Ah, the hunt. The long awaited opening day. I was dressed in my finest, Brego was braided, tack was cleaned. We arrived to the meet a bit early, enough time to chat and nip from the flask (I went with port, you purists!).
I had not ridden this territory and I was eager for news. The fences were big and not gappable because they mostly consisted of coops between pastures. First field must jump and jump around 3'3". Second field would jump some but very little. And hilltoppers would mostly watch. I checked out the coops and they looked good. Brego has done this sort of thing many times. I decided to go first, although my beloved field master would be leading second. First field master would be a three star eventer. I took another nip from my flask.
The Blessing of the Hounds was beautiful. The hunt hired a French Horn duet to accompany the meet and they were wonderful. They really set the mood.
The hounds were released and the blessing began. We had a front row seat because we were queued to go with the first field. Only three of us. The blessing was beautiful and we all had little booklets from which to read the prayer.
Brego always looks bored during ceremonies.
Anyway, first field riding. I picked up a position last in the field because I wanted to give Brego plenty of room to see the fences. Four strides as a rule. He is not so catty that he can ride behind a horse and see a fence a single stride out. We started out well, he jumped three fences very well and then, from the left another rider came careening by. Her horse's mouth was gapping and she could do very little to stop him. Three strides out from an airy oxer I was on line for, they cut over and took the line. She knocked Brego and I off the fence. This rider was not even supposed to be in first field and had joined up after we left the meet. Completely unacceptable behavior.
I circled Brego for a re-approach, but he was confused. This was a big oxer and he needed to really focus on it, but first field was already out of sight and second was hot behind us. He turned to join second field and again we missed the oxer. I called out to my beloved field master in charge of second, "We were cut off!" "Ride fast behind me!", she replied.
So we turned from the straight track and fell in line behind the master. We galloped around the perimeter of the pasture. We came to an open field and I could see first a field away. I asked for and was granted permission to rejoin. I galloped him across the field and resumed my position at the back of first field, now with four riders. One man saw me rejoin and asked what happened. I told him about the cut off and I had his sympathies.
On again, we cut through two more pastures and Brego jumped very well. The coops looked bigger from horseback but he knew his job and took them in stride. The a full flight across a field, a smile spreading across my face. Then I felt a bauble, a slip, and we were both down on our left shoulders. It happened too fast to comprehend, but I continued sliding and rolling away from Brego and rolled up over my head to land mostly on my feet in a crouch. Brego was already getting up to his feet. I ran the short distance up to him and my mind was going so fast. I scanned his legs, his hips, his neck and finished with his head. He was looking toward the first field, standing quietly, but ears perked and eyes alert. He was fine. I grabbed his reins and trotted him in hand after the field. Second field again rode up behind me and again my beloved field master took care of me. She halted the field while I mounted and then instructed me on how to regain first.
On again, Brego felt good. He was even and alert. We entered the woods and took our position at the back of the field. We jumped out into a field and again Brego felt fine. We took two little logs in the pasture and then we had one more coop back into the field were we all parked. The photographers were lined up, spectators along the fence line. Very busy. Brego felt fine, but when we got to the coop, I felt him hesitate, get a little deep, maybe look at the crowd instead of his job, and he hung a knee.
I am already pitching forward in this picture. I heard the hard knock of hooves on wood and I was thrown onto his neck. My recent riding position did me no favors. As Brego continued cantering, I pushed up off his neck. He raised his head, and either out of kindness or luck, heaved me back into a sitting position. I spent one more stride on his withers and then made it back into the saddle. In front of everyone.
I must say that Brego was a good man. He didn't drop his head or offer a buck to finish me off as I laid on his neck. He helped me back into the saddle and then looked for the next fence. Luckily, there was not one, just yet. The fields checked and I lost no time in telling my first field master that I was dropping to second field. My luck's good for three, I told her, and promised her a bottle of scotch at our next meet.
Brego got a thorough check out and then we continued hunting for four hours, with long gallops. I could not believe how well he did from a conditioning perspective. Of other note is that the next fence he jumped, he cleared it by a nautical mile. I was happy to see he sharpened up after his near miss on the coop. Greenie moments happen, but he needs to stay focused, even with a crowd.
Our final check was at a Christmas tree farm were customers were treated to the sights and sounds of the hunt. The hounds were incredible, plenty of voicing, and the pace was very fast. I stayed behind my field master the entire time and Brego finished strong, sweaty and tired, but completely sound and that's all one can ask for after this type of day.
A family approached us to talk about hunting, and Brego was one of the few horses who would stand for the children. He loves children and gently lowered his head to smell their bellies. Then he let a little girl pet him on the shoulder while I answered questions for the parents. The mom asked the little girl if she wanted to learn to ride a horse, and the girl shyly shrugged. But she was grinning from ear to ear. Hooked.
The after hunt tea was too amazing for words. Brego settled into his hay while I settled into a couple of glasses of wine. After the adrenaline of the hunt wore off, the soreness crept in. I guess we fell at about 25 mph. I gave Brego a gram of bute and as much hay as he would eat and water he would drink. His appetite was good, but I have no doubts he will be very sore tomorrow.
Obviously, we scratched the show on Sunday. Aside from the fall, I think a little reset is in order regarding my position. I did jump grids on the TB and I might be on to something. More on that later.
I do love hunting though. It's a little mad, but the camaraderie is tremendous. At the tea afterwards, the MFH raised her glass to me: First stung by bees, now a fall at speed, and I love it more each time. Brego loves it as well. The hounds gave enough voice for me to really study how he changed. He followed the hounds closely, even when they were silent, and he just never gave me any clue he wanted to slow down or call it a day. So during the toast, I raised my glass to my horse. I never thought I would be so blessed.