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December 16, 2009

Snickersville Hounds - Dec. 2

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, the Snickersville Hounds met at Egypt Farm at 10 a.m. Trucks and trailers pulled into the meet under overcast, dreary, chilly skies that threatened cold rain in a scant hour or so. But our Huntsman, Todd Kern, and every stalwart foxhunter in attendance, was determined to get in a few hours of hunting before those rains spoiled the rest of the day.

So off we went, trotting in an orderly line along the edges of the fields and through the woods, following the hounds as they fanned out, noses to the ground, searching hard for any good scent. Several times they hit, but never for long. At one check Todd explained to us that the scenting was so strong the hounds were finding old lines that had enough scent to garner interest, but not strong enough to follow for any length of time.

I was riding a pony owned by the son of a friend of mine. She wanted to put some miles on the pony and had asked if I would ride it. It was an adorable pony that could corner like a racing bike. He took 90-degree corners in the mud, which was a good thing because about 1 1/2 hours into the hunt the hounds finally found a line worthy of their noses and voices...and off we blazed through the countryside, eagerly in the wake of the running hounds. What a blast!!

The ground was really deep from recent rains, so the fast turns along the trails and across the fields were a bit hairy, but we were all having too much fun watching hounds to notice the mud…or the drizzle of cold rain beginning to come down. 

By the end of two hours, the hard-working hounds, while giving us sport on some short runs, were still without a really good run. The drizzle had become hard enough to be considered rain—a very cold, bone-chilling rain. I was toasty warm in my winter wool Melton, so I wasn’t worried about the weather.

Unfortunately, the fixture has a lot of steep hills, made even more difficult by the muddy ground, and I could feel my pony was starting to tire. I was having to encourage him to gallop up the hills, where before he had been eager to go.

Had I been on my own Welsh-Arab pony, I would have stayed, but my little mount was ready to call it a day. I gave him a little pat and asked, and received, permission from our Field Master to retire as the hounds had come close enough to the meet that the trailers were only a short trot away. I wasn’t surprised to find most of the field decided to follow me in as, at that moment, the freezing cold rains really began to come down with a vengeance.

Just as we set off to head in....the hounds found a hot line and opened with a ground-shaking roar, going away at a full race.

Oh, the dilemma!! I pulled to a halt, as did the retiring riders behind me, and we watched as the rest of the field took off in pursuit of the hounds. I could feel my heart fall. Poor pony was tired, and since I don't own him, it just wasn't fair to press him to return to the Field.

But I just couldn’t leave. The music was too beautiful. Suddenly the receding voices of the hounds begin to swell, and I knew the hounds had turned and were heading in our direction. The line must have been blazing hot to produce music of such intensity.

Eagerly I listened, and with a flash of insight knew just where the fox was going to cross—in front of us just beyond the crest of a slope. I had gotten beautiful views in the past of the fox crossing the trail here, and I was positive this fox would cross at the same point as well.

I pushed the tired pony to a quick trot, with the rest of the retiring riders behind me, and we got to the crest of the trail only seconds after the fox had zipped across. However, we were treated to the thrilling view of the entire pack of PMD hounds, in full earth-shattering cry, break out of the woods to our right, race at top speed directly across the trail and disappear into the woods on the opposite side. Oh, what a sight! Oh, what a sound!!

We continued to stand in the chilling rain, listening to the fading voices as the hounds flew away at great speed. Finally, as the music faded to an echo, we tuned and made our way back to the trailers.

Back at the meet, everyone was anxious to put up their horses quickly, but I could hear the hounds again in the distance, circling back. I encouraged my tired little pony up onto a rise nearby to better listen. I sat there, reveling in faint yet glorious sound as the frigid rain poured down on me and my little mount, who was tugging unhappily at the reins, shaking his wet ears as he looked back with longing to the other horses being blanketed and put up in their warm dry trailers with their full hay nets.  

The faint hound music finally disappeared under the sound of heavy rain and my pony’s restless shuffling. I sighed as my pony shook his head again, and gave him a gentle pat. He was right—it was time to go. We left our little hill and headed back to the trailers, where I dressed him in his cooler and loaded him in his trailer with a nice hay bag to chow down.

The decision to tootle on home overrode the prospect of standing in the rain eating a cold tailgate, so I buzzed on home to be greeted by two dancing dogs, a brisk fire going in the wood stove, a warm house, comfy chair, a hot lunch...and a well deserved two-hour slumber that was simply delicious!

A day or so later our Huntsman emailed what the hounds had done after I had retired from the field. I think my little pony would have been very glad we retired when we did, as the hounds had pushed their fox well out of the country, deep into untracked woods and field. The drenched and frozen staff did not get to return to the meet until two hours later!

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