Yesterday I hunted with Goshen for the first time. Just like when I hunt anywhere, I washed my horse, cleaned my tack and got all my clothes and boots ready the night before. I had a celebratory sip of the Castle Hill cider that would be filling my flask. I set the coffeemaker. I hung up my shirt, britches, belt, and stock tie up over the shower door (the easiest way I have found to get dressed in the morning without having to open drawers and wake my light-sleeping husband). I even fished a clean fitted saddle pad out of the garage–I’ve been hunting in just a Fleeceworks half pad lately because I don’t have a fitted pad with wither relief, but I figured we could look more normal for our hosts. This was a big mistake.
A) Looking normal is overrated. B) Changing any element of the plan the night before a hunt means something absolutely will go wrong.
All was well when I bounded out of bed Sunday morning. I even had time to sit down and eat my yogurt! But I walked out the door with everything BUT my prized Dehner boots. Oops. This is why it also helps to have a supportive spouse trained and ready to go. This is not something that happens overnight but it is so handy to have for a foxhunter. Do not make him or her attend too many horse shows, or social events where the main topic of conversation will be things like the distinctive smell of smegma or how much money it takes to find the perfect saddle. Build up goodwill with things like fun lessons on a steady horse. Try not to let your supportive spouse or significant other die on a trail ride–this is more difficult than it seems but also very rewarding.
In my case it really paid off and my husband jumped out of bed without even brushing his teeth (gross, but also sort of sweet) to bring me my boots while I got Lefty ready. It’s a small thing. My barn is not far from my home. But I was nervous enough at hunting new territory and socializing with new people and I would not have been able to go out and have a cracking day out hunting without his help!
Business as usual for the rest of the hunting prep–we actually hauled out on time, which is probably a first, and arrived early at a fixture Lefty’s owner has not seen since the age before cell phones.
The Goshen people like to party. I knew there would be a stirrup cup before the hunt, but at Potomac, a stirrup cup means volunteers on foot hand out baked goods and little cups of sherry, port, or cider while you are milling around and socializing on your horse before the hunt. Nope. At Goshen, a stirrup cup is apparently a pre-hunt party in the clubhouse! All I had was one chip and some guacamole. I had a feeling if I had any alcohol I would be peeing myself at the sight of the first coop. And just hanging out chit-chatting was not good for my pre-hunt jitters when I felt the time ticking down for getting my horse off the trailer!
I did get to chat with two of the members, who asked whether I would be going first flight or second. “First, I think,” I replied.
“Oh good! We have some nice coops from this fixture, really nice coops.”
Oh God. “Nice” could mean anything. I chose to believe it meant something along the lines of “under 3 feet.” I was glad when I met up with Lefty’s owner again to go get the horses ready. I felt so much more comfortable when I was on his back, with my buddy who, as homicidal as he can be in the arena, has carried me safely through over 50 hunts so far!
The hunt began with a brisk trot up to the first draw in a corn field. It was a good warmup, but no sign of a fox. Conditions did not look promising for hunting (60 degrees, sunny and breezy) but at the very least we would have a nice ride out in the sunshine. We moved on to the next draw in a covert of trees–but first, we had to jump a decent sized coop. Probably 3 foot. Lefty made it with no problem but his owner did not–her horse decided not to follow Lefty’s lead. Of course I only realized this about 20 strides after the jump. I looked back, and saw her gelding standing to the side while others kept jumping and I realized I would have to go on by myself. Second field was taking a longer route around the jump and she would join them. At least there were others from Potomac–one of whom was a Master. I would just have to do my best to blend in on my little bay horse and not screw up!
We jumped at least two more big coops–one of which I had to growl at Lefty to “GIT ON OVER” since he seemed a little wiggly–and a log but honestly it is kind of a blur. It was the right amount of jumping. The wooded trails at this fixture were very windy and roller-coaster-y with a lot of muddy creek crossings so it took all my focus to balance him up and stay right in the middle with him. Finally we crossed a creek and bounded up to a clearing where the second field was waiting for us. Lefty immediately flung his head up and whinnied like an idiot for his pasture-mate. I did some leg yielding to try to instill the idea that hunting means WORKING, not whinnying like an idiot, but it was basically for show. He wanted to be with his friend and safety blanket and so did I! So I moved back to 2nd field for the rest of the day.
A great decision. Not only did we move out and actually end up jumping some logs, but we had an AMAZING view of the fox running through the trees. I have not viewed a fox since I went car following two years ago. But the second field at Goshen all saw him plain as day while first field was busy jumping and re-jumping the same damn coops in various configurations.
We hacked in happy and safe. A successful day even for a worrywart with an opinionated horse. And it could never have happened without the proper preparation of equipment, horse, and spousal support staff!