The last five years have been full of changes for Susan Boone. After serving as joint-master and huntsman at Tanheath Hunt Club in Connecticut for 23 years, she moved to rural Fluvanna County, Virginia, in 2015. There she began riding with nearby Oak Ridge Fox Hunt Club, and two years ago she joined renowned author Rita Mae Brown, David Wheeler, Sara Bateman and Mark Catron as joint-master.
Along the way, she also lost 120 pounds—nearly half her total body weight.
“I definitely feel healthier. I feel better than I did when I was 40,” says Boone, 67, who has maintained her weight loss for nearly 2 ½ years. “I’m lighter now than I was when I was 40.”
Boone began riding in her late 20s at Saddle Rowe Farm in Medway, Massachusetts. The busy lesson and show stable hosted a Tanheath Hunt meet every fall, and after participating with some other students, Boone became hooked on foxhunting.
As huntsman, part of her regular routine was walking out the foxhounds for exercise on the days and weeks when they didn’t hunt. That kept her active, but she gradually began to gain weight.
“[In 2010] I was diagnosed with uric acid kidney stones, and part of the problem was eating too much meat,” Boone says. “So I curtailed my meat-eating, and instead of being a smart person and eating more vegetables and fruits, I substituted pasta. So that was what put it on, basically!”
When she left Tanheath, the decreased exercise exacerbated her condition. “Add in that in 2014 I stopped walking hounds, so that was just another nail in the coffin, so to speak,” she explains.
After moving to Virginia and selling her Connecticut house, Boone began planning a trip to Europe with friends.
“It had always been one of my dreams to go to Italy,” she says. But she worried that her weight and lack of fitness might impede her enjoyment of the trip.
“I had not been walking hounds for a year and a half,” she says. “It had got to the point where I was out of breath just walking and didn’t even realize it. If I walked more than 50 feet, I was out of breath. So I decided at the beginning of March 2016 that if I was ever going to get to Italy, I needed to lose some weight.”
There was a WW [formerly known as Weight Watchers] meeting at the fire department 10 minutes away from her home, and Boone opted to give it a try.
“It started off that it was convenient for me,” she says. “They didn’t tell you that you had to eat so much of this or so much of that; they gave each food a point value, and you could have so many points per day.
“The mathematical part just appealed to me,” she adds. “It worked for me, and it kept working, so I kept doing it.”
Boone’s initial goal was to lose 100 pounds, but she decided to lose 20 more as she got closer to her target weight. The WW program is generally based on the Body Mass Index guidelines or other recommendations from an individual’s doctor. Participants buy their own food and make their own meal choices.
“You just go grocery shopping, and you spend more time in the vegetable aisle than in the candy aisle,” says Boone. “And you make substitutes. You eat the Halo Top ice cream instead of the Breyers, you know. There’s not really anything that you can’t eat; it just needs a little bit of common sense.”
It took 18 months of changed eating habits to reach her goal. During that time, Boone began to make other adjustments, as well. “It was about when I was about a year into it, that something clicked in my head that, ‘All right, you’re not going to just finish this and go back to the way you were,’ ” she says. “It’s going to be a way of life.”
She was fortunate to lose weight fairly steadily. “There were some weeks when I lost a little bit less weight than others, but I had a pretty consistent weight loss the whole 18 months,” Boone says. “I think I was a little bit unusual.”
And as her weight went down, her physical activity increased. “Of course, the more weight you lose, the more active you can be,” she says. “Now I can walk up hills, I can walk hounds, I can do whatever I want. I don’t feel that I have any physical limitations on what I can and can’t do.
“I never joined a gym or anything, but as I lost weight, I could walk more and longer,” she says, “and it also made my horse happier!”
Boone lists several ways her riding has benefitted. “First of all, I can get on the horse from the ground now, which I hadn’t been able to do in a really long time,” she says. “And if you want to trot and canter for a while, you can do it, whereas when you’re really heavy, you can’t.
“Instead of going out and just walking on a horse, you could go out and do a posting trot for 20 minutes and not be out of breath,” she adds.
Last fall, Boone acquired a new field hunter. Easy Breeze, or “Breezy,” is a 15-year-old Kentucky-bred Saddlebred who hunted long ago but had spent the last seven or eight years loafing in a field.
“She’s a little bit quick, but I like a brave horse that likes to go by itself, so I tried her out,” she says. “I figured it was worth a shot.”
Boone adds that although Breezy isn’t gaited, she sometimes flashes hints of her high-stepping heritage. “When she gets excited, she can kind of prance a bit; you can see those knees coming up,” she says. “But it’s not uncomfortable in the saddle. She’s smooth as silk to ride.”
Earlier this season, Brown was unable to attend an Oak Ridge meet, and Boone substituted as huntsman. Breezy rose to the occasion, tolerating the blowing horn, cracking whip and baying pack. “She’s very comfortable around the hounds,” Boone says. “She was great to hunt the hounds off of. She loves being up there.”
Breezy’s typically high Saddlebred neckset does present a bit of a challenge from the ground. “When I go to put a halter or bridle on her, it’s like you’re looking at a giraffe!” Boone says. “But when you’re actually on her, she’s always got her head more or less down, with a nice arch to her neck.”
After reaching her goal weight in September 2017, Boone began working at WW as a guide. “It’s like a receptionist,” she says. “When you come in to get weighed, we weigh you in, ask a few questions: ‘How did your week go? Did you have a problem with anything?’ Then the coach is the person who actually runs the meeting.”
Boone enjoys encouraging others to become healthier. “I just feel so much better,” she says. “In hindsight, I wish I had started doing it when I was 40.
“I think of all the time that I spent being heavy and uncomfortable and not being able to do things that I wanted to do,” she continues. “I think the sooner that you join an organization where you learn how to eat correctly for the rest of your life, the better off you are in the long run.”
She believes no one should feel it’s too late to try to improve their health. “There’s no age that’s too old,” she adds. “There’s people [at WW meetings] that are in their 70s, and there are people there in their 20s. It’s got nothing to do with age. Anybody can have a weight problem.
“You can just go from where you started,” Boone says, “and keep on going forward.”