Miscellaneous Shenanigans, Newbie Tips

The Part of Foxhunting No One Talks About

Yes, that’s right… I’m going to talk about it.

Volunteering. (What, was that not what you were thinking?)

Especially since this year has been such a wash in terms of weather, footing, and a broken/sick horse, a major part of my involvement with the hunt club this year has been volunteering. It’s not as exciting as hunting, but it can actually be a pretty fun excuse to hang out with hunt people and make friends. And volunteering is absolutely critical to making hunting happen at all.

Hunt breakfasts need food and people to pass out drinks at the stirrup cup. Hunter paces need scorers, timers and trailer parking organizers. Hunt parties need organizers, decorators, and people to come early and stay late to set up and clean. And that’s not to mention hunting itself, which couldn’t happen without the masters and honorary staff (whips, secretary) who are not paid!

As disappointing as this season has been for my riding, it’s been a banner year in terms of volunteering for the hunt. So I thought I would detail a few (admittedly, incomplete) aspects of being a hunt volunteer!

Volunteering at the Meet

Passing out snacks at Thanksgiving Meet
  • Bringing food and drink: always appreciated at a stirrup cup or post-hunt tailgate. Personally I NEED food after I hunt if I don’t want to get woozy as I’m doing all of my post-hunt chores at the barn.
  • Field secretary: The field secretary is usually the same person at every hunt. He or she collects cap fees from guests and makes sure all riders sign a waiver.
  • Whipper-in: an incredibly demanding volunteer job (though many hunts have at least one paid whip). The whipper-in helps to control the hounds and prevent them from going in areas where we are not allowed to hunt, or from crossing dangerous roads. You need to be a bold, capable rider who knows the territory and hounds well, and you need a fast, fit horse.

Volunteering at a Hunt Party

Parties cannot happen without volunteers!
  • Social Committee: Most hunts have a Social Committee which organizes the year’s parties. We usually end up having about 1 hunt party per month!
  • Coming up with party themes and logistics. The social committee needs to strike a balance between parties being fun and interesting, and being cost-efficient. Ideally the parties break-even in cost vs. money made, though of course it is great if the parties make money for the hunt!
  • Coordinating volunteers: Most parties need a checkin person to collect money (if it’s a party that requires tickets to cover the cost of food), a bartender, setup, cleanup, decorations, someone to wash cloth tablecloths after the party…there are so many small details to think of!

Volunteering at a Steeplechase

I freely admit there is FAR more to our Potomac Hunt Races than I even know about. It is a huge community event in our region benefiting TAPS. I have volunteered as a “crowd control” rider for several years, which I really enjoy. I love being “on the inside” because I remember going to events like this when I was growing up, and wondering how you got to be lucky enough to be one of the “official” people.

And you get the best seat in the house to watch the races.

  • Parking help: Normally a hunt member does this in a beat-up little sedan that he drives like a 4×4 Jeep Wrangler. It is really a sight to see on a muddy track.
  • Vendor coordination: We have a “Vendor Village” where racegoers can shop. A hunt member needs to be the point person for all the vendors.
  • Funding and organization: I have no idea how this happens! I know this is a gargantuan task that one of our Masters organizes with the Race Committee, who plan the event all year.
  • Grandstand announcer: Tells people what is happening in the races!
  • Tractors: Someone always gets stuck at the races…and hunt members are there to drag them out of the mud.
  • Ground volunteers: Wrangling increasingly drunk racegoers as the day goes on
  • Mounted crowd control: There are times when we need to make sure racegoers stay OFF the racetrack (obviously!) but most of the time this is a pretty easy and fun job. The hardest part is the parade at the beginning when they sing The Star Spangled Banner–very loud and spooky time for a horse. I have finally just given up on this part because my horse flips out. The rest of the day is mostly supervising from on high, making sure guests don’t let their kids or dogs astray, and letting the public pet your horse. More than anything it is positive PR for the hunt. So it is easy but very important to give people a positive association with Potomac Hunt.You and your horse need to be immaculately clean and braided.
  • Outider: Not only do you have your horse clean and braided, you need to be an excellent and bold rider on top of it. The outrider is the person who catches loose racehorses if they part from their rider.

Organizing an Intro to Fox Chasing Clinic

I have helped organize our intro to foxchasing clinic for a few years now and I always really enjoy it. It isn’t that long ago that I was preparing for my first hunt clinic, and I remember how incredibly nerve-wracking it was to try and not make a fool of myself. It makes me feel really good to be able to help other newbies through this experience and provide as much help as I can.

Organizing an intro-to-hunting clinic involves:

  • Advertising the event in local horse publications and on social media
  • Recruiting a horde of volunteers to handle food, setup, and cleanup–reminding everyone to be friendly ambassadors  to our guests! Looking at who helped in previous years and using SignupGenius works well.
  • Our hunt has speeches from the huntsman, masters, and hunt members about various aspects of hunting during the post-clinic breakfast. So I had to think of who might have a good story and convince them to speak. 2018 was my first year giving  a speech at the hunt breakfast!
  • Making sure everyone pays, checks in and signs a waiver
  • Making sure the Masters know people want a third field on this day!
  • On the day of–the idea is that you will have volunteers to handle most aspects. As the organizer, your role is to make sure things go on schedule and to handle any potential chaos.
Me, on the lookout for potential chaos at the Hound Walk Happy Hour

Organizing a Hunt Silent Auction

I did NOT realize what a gargantuan task this was when I was asked to help. It is really equivalent to a part time job so it’s a good way to volunteer if you are retired, if you have a flexible schedule, or if you are not working. NOT an ideal task if you have a full time job, plus a side gig and also enjoy riding your horse in your free time.

  • Organizing the party–Thankfully other hunt members are handling this but it would involve everything in the section above.
  • Sending out email and social media reminders to donate items for the auction
  • Individually contacting each person or business that donated items in the past
  • Figuring out a day and time for each person to bring the item to you or the clubhouse.
  • Driving all around the county to pick up items from those people who can’t bring items to you.
  • Keeping a TON of random fox related stuff in your spare bedroom (not recommended if you have 5 flights of stairs to get to your spare bedroom)
  • Enlisting volunteers to help set up items at the auction, emcee the event and do check-out

To be honest, I was feeling completely overwhelmed by the Silent Auction event until yesterday when I loaded up all the items in my truck and got together with a few other members to set up everything in the clubhouse. It really is true that many hands make light work–and it turns volunteering into something to enjoy rather than dread!

As a member of a hunt club, you SHOULD be volunteering! Even if it’s something small like bringing food to a tailgate. It’s always appreciated and always needed.

Miscellaneous Shenanigans, Newbie Tips

When We’re Not Fox Chasin’, We’re Hunter Pacin’

Spring is here, and with it, the Hunter Pace circuit–a fun way to keep the good times rolling with your foxhunting friends when the season is over, or to dip a toe into the foxhunting world for the first time.

A hunter pace (also called a paper chase in some areas) is the least competitive competition of all time. I know because I’ve ridden them and done the scoring too! There’s no way to strategize, so earning a ribbon is just the cherry on top of a cross-country ride and a delicious tailgate. Of course, some people, hilariously, take it very seriously.  To me, it’s an excuse to ride out over gorgeous country and school some XC jumps with your friends.

How does a hunter pace work?

A team of 2+ riders navigates a marked course of 5-7 miles over trails and fields. The attire is “ratcatcher”–what foxhunters wear during the informal season (Tweed coat, coordinating stock tie, breeches and brown or black boots). Polo shirts or regular show attire are also typically fine, but this varies by club. There are various classes (flat, low jumps, high jumps) but the goal for each is to get as close as possible to the “optimum time”…which is not disclosed to the riders. Supposedly the optimum time represents a typical hunting pace for the country. So you have to guess when the hunt would typically gallop, or walk, or trot. Sometimes the optimum time is set by a person riding the course beforehand, and sometimes it is an average of all the times in the class (excluding the fastest and slowest times).

Either way, it’s a crap shoot in my opinion. If you hunt, you know that the pace can be widely variable depending on the conditions and scent, so…there is no such thing as a “typical hunting pace.” If the optimum time is determined by an average, you have no clue how others will ride the course. I have always found the best strategy is to just go at a pace that makes sense for an avid foxhunter. Gallop the straightaways, trot on trails with good footing, walk if footing is bad. You don’t have to jump everything if you don’t want to. You can even get lost, fall off, refuse jumps, and still win.

In fact, you will see almost all of that in this video of my most recent hunter pace (aside from falling off, thankfully!). I left in the “oops” moments just to show that even after 4 years of hunting on a regular basis–my horse is not a saint and my riding is not impeccable. It wasn’t my best ride ever and that’s ok!

You don’t have to be perfect to do a hunter pace and here is video proof!

Howard County Iron Bridge Hunter Pace: Optimum Lows

1 Minute Highlights Reel


If you’re looking to get involved in foxhunting, participating in your local hunt’s spring or fall hunter paces is a fabulous and affordable way to get started. (The Maryland Hunter Pace circuit is $25/ride.) The best part is, if you’re just getting started, you can pick your own pace and you can choose which jumps you want to try. Completely low pressure and focused on fun!

Have you participated in a hunter pace? Does it differ from how Maryland hunter paces work? Where’s your favorite course?

Newbie Tips

When You Arrive at the Hunt Meet

So I realized that my last post skips from pre-hunt preparations to the end of the hunt. But what should you expect when you arrive? How do you avoid being the poor soul whose horse thinks it is a superhero flying AWAY from the trailers, and is seen galloping with a fleece cooler flapping, cape-like, from its neck? Well, since I have been that unfortunate person, I can tell you the tips and tricks I have learned so far.

That’s why we call him Lefty the Bad Elf

 

When You Arrive at the Hunt Meet

There are a few foxhunters who will arrive REALLY early to the meet. This is probably the ideal thing to do so you can get ready at a relaxed pace, and keep your horse as quiet and calm as possible, particularly if you have a green horse. But honestly very few people do this. It is very common to arrive 20 minutes to 5 minutes (!) before the huntsman blows the horn and it’s time to move off.

So if you are in that latter group, you want to be able to unload your horse and GO. This is why I recommended trailering your horse tacked up in the previous post. But being able to just unload and go takes some homework and preparation weeks or even months beforehand. You don’t want a horse who is hard to load or unload, or who freaks out when left on the trailer without a buddy, or who leaps out like a bat out of hell. Hunt trail rides are a good time to sort out these issues in a low-stress environment, but don’t try to “school at the show.”

For the sake of this post I’ll assume you already have done all the horse training you need to be safe. What you really want to know is how to park your trailer and get on your horse looking as polished as possible in as little time as possible.

Easy.

“Dress me slowly because I’m in a hurry.”
This translation of a Spanish saying I learned from my mother’s family is key to most aspects of horses, especially the morning of a hunt meet. Take the time to do a task right right the first time, or you’ll just have to waste time doing it again later. Preparing well and having a good routine are key to avoid accidents too.

Accoutrements of a well-dressed rider

 

A well-dressed hunt horse

Extra things to keep in your trailer for common mishaps:

There are countless articles out there on what you should keep in a trailer in general (water, haynets, first aid kits for humans and horses, etc.), but these items are good to have for loose horse emergencies that may occur right before or after a hunt!
  • Extra halters
  • An extra bridle
  • Lead ropes
  • Treats or grain in a bucket
 

Parking the Trailer

This is a key area where taking the time to do it right pays off. Admittedly I am not usually the one driving the rig, but here are a few tricks I have picked up:

  • Figure out where you are going at least a day ahead of time (check your email, call the hunt monitor, ask a master, etc.). There may be specific instructions as to what entrance to use and where you are allowed to park.
  • Think about your exit strategy. If in a muddy area, park slightly downhill in case you need gravity to help you get rolling.
  • Leave plenty of room around you for other trailers and horses.
  • If you know where the hound trailer is, keep your distance. Most horses don’t appreciate hounds running around behind the trailer when you ask them to unload.
  • I always put on my helmet, hairnet and gloves before I even unload my horse. One less thing to worry about.

Unloading Your Horse

For foxhunting you really want a horse who self-loads and unloads. Otherwise the rest of these steps are basically a nightmare, especially when you are on a time crunch.

  • If your horse pooped all over its tail or back legs while you were driving, use water and a wet brush or sponge to spot clean BEFORE you unload. This removes the possibility of frustration if it turns out your horse won’t stand still once you unload him.
  • Pick out any manure by the back legs to make it less likely your horse will slip while backing out of the trailer. Do not throw manure on the grass–either bring a muck bucket or just shift the poo to an area in the trailer where it is less likely to be a problem.
  • Unhook your horse’s halter from the trailer ties
  • Undo the butt bar
  • Ideally, horse walks off carefully and slowly. If not, hopefully you have someone with you who can help. Always good to err on the side of caution!

Final Touches

  • Either hold your horse or tie him to the trailer. If you are going to tie your horse, don’t leave the lead rope so ridiculously long your horse can eat grass. Pretty much all of the broken rein/broken bridle incidents I have seen were due to tying the horse too long, then walking off and leaving them unsupervised.
  • Take off shipping boots if you use them, do up your girth, spray fly spray if needed. You can do touch-ups if there is time but in my experience, at this point it is too late to do any major grooming!
  • Take off your horse’s halter and switch your barn jacket for your hunt jacket (this keeps it clean up until the very last moment!). If you are REALLY organized, you have put a little piece of panty hose or a tiny washcloth in your jacket pocket to dust off your boots…but considering you’re about to go sloshing through streams, brambles, and mud, it’s not something to stress about.
  • Mount up. Check your girth after a few steps and you are ready!

 

I know all of this seems like a lot but it is like anything with horses. There are a million things to keep in mind at the same time, and you have to be very detail-oriented. But I promise, once you master the skills, your foxhunting routine will become second nature!

Newbie Tips

My Foxhunting Routine

Figuring out exactly how and when to prepare for hunting was very nerve-wracking for me when I first started, so now that I have a system that works for me I thought I would share it. Add extra time if you have a light-colored horse!

The Night Before: Horse Prep

Allow about 30 minutes to bathe and 30 minutes for your horse to dry. More if you’re drinking beers with barn friends.

A few tricks:

Use Orvus soap for your initial scrub of the body, mane and tail. Rinse/scrub with a curry comb hose attachment to really get down to the skin level of dirt.

Follow up with conditioner in the mane and tail. Rinse. Spray with Show Sheen and brush out from bottom to top to avoid breaking hairs.

If your barn hot water tends to go cold quickly, fill up a bucket or two with room temperature water before turning on the hot water. Put a water heater in the bucket, plug it in and let it heat up while you use up the hose hot water. By the time you are ready to rinse, you will have warm water.

Throw an Irish knit and/or cooler on your horse to dry off with some hay in a stall or under heat lamps. Make sure to keep an eye on your horse so they are not stuck shivering in a wet cooler. Just flip to the dry side once one side is damp. If your horse is likely to roll make sure to tie them in the stall while drying. If you want to Show Sheen the neck and rump of your horse to try to repel dirt, you can, but I think very few foxhunters do this. NEVER Show Sheen the saddle area of your horse. I learned this the hard way with saddle pads that literally slipped out from under my saddle while hunting!!!

If you are stalling your horse overnight, make sure the stall is picked out. Untie your horse and leave plenty of hay and water. If you are turning out your horse for the night, make sure they are DRY and definitely Show Sheen the mane and tail to repel dirt. It might seem pointless to bathe a horse and then turn them out for the night, but it certainly has a place if it will get the base layer of dirt off and make them happier in the morning (or avoid stocking up). Of course you will have to arrive earlier in the morning to do another bath if you don’t stall your horse.

Make sure there is hay and water in the trailer.

Lay out your saddle, saddle pad(s), and bridle near the grooming stall or wherever you tack up in the morning. All of this is already clean because you clean your tack after every ride, right? You absolutely need to during hunt season!

 

The Night Before: Human Prep

Get all the rider supplies you need ready. This takes me about 10 minutes for clothes and about 10 minutes for flask and sandwich case. If you are a morning person, you might be able to do this stuff as part of your morning routine, but I move at the speed and intelligence of Beltway traffic in the morning so it is easier for me to prepare everything the night before.

Clothes:

I always put all my hunt attire in the bathroom the night before so I can brush my teeth and get dressed early in the morning without waking my light-sleeping husband. You need breeches, socks, belt, show shirt, stock tie (I always store my stock tie with the stock pin stuck through it so I don’t ever lose it), hunting jacket, and a loose layer of clothes to go on top so your nice clothes don’t get dirty. This is a trick I learned from my show hunter days. When I get dressed in the morning, I cover my ensemble with a sweatshirt and pajama pants.

There are waterproof zip-up pants that are made just for this purpose but you can certainly get by without them.

Food and Drink:

Often I will try to get creative with my hunt breakfast tailgate contributions, but if you want to make things really easy, make a BIG batch of muffins, cookies or sweet bread and put it in the freezer days or weeks ahead of time. Let it thaw in your car the night before a hunt and you are in business!

My tradition the night before I hunt is to do a little bartending with whatever concoction I can make from the liquor I have at home. You can’t go wrong with port wine or sherry in your flask but the options are endless. Hard lemonade is great for hot days. Apple juice with whiskey or apple brandy is great for fall.  You want something with a kick that is also semi-refreshing. Avoid anything carbonated because it will explode, and also avoid Baileys or other creamy or very sweet liquors because they will be disgusting, as I found out.

I believe a white meat sandwich with the crust cut off tied in paper is technically correct to put in a ladies’ sandwich case, but I normally put granola bars and chapstick.

Set your coffeemaker for the morning and put a to-go thermos right next to it!

If you are really on top of your game, put your tall boots, hunt coat and a tweed jacket for the breakfast in your car. Otherwise, keep all your clothes together and do this in the morning.

The Morning Of

Say, for example, the hunt begins at 8 am, and it takes 20 minutes to trailer to the meet. I would wake up at 5 am and arrive at the barn by 6 am to be safe. If I stalled my horse overnight, I might arrive at 6:30. Here’s a hypothetical time schedule.

5am…ish: Wake up, brush teeth, wash face. Some women wear makeup to hunt but I have no idea how to manage that level of coordination. Put on your breeches, socks, belt, shirt, and tie your stock tie. Pin to your shirt and throw a sweatshirt and pajama pants (or zip-ups) over the entire thing.

Grab coffee, hunt jacket, boots, helmet, gloves, sandwich case, flask, tailgate contribution and go!

5:30 am: Drive to barn

6am: An early-morning hunt would be during my horse’s normal breakfast time, so the first thing I do is feed right when I arrive at the barn. Up to your discretion if you give a half portion and feed the rest when you return home or a full portion.

While your horse is eating, investigate how clean they stayed overnight. Always assume you will need to do some touch-ups. Get a bucket of water ready during the 15 or so minutes it takes for your horse to eat.

6:15 am: Last-minute grooming. Make sure to check your horse’s hooves and legs carefully.

6:30 am: Hook up your trailer while your horse dries. (I trailer with a friend so I normally don’t do this but it does take about 10 min.)

6:40 am: Inevitably something will go wrong. You need buffer time! Check trailer lights, hay and water (again) and if all is well, get yourself ready. Put on your boots, straighten your stock tie, etc. Make sure to put your helmet and gloves on the trailer.

7:15 am : Tack up. Put your saddle on with the girth fairly loose, and you can even put the bridle on if it is a short trailer ride. NOT Pony Club approved but hunt people do it all the time so they can unload from the trailer and ride off. Alternatively, you can bridle your horse in the trailer once you arrive at the meet. Then you will need to arrive even earlier of course.

The reins go under the throatlatch, and then you twist them several times and loop over the head so the horse cannot get a foot through them. Halter goes over the entire bridle contraption.

I would not recommend bridling your horse while tied to the trailer at the meet, unless your horse is a saint OR unless you arrive very early. There is just too much going on and too much of a high-energy environment.

7:20 am (but realistically, 7:30 am): Load and haul out! Plan backward so you arrive at the meet at least 10 minutes early. The hunt will not wait for you!

After the Hunt
Once hunting is over typically it’s a long walk back to the trailers, which is a good opportunity to cool out your horse and enjoy a few sips from your flask.

When you get back to the trailer, dismount, loosen girth, offer your horse water and untack. Splash some Vetrolin in your wash water, bathe your horse and check legs and shoes. Offer water again. If all is well, load up, close up the trailer ramp, switch from your hunt coat to your tweed, and enjoy the hunt breakfast while your horse munches on hay!

Just found out tonight that little Lefty is out of commission for a while with cellulitis. I have another horse I can ride but this likely means no dressage show in September 😦