Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

What’s An Avid Foxhunter To Do Without A Horse?

Not having a steed doesn't mean you have to sit out the season.

You’re a horseless foxhunter! It has happened before and doubtless will again. So what to do? Curse, naturally—fume and whine, with your teeth nicely gnashed. But then, well, what?

Here are a few suggestions of how to participate in hunting when the best mode of transportation isn’t an option. Naturally, all of these ideas should first be run by the Masters for approval.

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Not having a steed doesn’t mean you have to sit out the season.

You’re a horseless foxhunter! It has happened before and doubtless will again. So what to do? Curse, naturally—fume and whine, with your teeth nicely gnashed. But then, well, what?

Here are a few suggestions of how to participate in hunting when the best mode of transportation isn’t an option. Naturally, all of these ideas should first be run by the Masters for approval.

In the past I have foot followed, which is easier where the fox is hunted and a challenge on coyote but still doable. You must be fairly fit and not mind getting muddy, dusty or being alone in the countryside. You will be left behind when the hounds strike—especially on the Wile E. one—but it’s exhilarating while it lasts and gets you into shape faster than the gym ever will.

It’s more fun if there’s a hilltopping flight to hang out with (or hide behind) in case you happen to turn the game or commit some other heinous faux pas. Plus, if you’re following on foot, a flask can get pretty heavy—not too heavy to carry (priorities!), but still it’s nice to sip from the store of those who are relying on horse power to get them from hill to covert. You can pick up all the hankies, candy bars, whips, and whiskey people drop so they won’t have to dismount and more difficultly remount a dancing, whirling, silly acting horse—they’ll naturally give you another sip as a gratuity.

Trade Four Legs For Four Wheels

You can car follow/wheel-whip, which is often a valuable contribution where busy roads are close, and where are they not nowadays? It’s not as physically challenging as foot following, but you won’t be left too far behind if there’s a decent field road.

While not as good as being on a horse, delightfully, you are not in that freezing drizzle everyone else is enduring either. Many are the longing looks a frozen field casts at the car followers, who sit sipping their laced coffee with the heat on full blast and the windows rolled down to hear hounds. Of course, you might get the truck stuck, so it is best if someone else is optimistic enough to loan you theirs. Better yet, they drive and give you a ride—that way if the truck is really really stuck you can go back to foot following.

Just Don’t Steal

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You can beg, borrow or rent a horse. This can be tricky because good hunt horses are justifiably prized, and few hunters have so many that they are willing to loan one out in the middle of the season.

The most straightforward path is to rent a horse. Unlike in Ireland, where it’s a nice little cottage industry to hire out hunters, few people in the States rent horses for hunting.

If you do find a horse to rent, expect to pay a tidy sum. Foxhunting can be dangerous, and those who risk their mounts expect to be paid. In old books you find hilarious stories about rented horses, often dreadful quitters or runaways, or mix-ups about horses to be rented. You may become a modern example.

If you have a kind friend, borrowing is certainly easier on the pocketbook. Of course, keep a wary eye on the prospects. There may be a good reason they’re loaning you the horse, such as the possibility that the horse has never hunted before. Can you say crash-test dummy?

That will make your day interesting and is just rental with a different form of payment. If you’re a great and fearless rider this can be a wonderful way to eke out a season—you get to ride and your buddy gets his horse trained.

Just try to get something that you’re not embarrassed to be thrown from. I once borrowed a 14.2-hand pony. She was a spirited and fun ride, but it was by no means easy. I didn’t fall off, but there were about 30 people who would never, ever have let me forget it if I did.

Finally, there is begging, which is best left to individual discretion.

Be The Hostess With The Mostest

Sometimes your banishment may be enlivened by chauffeuring guests. This year my horseless despair was diminished by visits from two enchanting characters, Betsy Parker and the fabulous, famous Jim Meads. I was asked along both times as we flew through the fields on a gator and a four-wheel-drive truck, respectively.

Our job was to get our guests to where the action was without spoiling the aforementioned. Such a task is challenging, and you are doing your hunt a service by showing guests around. To enliven the day, you can tell bad stories about everyone. Not really, but you can make sure that any tales told leave out the embarrassing ones that feature you as a central character. If the story is too good to not to pass along you can substitute someone else in the part you originally played.

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You can be a part of the hunting year by being the one who brings or sets up the tailgate. Everyone loves the tailgate girl/guy, and otherwise you’d just be inside cleaning house, doing your taxes or some other boring and unnecessary pastime. You can be the hero, arriving before the hunt with drink and a wee biscuit or afterwards with the much-needed stew and coffee. It is frustrating to hear about the wonderful runs the others had, but still you’re with your tribe in the rarified atmosphere of the hunt.

At Least You’re Clean

Hunt parties are a similar bittersweet activity. The teeth must be slightly ground again when you hear everyone rehashing the day, but rehash is still better than no hash at all. If you volunteer to set up the bar, meet the caterer, and show people where to park, you’ll take on some of the reflected glow of those fabulous runs.

An unexpected benefit is that you’ll look great. You will be one of the few who actually have good hair, make-up and planned attire. Everyone else flings themselves from their horse, plods wearily to the house, skims the top layer of dirt from their person, and slogs to the party. Not that they don’t have fun at the party, but there’s something about not having to remove a layer of equine-related dirt that makes you, at least for this moment, the chic chick or rooster.

And you haven’t been drinking all day (probably anyway) so you can party that much harder at night—I have to admit that works best in theory since all the other foxhunters I’ve met seem to have a hollow leg and endless capacity for fun—why else hunt?

Spread The Good Word

Then there are public relations. As our hunt—and most likely all hunts—come in closer and closer contact with those who are not hunters, country persons or who just don’t care or understand, it’s important to have a good spokesperson. Again with the all-important Master’s OK, you can be the smiling face of foxhunting.

Our hunt has two fixtures that are on the regular path of logging trucks and garbage trucks. These guys are mostly wonderful, stopping for hounds and watching for riders; one trucker even blocked the road for us while hounds ran across. I’m going to write a note, get some coffee and doughnuts and take them to the terminal. The same sort of thing can be done for the little farms, subdivisions, gas station guys near where you hunt. The non-hunters who have been kind and polite will appreciate it, and you may make a convert.

For those of us who must watch our pennies, the thought that you’d sent in that subscription but then are obviously not going to enjoy a season of sport and fun firsthand can give you a stabbing pocketbook pain. But remember that you’re still supporting your very favorite thing in the whole world.

Andrea Garrett

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