Just wanted to send a sincere thank you to Nadia at 3day Adventures with Horses, my Secret Santa! She gave me a C4 belt with a nice foxhunting scene!
The scene is a little more gruesome than your average hunt though, which I find pretty amusing.
There’s a funny story behind this whole blogger gift exchange for me this year. I signed up at The Printable Pony blog in November, but I didn’t see my name on the final list of participants, and I didn’t get any info about my Secret Santa via email. The rational side of me said, “Oh well. Must have been a technical glitch.” But the rest of me said, “SCREW THEM! If they don’t want me in their stupid little blogger club, I’ll make my own!”
Hence, the Equestrian Pen Pal program I’ve started. No joke. Of course I had the idea kicking around before then, but good old fashioned spite and resentment was what truly motivated me to get the thing set up.
Anyway, last week I received the C4 belt and a lovely Christmas card in the mail from Nadia. Uh oh. I frantically emailed The Printable Pony. Was someone expecting a gift from me? Then checked my Spam folder…yep. There was my Secret Santa assignment, and I was just seeing it the week before Christmas.
And maybe I should learn a lesson about being less quick to jump to the worst possible scenario and take vengeful action…but it ended all good in the end, so why bother?
Even though I am frugal, it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the good things in life. For example: horses. And there are plenty of luxurious things that go with that.
Since Lefty has been lame, I’ve been lucky to have been lent some very nice horses. And very nice saddles, and even an entire truck and trailer to transport the very nice horse. (I have some wonderful friends who trust me way too much.) The CWD saddle that was lent to me, though, made such an impression I found myself daydreaming about it repeatedly.
It was like sitting on an ergonomic cloud that also had the ability to make my horse behave. I brought my shoulders back an inch and everything fell into alignment. I had a rocking horse canter, uphill, lovely, controlled. This happens only rarely in my current saddle, a pancake-flat Crosby Prix des Nations which has been described as the “panty liner” and “pretty much the last thing you would want to hunt in.”
I don’t know that I would go that far, since I have certainly survived many hunting days and belligerent rides in the arena in the Crosby, but it is certainly not cushy and soft and dreamlike. There is no padding, there are no knee rolls, but I like it for a lot of reasons. It is the saddle I used on my first horse in high school. It is a saddle that fits Lefty. It is a saddle that will make you learn how to use your leg properly, or you will die. It is a saddle that George Morris definitely approves of. All for the cheap, cheap price of $450 (which I think is a bit more expensive than some Crosbys, but it is made of fancy bridle-quality leather).
But after riding in the Comfort Wondrous Derriere saddle…well, thoughts started creeping into my mind. The Crosby has served me well over three years and has plenty of life left in it, probably decades. But for hunting…well, safety trumps everything, doesn’t it? And isn’t my safety “worth it”?
Well, maybe not $5000 “worth it.” I don’t think I’m at the phase of life yet where I should be spending that on a saddle, particularly when $1000 or $2000 should be perfectly fine to find a more appropriate saddle for my sport.
So consider this my announcement and my official saving start date. I will not bore you all with the trials of a saddle search because we all know it is maddening. But I will use this blog to stay accountable to my saving goal:
I would like to save at least $2000 for a used saddle and saddle fitting. If I end up spending less than that, great.
I’m going to contribute $1000 from my Christmas bonus to this goal now.
If my end date is July, this is going to require additional savings of about $150/month.
I’m going to automate this saving using Capital One 360, and eat out only once a week at the office.
So although The Leftist has been lame recently (abscess just would not pop; finally he’s on the mend and slowly getting fit again), I haven’t been completely absent from the hunt field. Rather, it seems I’m being recruited as a whipper-in.
This is as much a mystery to me as anyone. My goal when out hunting is simply NOT to embarrass myself, to do the right things and just kind of blend in with the field. And of course to have a great time and come home safe. So I’m really not sure how I got noticed on my little brown horse but I suspect one of the masters in particular really wants me to do it.
Being a teacher’s pet, I reread Foxhunting: How to Watch and Listen by Hugh Robards, MFH, per the huntsman’s recommendation. (I would recommend it to anyone looking to understand a typical day foxhunting from a variety of perspectives: the field, the whip, even the fox!) But even after reading that, I only had a vague idea of what the whips do. I assumed they flanked the hounds, kind of in a triangle formation, with the huntsman at the apex. This is completely wrong, at least when hunting with Potomac. Our huntsman assigns an area to each whipper-in depending on the territory we are allowed to hunt. Perhaps one whip will cover the road, to keep the hounds from becoming roadkill. Another might watch the boundary of a farm where we’re not allowed to ride. If we have a third whip, he might be responsible for watching an area the hounds might go that would change the plan for the day, and for calling the huntsman if that happens. Yes, our hunt staff does embrace technology to some extent, though they try to minimize calling each other and rely more on their senses–but if hounds are running full tilt toward the road, it’s better to communicate FAST.
But a lot of the job is intuitive and impossible to explain. The whips have to use their judgement to decide whether to stay at their post, or move with the hounds as they cover different areas. This ability to judge where the hounds are going versus where they are comes with experience.
So far I’ve whipped in three times–once on Lefty, twice on nice horses generously lent to me. Each time, I shadowed one of the whips. I noticed big differences in their style. One of our more experienced whips never seems to be in a rush. He’s always in the right place at the right time. He told me stories of how the fixture has changed over the decades, and knows how to traverse the country like he knows the hallways and rooms of his own house. The other whip I shadowed is younger, but still, very knowledgeable about the territory, and a phenomenal rider. I struggled to keep up with her and maintain any sense of order as she galloped across a field like her tail was on fire! There was no option not to follow, unless I wanted to be left behind. Thankfully, she was able to give me some pointers on galloping in the open with control (“Rearrange that horse’s teeth if you have to!”) Weirdly, this set my nerves at ease. I think there is something wrong with me.
In any case, I’m not 100% sold if I want to start whipping in rather than riding in the field. I would need a different horse, since right now I half lease and Lefty’s owner wants to be able to hunt him in the field during the week. Most of the time, once you start whipping in regularly, horses really don’t like to ride in the field anymore–so that is completely reasonable makes total sense to me. And I enjoy riding in the field. That’s where my friends are, and if something goes wrong, there are people there to help, laugh at you, and pass you a flask.
It’s actually hunting, not just following the group.
I like being important.
You need the right horse. In fact, you need at least two horses–one that will ride in the field and one that will whip in. And preferably one for when those horses are lame. I have half a leased horse.
You definitely need road studs or borium.
You’re essential staff. You can’t go home early.
Don’t want to turn my hobby into something stressful, with hunt politics, the inevitable mistakes I will make as I learn, etc.
I know. It looks heavily tilted to the “Con” side. But I still asked my husband for a hunt whip for Christmas…not sure why…it might be that, as terrifying as whipping in can be, there is a little part of me that is thrilled to simply SURVIVE a challenge and relive those glorious moments over and over.
Like the first time I whipped in on Lefty. We had a pretty quiet day, listening hard to locate the hounds at the periphery of the territory. We had a few little canters and jumped a few little things. Lefty was completely unfazed by an errant cow in the corner of a field. (I was more nervous than he was–a steer attacked me when I was a child, no joke!) It all seemed manageable.
Until we were hacking in. About 500 feet from the trailers, the hunt staff chose a path with what was essentially an Irish drain–a steep, muddy ravine that your horse has to slide down, rock back, and jump across. The huntsman crossed on foot with the hounds. One of the whips, behind me, held his horse.
I looked at the ditch, wide-eyed with dread. I had never approached an obstacle like this (ie. a horse-swallowing Hell pit) with Lefty and had no idea what he would do. He is good with water crossings, but…
“You’ve got to GO,” she told me. She literally had a handful to deal with.
I chickened out and peeled off to the side to let her go first (and give me a lead). It worked! Lefty carefully slid down, rocked back, and sailed across.
I’m still riding that high of Lefty taking care of me, bringing me home safe. So I don’t know. I’m not in the market to buy a horse right now anyway…but I’ll definitely consider whipping in as a factor for when I do. Like I said, I have a problem.
If you subscribe to the blog via an RSS feeder you may not have seen yesterday’s blog redesign! I’m still working out the kinks but I think it looks a lot more like a real website now and less template-y.
I’ve also launched a new service: Equestrian Pen Pal matchmaking. A new foxhunter contacted me a few months ago and we have been pen palling it up ever since. I’m really enjoying the longform letters, and I know there are other riders and bloggers out there who would probably enjoy it too. So if you fill out the “Want an Equestrian Pen Pal?” form, I’ll match you with someone I think you’d get along with (once enough people sign up). I hope it takes off and we start connecting with riders and foxhunters all around the world.