The other day I posted a photo of myself on horseback
So many people commented on that photo or simply ‘liked’ it, that I took a second look. I posted it originally because it is sometimes enjoyable for me to see how I looked in those days with a trim figure and youthful features. Life was good. But there is more to that photo than just me. Foxhunting is a sport that requires guts. When I began seriously hunting in the 1960s no one was asked to sign a waiver saying they wouldn’t sue a landowner. That was because no one ever sued a landowner. That would have been considered poor form. Foxhunting is risky. And those who hunted knew that. There are no guarantees of safety. No one can do it for you. You ride the horse. You are solely responsible for your riding. The horse is important. A good horse is a must. However, I have hunted horses that were not good. One, in particular, was extremely dangerous. My favorite mare Winnifred felt like my soul mate. I trusted her daily with my life. And she trusted me. It was the greatest relationship I have ever had with a horse. I never had a bad hunt on Winnie.
Between man and horse, the bond can be extremely strong and almost mystical if you are lucky. I use the term ‘man’ as we did in those days to encompass both men and women. It made no one angry to use that term. In the hunt field, men and women are equal in every way. We are all riding horses which equalizes our ability to go faster or farther or jump higher. The best horse always has an advantage but a good rider can sometimes tip the balance on a horse that is not the finest. In many cases, women are more likely to be in tune with their horse, more sensitive to its moods, its little signals, and general “way of going”. Some men also seem magically in sync with their steeds.
It is the danger, the risk, and the unknown that I want to emphasize now. There is no “safe”. There is no road map. You never know what sort of trappy fence and boggy ground or crumbled stone wall you may run into on a run. You just go. It is true that you can usually find a way around a scary fence or bad country. When I first started hunting there was only one “flight”. You went with the Master or you went home. There was no second field. But there were a very few old codgers who no longer jumped much or ever. If you could find one of them they usually knew where the nearest gate was or some way around. But it was done quietly. No shame in it, but no ostentation either.
Landowners were told several days (if possible) before the day we met on their property so they could move stock if they needed to. Everyone spoke pleasantly and thanked any landowners we saw, especially if they came to see us off. Without landowners, we would have had no hunt. They were valued highly and included in hunt parties and activities. Occasionally we made a mess in their field parking several vans and trailers on soft ground, but we tried to be careful. Speaking of trailers, only a few people used them. Probably more than half the field hacked to the meet from their own property or a barn where they kept their horse(s). For years, my husband and I hacked all over the countryside unless ‘the meet’ was just too far to ride to. Then we hired a van to drive us. Hacking to the meet was a great way to warm up the horses and become comfortable on a chilly morning. The horses were calmed down and laid back by the time we arrived at the meet. Sometimes when you arrive in a van or trailer and take your horse out into the bitter cold he might buck you off (by accident) in his hurry to warm up and get moving.
When I see how the young people today complain and whine about anything that does not go their way, I wonder how they would do out in the hunt field. When people start talking about keeping everyone safe I wonder if they believe they are helping people grow character? Any time they start talking about bringing problems to zero, I wonder if they have ever had a horse? In fact, I wonder if they have ever been out in the woods by themselves. Have they ever jumped a fence that seemed to appear out of nowhere? Or found themselves galloping Hell bent for leather across acres and acres of grassy field with known groundhog holes scattered around it. Hunting is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary.
Once, when jumping a very large fallen tree trunk out hunting, the horse I was riding, Alice, tripped and fell. I fell off in midair and landed on the ground under her as she tumbled overhead. The vision of that large, solid, chestnut mare looming above me as she somersaulted before she landed is branded in my memory. But she missed me. Horses will try NOT to land on you if they can help it. So I dusted myself off and checked on the horse who seemed fine. I got back on and continued to hunt that day.
Hunting is not for wimps. Or snowflakes. Hunting is for the brave, the fearless, or at least those like me who were sometimes afraid but went anyway. Because in the end, the day would be a triumph. And they almost always were. What wonderful memories I have now. How grateful I am that I was able to begin hunting back then when it was free of legal worries and up to the individual to keep themselves safe.
Copyright©. 2022 Bonnie B. Matheson