H&H’s hunting editor says fond farewell to ‘the horse of my heart’ *H&H Plus*

  • H&H’s hunting editor Catherine Austen says a final goodbye to her trusty hunting partner of more than a decade...

    Molly Austen, whose expressive outlook adorns this page, went to heaven earlier this month.

    It’s strange, knowing she isn’t here any more. She wanders through my thoughts, and I can still feel the velvet of her nose and see the softness of her eyes when I fed her a bagful of carrots and apples for the last time early that morning. If I breathe in, I can still catch the familiar smell of her.

    It was perfectly planned and peacefully carried out, with the assistance of two very kind friends and the wonderful kennel staff of our hunt. I shall miss her enormously, and the past couple of weeks have been difficult.

    I am quite sure, however, that putting her down in her own field on a beautiful, sunny June morning after a two-month holiday stuffing her face with lush grass alongside her best friend, Roy, was the right thing to do.

    She was 21, and her old legs weren’t going to stand up to the sort of life she so enjoyed living – jumping and galloping at the front of the hunting field. It is up to everyone to make the best decisions they can for their horses, and each case is different. I’m sure lots of horses can retire quite happily, but I am equally as sure as I can be that she was not one of them.

    Miss Catherine Austen. The Cottesmore Hunt at Launde, Rutland, 18/1/2011

    Catherine and Molly following the Cottesmore at Launde. Credit: Nico Morgan.

    She was a horse who thrived on the exact routine and standards of a top-class yard; even in her latter years it took very little to upset her. When she was happy, she was a dream to look after, but when things weren’t exactly how she wanted them, she would box-walk, pace the fence line, stop eating and generally create havoc.

    But she was the one constant in my life for the past 13 years. She was there before boyfriends and after them – my remedy for a painful break-up was always, always to go hunting as soon as possible and as much as possible.

    She was there when I went freelance and moved out of London – my mother, having done the majority of looking after her for a number of years, was on the phone sharp-ish to ask when I was coming to get her…

    And, of course, she was my hunting partner. At first, at times, it was extraordinarily awful – I know I put her on a pedestal but my glasses are not yet completely rose-tinted – and even last season she was quite capable of being utterly infuriating.

    Being 16.2hh and blue roan meant that her tantrums never went unnoticed, but then, as an ex-boyfriend caustically pointed out, people could always say, “Oh, what a lovely colour!” when completely at a loss as how to find anything nice to say about her.

    Her kindness and affection

    However, the things I will always remember are: the first time she jumped a really big Chargy hedge with the Ledbury. The feeling she gave me when jumping a pair of locked gates as the second fence of the day with our now-home pack two seasons ago. The way she would stop messing about and stand, stock-still with ears pricked, when hounds spoke. How she forgave me endless examples of bad riding and continued to jump and gallop regardless. Her kindness and affection.

    I laugh when I think of our two trips to the Beaufort in recent seasons. On the first she almost drowned me (honestly) by taking an enormous leap into a deep river quite unnecessarily and quite contrary to instructions.

    She was totally unfazed by our near-death experience and never paused at a puddle from the moment she eventually climbed out up the bank.

    A season later, she flew over the Great Somerford hedges and behaved immaculately all day; like the sort of horse you would actually pay money for.

    It took her years to “get” autumn hunting, with its slower pace and tempo, but last season we had a lovely time, beetling off together in the dark before the rest of the yard was up. It is my view through those pricked, dark ears as the sun came up and the mists faded that I shall carry with me.

    Thank you, Molly, and please do not disgrace me with the hounds of heaven before I get there.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 18 June 2020

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