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?
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!
We take a break from your regularly scheduled silence for…Christmas!!!
This year I decided to not be a Scrooge and participate in Fly on Over’s Equestrian Blogger Secret Santa. True to my blog theme, I gave an EXTREMELY frugal gift that I hope the person enjoys. I enjoyed making it anyway. It sort of centers around an inside joke that I tried to explain and I hope it comes off as intended! If not, I made cookies too.
My Secret Santa was Alli from Ponytude. She knows how to make a foxhunter smile!
My kitty Manchego was intrigued.
Hand and foot warmers: How I survive the winter, whether I’m hunting or not.
Carhartt socks: Essential for the days I forget the toe warmers.
Chapstick: I was seriously impressed by this one! Perfect for a windy day of hunting.
And the fun stuff: I am especially excited to try a concoction with the Absolut Mandarin. I would have never thought of it myself since I tend to go with port or Apple Jack, but I think that will inspire some really tasty flask fillers.
I had a real “small world” moment when I realized who my Secret Santa was. Back when I was freelancing for Horse Nation, I came upon a story idea from a podcast she posted on her blog with equestrian sport psychologist Dr. Jenny Susser. I had actually completely forgotten I even wrote it and it was fun to go back. Confidence-Building Tips from an Equestrian Sports Psychologist
Thank you Alli for the gift and for re-introducing me to your blog! I see you’ve been bitten by the foxhunting bug and I hope our paths cross in the hunt field or at hunt races sometime!
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Click here to see everyone else who participated in the Secret Santa…
So a week before the schooling dressage show, Lefty’s cellulitis episode seemed to have resolved. I never scratched my entry, so we had about 5 days and one lesson to prepare for our Training level 1 debut. Great idea!
Now the Training level 1 test is pretty straightforward. Trot centerline, halt, trot to the left, trot circle in the middle, canter circle at one end, canter down the long side, walk, change direction and do the same thing on the other side. Guess which aspect of that is most exciting to a rotten Thoroughbred? Flat-out running down the long side of the ring. I had to do a one-rein stop in the damn arena! It was news to Lefty that the test did not call for “Go as fast as equinely possible at F.”
By the time the Sunday show rolled around, we could at least stay in control for the duration of the test. It was not necessarily pretty, round, and fluid for the entire test–but at least we did all the movements in the correct places. My goal for the show was for Lefty not to kill me or any of the Pony Club children I was competing against, so anything better than that was just a bonus.
We hacked over to the show, hosted at a nearby friend’s barn. Ponies, ponies everywhere! Lefty was mostly behaved and the hack over was good to settle his two brain cells. I felt quite fancy being all cleaned up for our debut! Unfortunately the show was running late and as we stood around waiting Lefty was getting a little dancy and impatient.
My coach shooed me into the warmup arena to put Lefty’s little brain to work. There were some ugly faces. Ear pinning. Head tossing. But I just kept repeating my mantra, “Just keep riding, just keep riding,” and kicked him into my outside hand every other step, and it all seemed to work out. He did make me ride every step though, especially near the short end of the dressage arena bordering the warmup area. We might have had to jump that, you know.
It was our turn to warm up in the arena–since it was a schooling show, and every single horse seemed to be spooking at the judge’s table, they allowed a few minutes for each rider to school in the ring. I was so focused on my leg yields toward the judges’ stand that I didn’t hear a word of the commentary in this video. Oddly enough I think I rode the warmup better than the test!
Video of our test, with whispered commentary from the peanut gallery that I didn’t hear until I watched the video. Highlights: “Kick him. KICK him!! Asshole.”
Thoroughbreds. I do think we did better than our snail’s pace Intro A dressage show last year, and honestly I was thrilled that we did all the movements in approximately the right places, without blasting down the long side of the arena.
While I was waiting for the class to be pinned, I was chatting with one of the teenage riders who seemed frustrated with her performance. Apparently her horse was not forward enough.
“I can understand…” I said, “Lefty does the same thing. But I figure being a little behind is better than galloping around at Mach 10 in the dressage arena.”
“That’s for sure,” she said, “I saw your horse acting up in the warmup and you did pretty well with him…I would have been scared!”
So we didn’t run anyone over…but we might have scared the children.
Unfortunately, a day after the show Lefty’s cellulitis came back in a different leg and he got another round of meds and about a week off while the swelling went down. Thankfully this time it resolved faster, and now he is on some supplements the vet recommended. We’re thinking he just wasn’t getting certain nutrients he needed.
This text,in reference to my incident with a loose horse and some impromptu outriding, sparked a thought-provoking conversation with a friend of mine. She said, “You’re a brave, brave woman!” and it made me wonder–am I? Or am I just stupid?
This is a question I should probably ask myself more out hunting. So often things just happen–a very solid tree branch whacking you in the face, your horse throwing a huge buck careening downhill, losing a stirrup while galloping uphill–and in hindsight I think, “Hmm. That could have gone badly.”
But more often than not, it doesn’t.
This particular incident that the text message refers to really could have gone either way. I was out trail riding and schooling some new jumps with a friend of mine on her young paint mare…when she went one way and her horse went another. She fell off, then promptly got up and yelled, “GO!” as her mare trotted off on the trail back home. This mare has some history of getting lost, so Lefty and I were on a mission. I could NOT let that horse out of my sight since she was heading right toward the road on the way home to the barn.
We were flat-out galloping. I had NO brakes–Lefty was locked on to that mare! I worried about the hard footing, the fact that the little mare was cutting STRAIGHT across a planted field–but I realized this was no time to stand on protocol and manners. My ex-racehorse kicked into 6th gear, opening his stride for a rescue mission. I saw a car on the road–then the mare crossed safely. Phew. I tensed every muscle in my body to slow down my Thoroughbred freight train, and trotted down the driveway following her. She went straight behind the barn owner’s house to graze, where she was soon caught and returned to her owner, who was meandering her way back to the farm on foot.
Somehow these “wow, that could have been bad!” moments tend to all turn out fine. It’s terrifying for a split second, when I realize, I have to deal with this or I’m going to die, probably–and somehow, those riding skills step up to the plate when things go wrong. This is why I spend hours and hours and miles and miles in the saddle (and, of course, because it’s fun). I don’t mean to say that accidents never happen–but I really don’t think they happen much more than they do riding in the arena. (And I say that as a former hunter/jumper girl who was terrified of trail riding!) Things just happen so fast out in the hunt field, and resolve themselves for better or for worse, that you learn very quickly what you and your horse are truly capable of. Often, it’s more than you thought, because who in their right mind would gallop downhill, or make their horse leap up a muddy bank…unless everyone else was doing it and having no problem? There have been a few occasions out hunting where I had no brakes on my little Thoroughbred. But I don’t worry about it anymore. I know he’ll come back to me. So on this little rescue mission, I barely gave it a thought. My entire focus was on keeping that mare in my line of sight.
So is it learned bravery? Or learned stupidity? That is a question I can’t answer. Having too much fun.