Clothes a little tight? 4am alarms? A desperate search for a neckstrap? This can mean only one thing...
1. You discover that actually, no, you didn’t remember to clean your tweed coat after you wore it while gate-shutting last season, and frantically scrub the worst of the encrusted mud off while panicking that you are losing precious sleep – you’ve got to be up in four hours…
2. Your alarm clock is set for 4am – and instead of pressing “snooze” repeatedly, you have actually been awake for 10 minutes and leap out of bed when it goes off as though you have been electrocuted.
3. Hunting clothes that fitted perfectly well in March are, shall we say, more than a little snug. You resign yourself to not breathing for several hours, and hope you don’t have to jump – if you do, your shirt will split across the shoulders and the button will pop off your breeches.
4. You remember why you swore you will never take a grey horse autumn hunting again. Despite being swaddled in a rug and hood, he has managed to plaster the contents of his stable – and that’s quite a lot of muck; it’s the first time he has been in at night since April and he knows perfectly well why so is quite over-excited – all over his body, neck and legs.
5. You are seriously upset when you can’t find your neckstrap. Even the most seasoned hunter feels a little jolly when he sees hounds again for the first time, and a neckstrap is effectively the same thing as putting your seatbelt on. You nick someone else’s stirrup leather and hope they aren’t planning to ride before you get back.
6. Even though you are only planning to go for two hours, you are riding the most sensible horse you have ever owned and hounds are meeting in a place where it is likely that nothing very thrilling will happen, you have serious butterflies and feel ridiculously overexcited as you drive there.
7. As hounds spill out of their lorry and the huntsman calls them together and sets off, you are truly happy. Your grin is reflected on the faces of everyone around you. We’re here again, we’re still going and we are part of the most fantastic community.
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.