up north, got increasingly frustrated at being near the back of the field. She developed a vertical bounce that was increasing steadily in height, as though she was on a trampoline. I was hanging on like grim death.
A couple of hours in, my daughter decided you could have too much of a good thing. “Mum,” she said, “I’m a bit tired. Could I go on the lead-rein now?” I replied: “I don’t” (bounce) “think” (bounce) “that’s a very” (bounce) “good idea”, I said. “Maybe we should head for home instead,” I suggested.
So, with both of us having survived our first outing pretty much in one piece, off we went a couple of weeks later to a local children’s meet.
This time I thought I was doing really well. I had no idea what was going on, but the mare had recovered her manners. I managed to keep up with the field quite happily and to me as a happy hacker, it all felt pretty fast and furious. Go me! I thought, taking up hunting at my age!
Then I started to notice that a gaggle of small children, all a bit ashen faced due to the unexpected turn of speed their normally lazy, hairy little ponies had developed in the excitement, had gathered around me as though around the Pied Piper. “Is everything ok?” I asked. “Please can we stay with you?” said their ringleader. “You’re so nice and slow and steady.”
I had a handful more outings but my heart wasn’t really in it. And then we sold the pony, so that was that. My daughters, however, have had some wonderful days out, watched wistfully by me from afar and looked after by proper hunting friends.