So as I write to you I am completely freaking out…because…
I’m hunting in England in a month!!!!!!
So how did this happen? Well, my husband has a business trip to London and I am tagging along. I actually did the same thing last year, but I was afraid to try hunting over there for several reasons. What if I was hurt, and my husband would never want me to hunt again? What if I got horribly lost, had no cell service, and never made it to the meet? Would I be expected to jump an enormous hedge?
It all seemed frankly terrifying, so instead, I met up with a friend of a friend for a hack in Richmond Park. That was all right, though my little Appaloosa cob thing was not much of a looker.
But now that I have this opportunity again, I’m seizing it. In 2017, I had a few hairy hunting moments that I realized I could not only survive, but still manage to have fun. I’ve had horses run away with me, buck, rear, slip on pavement–all of the things I was afraid of. And I was fine. Of course, being in 20s I suspect I am invincible, but even if not, I realized that I was capable of more than I thought.
I found a cheap flight (like 10 hrs in coach cheap…), made some calls and emails, and finally decided to go with Plantation Hirelings and the Hursley Hambledon Hunt per Kat Brown’s recommendation (the “Urban Equestrian” blog writer–very funny). My other option was hunting in the Cotswolds, which would have been wonderful if the hireling had not been £245. Too much for the Frugal Foxhunter.
I had it in my head that British hunts are all stiff hedges, Martha Sitwell galloping around glamorously, and iron-mouthed hirelings running off with hapless tourists, but so far, everyone who has actually hunted over there has given me reassuring advice:
“hedge etc are always optional and usually very well shouted about by the field master, and there is always a way round for non-jumpers or if you’re feeling a bit squeamish. You don’t have to jump anything you don’t want to, and you’ll have a nanny with you from the hirelings yard so you won’t be on your own and you’ll have a pal to stick with.”
“The horses over there are all superstars — they’ll take good care of you!”
All good advice, but nevertheless, I’m still baffled that you can just call someone, say “Hey, I’d like to hire a horse,” and all they say is, “Sure, when?” These people have no idea if I can ride at all. It feels like someone should be stopping me. Why am I allowed to do this?!
I’m unreasonably excited. Every day, when I get home from work, I’ve been preparing. Figuring out transport from London, researching the barn and the hunt, planning how to fit my hunt attire and warm winter clothes in a carry-on, rereading Leslie Wylie’s “Meeting Martha” series. Essentials. And even though everyone I talk to keeps telling me I don’t really need to do any preparation, I’m going to take a few jumping lessons. Haven’t really jumped anything big for a while…and I don’t know if I’ll be allowed…but if the horse is game, I kind of want to try jumping a hedge. Don’t tell my husband.
I can’t wait to see the differences between foxhunting where the sport originated, and where it emigrated to–my home near the nation’s capital. And of course, opinions toward hunting are very polarizing in the U.K. with class struggles and hunt saboteurs. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But then again, in 2013 when I had my first hunting experience with Old Dominion, I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience too. And look what happened.
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.
Not much hunting for me lately (lame horse…booo), so I’ll share this memory with you.
One thing I really find annoying about my own generation is the impulse to photograph everything without really experiencing it. It’s all about the dopamine hit from those Facebook or Instagram likes, projecting an ideal life. (And I have to say, anyone who is lucky enough to foxhunt definitely has at least one ideal part of their life.)
And I’m not immune from it either. In the hunt field, there are so many moments I wish I could share with others. Tweed coats among the trees, hounds porpoising in the soybeans, a breathless gallop up to the blinding morning sun. I still can’t really believe I’m allowed to do this on a regular basis, so it feels like I simultaneously need to drink in the moment and save it forever.
One moment like this happened out cubbing this fall. We were hacking in, waiting on a hillside for the huntsman to collect hounds. I was in the back of the field, so I saw the scene unfold before me. Riders in their tweeds leaning over to share a swig of something good, laughing and talking about the day. Horses, swishing their tails. By the pond at the foot of the hill were the huntsman and a whip, deep in conversation about something. Sugarloaf Mountain, not quite changing her leaves yet, peeked out on the horizon.
I started to cry and I can’t exactly explain why. From the beauty of it all? From gratitude? From fear that these moments are so fleeting?
I recently found a gem at Second Story Books–a bound collection of articles from a magazine founded in 1927 called Horse and Horseman. It covers a variety of disciplines: polo, steeplechase, flat racing, Western, and of course foxhunting. Back then there was a lot of debate about the forward seat vs. the old-fashioned “lean back and hang on somehow” method of jumping! But the great thing about foxhunting is how much of it remains the same over the decades–the upholding (and breaking) of certain sacred rules.
In that vein, I brought this passage from the book to our most recent hunt meet to share with friends. You could call it a foxhunter’s prayer–though actually, it might be more accurate to call it a curse.
“The Foxhunter’s Creed of Thomas Young”
Article 1.–Let every man present himself at the meeting place sober, suitably clothed, and in good time. He that rideth his hunter steadily to the fixture is better than he who useth a covert hack. He that useth a bicycle or tandem or motorcar or any manner of machine, let him be accursed.
Article 2.–Every man shall at the meet salute and speak words or comfort to the huntsman and the whippers-in. He shall also count and examine the hounds. He shall then salute his friends. He that shall say, “It will be a bad-scenting day, let him be accursed.
Article 3.–It is lawful and right that those of experience shall carefully give explanation and encouragement to all young persons and instruct them by word at all times, so that foxhunting shall continue in the land from generation to generation. He that thinketh he knowth but knowth not, let him be accursed.
Article 4.–Every man shall remember that the ground he passes over is not all his own property. He that useth not due care, let him be accursed.
Article 5. He that leapeth or breaketh fences unnecessarily, let him be accursed. He that talketh loudly or often during the day, let him be accursed. He that weareth an apron or mackintosh on wet days, let him be accursed. He that rideth over or hurteth any hound, let him be everlastingly damned.
Article 6.–If it be possible, let every true believer of the Faith abstain from all food or drink during the day, save only sufficient to sustain life in case of need. The whole day to be kept as special fasting and strengthening of the mind in the Faith. He shall partake of food and drink in the evening. Verily, after a good day he shall partake of a special allowance of drink.
Article 7.–Accused be he that goeth home of his own free will before hounds do.
Article 8.–He that killeth or taketh a fox by any means save by hunting, let him be accursed, Yea, let him be everlastingly damned. May his dwelling-place become desolate and his possessions a desert. May his soul be filled with bitterness and his body with pain.
Article 9.–He that believeth these articles and doeth them, let his life be long.
Article 10.–May the Scarlet never be brought into dishonour.
A bit harsh BUT nevertheless hilarious. We were all accursed on Saturday for using trailers rather than hacking to the meet on the road. That would have made my ride about 2 hours longer.
I would add a few to the list of the accursed:
he who knows not how to tack his horse (ie. galloping boots put on backwards, bits attached to the bridle completely wrong…yep, I have seen it!)
she who looks not where she is going
he who partakes of an extra “special allowance of drink” DURING the hunt and falls off his horse
she who neglects the cleaning of her tack and horse (I guess back in the day they had grooms for that!)
he who calls out “ware hole” for obstacles that are completely irrelevant and not in the path of anyone. Congratulations, you identified a hole in the distance!
cars and bikes that zoom down country roads as if it’s the Beltway!
And I would STRONGLY second the cursing and damnation of he (or she!) who talks too much! Often, it tends to be the person who “thinketh he knoweth but knoweth not.” Nothing wrong with asking questions quietly of course. But not incessantly or just to hear your own voice! To me that is the worst etiquette fault because it affects everyone else’s enjoyment of the moment and it can even distract hounds.
Who would you curse in the hunt field? I think anyone who hunts has their shortlist of pet peeves.. Now whenever I see an offender I will think to myself, “Let them be accursed!!!”
One thing I really enjoy about hunting and horses in general is the repetition. Though our lives change, nature is comfortably predictable. Every year, fall brings thicker coats, foliage –and now, all the anxious anticipation and glory of Opening Hunt.
For me, Opening Hunt is inextricably tied to my relationship with my husband. When we were dating, our fourth anniversary fell on October 25–the same day as my first Opening Meet. Not only was he OK with me hijacking our anniversary to play with horses, in the days before I really put him through the wringer.
At the time, I was working at a barn some mornings, doing the feed and mucking, plus writing for Horse Nation. The Thursday before Opening Meet, my plan was to do the barn in the morning and then cover Washington International’s Pony Steeplechase in the evening. I was so excited for my first-ever press pass. Then a piece of sawdust got in my eye.
Thankfully, it was from the sawdust shavings pile, not a dirty stall–but my entire eyelid soon swelled to Quasimodo proportions, throbbing with pain. I finished my barn chores and drove home with one eye shut. I tried to flush it out with water. No luck. But I was not giving up the opportunity to see the inner workings of WIHS–the stabling in the underground garage, the warmup arena set up around concrete pillars! So I just shut one eye and tried not to scare the pony kids with my teary, swollen face as I interviewed them. I took photos of the event, completely unable to tell if my camera was focused or if any of my pictures would come out.
It was bad. On my Metro ride home, I had to run out of the train at a random stop. The pain was actually making me nauseous and I threw up into the train tracks like a drunk coed returning from a frat party. Crying as I waited for another train, I called my fiancé to come pick me up from our station. I called off work the next day and got an eye doctor to fish out the (miniscule!) piece of sawdust from my eyelid. How something the size of the point of a pin could cause so much pain, I still am not sure. But missing my first Opening Hunt was out of the question
Once the eye was fixed, I got some rest and then went to go wash and braid my (generously lent) horse. I had never braided before and this horse did not make my job easy, weaving like nobody’s business for FOUR HOURS. I was so frustrated, and determined to finish that I failed to notice my phone was out of battery and that my fiancé had called, worried. It was dark, raining, and he had no idea if I had been kicked in the head, gotten into a car accident, or even where to find me if I had! Oops, bad fianceé move on my part.
But still, I was stupidly determined to attend my first Opening Meet on our fourth anniversary and for some reason he was OK with it.
Thankfully, the hunt went completely fine (despite a little girth “wardrobe malfunction” early on and some tearful cursing trying to re-mount my horse) and we hunted well into the afternoon. I was one of the few who stayed until the end, with more riders turning back with each hour, and I felt like a warrior.
From City to Country
This year, thankfully, was less dramatic. It’s my fourth Opening Meet, my third with Lefty, and my first wearing Potomac Hunt’s colors. Finally, I feel like I know what to do–how to groom, how to dress, when to talk, when to be quiet. But the week before Opening is always full of nervous excitement. Now the pre-hunt routine is pretty automatic, but I did have to clip Lefty, get my braiding supplies together, figure out what to put in my flask…
And for the first time since my first Opening Hunt, I attended Barn Night at Washington International again. This time, both eyes were working (!) and I was surrounded by friends from the local Pony Club and Horsemasters group. And I got to meet an old Horse Nation colleague who was covering the entire WIHS weekend. Even though I can see horses pretty much any day of the week (even luckier), there is still something magical about the tent barns set up in the street and the smell of horses in the city.
I don’t envy top showjumpers though. I enjoy watching horse shows once in a while but I think what I do is a LOT more fun.
The next day was one of preparation. I did work, but I zoomed off as soon as possible to bathe and braid Lefty. Another companionable tradition–drinking a beer and bathing your horse with hunting friends! All the horse prep went smoothly. (Though I’m not sure why I forgot that I am TERRIBLE at making hunter braids that stay overnight. They end up frizzy and sticking in all directions by the next morning, as I found out. But I started that way so I just kept going. I had to redo nearly all of them on Saturday morning.)
More traditions when I got home: collecting all of my hunt clothes, making sure my boots were polished, and filling my flask. Then the nervous energy set in and I invented a few tasks: ironing my stock tie and reinforcing the buttons on my hunt coat.
I was nervous about my braids (rightly) so I set my alarm for 5:30 am. The stirrup cup was to begin at 10am.
The Hunt Morning
All of the hunt preparation went according to plan, and we arrived at the meet about 30 minutes before the Stirrup Cup. My husband said he would meet us to take pictures, but there was no sign of him.
I was getting worried, so I unlocked the car to check my phone. Three missed calls. I called him back–he was lost, so I gave directions.
“Will there be food there?”
“Yes, there are refreshments,” I said, giving Lefty a look just daring him to try eating grass again.
“No, not ALCOHOL, baby, I mean FOOD!”
“Oh yeah, there are cookies.”
“WHAT! So you’re saying I’m going to be surrounded by horse people who AGREE with you that cookies are breakfast?!”
“Yep, see you soon!”
So yes–even though this year was less traumatic than the days leading up to my first Opening, at least we maintained the important tradition of horrifying Byron.
I mounted up from the wheel of the trailer and Byron handed me my photo prop.
It’s the Good Seat Challenge Trophy, handed down in Potomac Hunt each year since the 1950s to the rider with the best seat…which is up to interpretation! I wanted to take advantage of the photo opportunity while Lefty was braided and clean.
After the Blessing of the Hounds the field gathered on the hillside for a professional photo and then we moved off, heading around the back end of the hunt club to draw in the woods. It always surprises me how LARGE the opening hunt ends up being! There had to be at least 100 riders.
Not much jumping, though I did ride in first field. Maybe one hanging log? But it was a fast day. We hit on a fox pretty quickly and ran for about 20 minutes straight, then gathered hounds, enjoyed our flasks, hacked back, and I think we must have caught on the line of the same fox because we ended up galloping back the same way and doing nearly the same thing all over again.
The problem with a large field is that it significantly increases the potential for rider stupidity and general chaos. I won’t name names, but at speed, Lefty very deftly avoided a rider who was very casually standing around right in the middle of the path the entire field was galloping through! Not sure what the reason for that was, but it doesn’t really matter–I just rode my own horse, and I was really happy he saved my butt!
Maybe there was another check in between there somewhere, but those were the two big runs of the day. We ended up back near the hunt club and the staff decided to call it a day.
It wasn’t the epic “last man standing” type of Opening Hunt, but it’s kind of hard to complain when you and your horse come home safe AND your husband comes to take pictures of your prized toilet seat!
On Saturday we hunted a fixture that goes by many names. It’s known to Area II eventers as Bittersweet Field, home of the Seneca Valley Pony Club Horse Trials, but to foxhunters it is the property where we host the spring hunt races–so to us, it’s the Racecourse. It’s also the property of the Kiplinger family, longtime Potomac Hunt people (yep, of Kiplinger’s magazine!). Their estate is called Montevideo, and the house overlooks the entire property: XC field, planted fields, stables and a lovely tree-lined drive.
Whatever you call it, Saturday was really just the quintessential autumn hunting day. We moved off after the Masters gave their announcements, and the huntsman put the hounds in a field of crops where they bounded around. We would have seen them leaping and porpoising if the plants were a little shorter but instead we just saw the stalks rustle. The horses were rustling too. Most wanted to move out! The hounds obliged and ran the first fox to ground in about 15 minutes.
The Leftist was feeling it! Some recent dressage lessons came in handy to try and canter in a somewhat organized way rather than just running flat. Apparently he was snorting like a steam train because his owner (my hunting buddy) asked if he was behaving for me. He was, just not happy about it!
We had maybe one other good run that day, and one hanging log jump. The racecourse doesn’t really have jumps on the trails we hunt. But even with the more relaxed pace and not much scent as the day got warmer, there was certainly lots of wonderful foliage and enjoying time with great friends and great horses.
I wondered aloud if we would find our way to the other side of the property. I had only been there once, for the last hunt of the season. I remembered a fabulous roller-coaster-like trail, with a sheer drop on one side and a creek below.
“I hope not!” said Lefty’s owner. “Or at least I hope we would cross at a better place!”
I had completely forgotten. The way we got to that amazing trail was by fording a deep creek and scrambling up a steep, muddy hill, only for most riders to get their head stuck in a tree at the very top. Lefty earned his keep that day, since he scrambled up and then stood still while I untangled myself from the branches. It really was a nasty, scary crossing but somehow I had completely forgotten it, only remembering the reward on the other side.
Funny how that happens out hunting!
We did start edging towards that creek, but I think the scent was dying. The second half of the hunt amounted to a pleasant trail ride which was probably for the best on a warm day! I got to catch up with a hunting friend my age, and we were so engrossed in conversation that we completely missed the fact that the field had left us. Only the staff and hounds were left, with us two hanging in the background! We trotted on to catch up and to enjoy a great tailgate.
You know sometimes I wonder if these hunt reports have enough drama. Most days my takeaway is “I can’t believe how lucky I am.” There’s no rising action, conflict, resolution. It’s all just rising action, no conflict, and then food and booze.
Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.
Next hunt is Opening Meet! I’m already anxious about clipping and braiding! But it will all get done. And before then, it’s Barn Night at Washington International. Not sure how I’m going to fit all of this in, plus riding, plus pesky work but it will happen.
So the other day at the barn I was talking to one of the dressage ladies about my path to foxhunting, how writing was a big part of it, and how I’ve continued to blog (sporadically) about my adventures as the Frugal Foxhunter.
She asked, “Why are you frugal?”
I told her, “Because I’m in my 20s and I have half a horse.” Which is true. And also, I think my husband would have a heart attack if I didn’t at least try to be semi-responsible about the cost of my horse habit. But the question kept popping up in my mind this week.
I work at a wealth management firm, so I literally get paid to think about money. In the time I’ve worked there, I’ve realized that wealth is about so much more than money. It’s about creating a life of fulfillment, whatever that means for you. Unfortunately a lot of people are rich–they earn a big income, they have a huge house , they spend a lot of money–but they’re not building anything. They’re burning through cash for whatever reason, so they’re not truly wealthy in their portfolio or their life. The cost of living is high in the D.C. area where I live, so it’s easy to justify the idea that you need more, more, more without really thinking about what makes you happy.
I think the same thing happens in the horse world in general and the equestrian blog world specifically. Obviously we’re all in it because we love horses. But it seems to drift away from that sometimes. Maybe it’s an epic search for the CWD or Antares saddle that turns into a giant headache somehow. Or maybe you’re sticking with an awful horse because you feel like you have to. I just notice a lot of the time it seems like people are going through the motions and it’s not clear if they’re really having FUN or not.
So how am I frugal? I try to get as much bang for my buck as I can, and I always try to think about what different experiences are worth to me. Admittedly, as my income has grown and I don’t have to ride any bucking bronco with 4 legs, or work all weekend writing freelance articles, I don’t do that anymore. I do spend more on my horse habit than I ever have in my life. I pay for half of Lefty’s board and my hunt subscription, and that’s not insignificant. But it’s way less than the cost of owning a horse in my area. I never buy riding clothes new. My saddle is an old Crosby, basically a postage stamp. The Chevy truck, admittedly, is a total luxury and a total gas guzzler. But the idea is to pay it off, then save up to buy a horse and trailer so I don’t have a car payment and a board payment on top of that.
I know–it’s a total justification, like saying drinking a Miller Lite is “responsible drinking”. (Which I do, by the way.) But it’s worth it to me. And I always try to think of my horse spending this way. Am I going to get $150+ worth of enjoyment out of an event? $45 worth of education out of a lesson? This is how I make my horse decisions, and of course I weigh it against what is responsible for my budget. (Sometimes I get overly excited and throw caution to the wind–but it’s always burned me, like when I bought an $800 saddle, sight unseen, and the tree was broken. That HURT.)
Horses are not for the extremely frugal–like the kind of personal finance bloggers I follow who retire at age 30 to go live in the wilderness or travel the world in an Airstream eating only granola bars for sustenance. But there is a way to do the horse thing–and have a LOT of fun–in a way where I’m “acting my wage” and not living above my means.
How do you make the horse habit fit into your finances?