Riding Adventures

Once in a Lifetime

So as I write to you I am completely freaking out…because…

I’m hunting in England in a month!!!!!!

Isn’t there a quote “They meet at 11. They still meet at 11. They will always meet at 11”?

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!”
  • and “Don’t miss your train stop

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.

 

 

 

Riding Adventures

Do You Have to Be Brave to Foxhunt?

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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.

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Lefty and the culprit

So is it learned bravery? Or learned stupidity? That is a question I can’t answer. Having too much fun.

 

 

Riding Adventures

Checked off the bucket list

Just returned from a relaxing trip to the Outer Banks where I had the opportunity to check an item off my bucket list–riding on the beach!

Luckily I was able to convey that my husband and I do know how to ride, but that I wanted a vacation from my grumpy Thoroughbred. Mission accomplished. Diamond, the little chestnut Arab gelding I rode, was pretty much point and shoot (aside from a slight magnetic attraction to the trailer). My husband’s QH mount, April, was even more so–perfect for a more beginner rider. (Though they did try to stuff him into a 16″ saddle for some reason.)

 

I was surprised by how deep the footing was! When cantering and trotting, we stuck to the tire treads left by people four-wheeling. Otherwise the sand was just too variable, and after a year of hunting, I am not one to be overly worried about footing with the right horse.  Regardless, it was a fun ride and I was very happy with the care of the horses.

In keeping with the original frugality theme of the blog, this was a pretty affordable experience ($80 apiece). While that is double what I pay for a lesson, I would gladly give up two lessons for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Although once I buy a trailer in a few years, maybe it won’t be once in a lifetime!

I feel a little funny about calling this a bucket list item because really I don’t have a bucket list, but riding on the beach is something I’ve always wanted to do. Before, my dream experience was foxhunting just once in my life. Clearly from the infrequency of my posts, we see how hunting has turned out to completely overtake my life. But hey, nothing wrong with living everyday life like a vacation. I always try to make a point of appreciating what I have, and spending money on the things that count, not the things that don’t. Because really, who needs to go out for dessert on vacation when you can make this in the toaster oven?!

We were supposed to have a hunt clinic to entice newbies today, but with a heat index over 100, the riding portion of the event was canceled. Right decision but a bummer since this year I helped organize the event, and we actually came home a day early so I could attend. Luckily I was still able to enjoy a cold one and snuggle hounds at the Hound Walk Happy Hour last night. Not a bad thing to come home to after a 6.5 hour drive!

Next weekend is our Opening Cubbing. Hopefully the weather will be reasonable enough to ride, but I doubt we’ll really hunt till it cools down significantly.

Riding Adventures

Back to business

The wedding is over. The marriage is happy. I have a new job.

Now time to get back to foxhunting!!!

Today was my second hunt clinic with Potomac, but in contrast to last year when I was so worried about impressing the owner of the horse I borrowed and not falling off and breaking every bone in my body, this year I actually helped other new people. It was a great feeling.

I’m leasing a new horse, Lefty, who so far has shown himself to be completely trustworthy and fun. He doesn’t care if he’s with the group or not; he doesn’t care if we’re going faster or slower than the group; AND he is super careful and balanced going downhill and into ditches. All of this makes him the perfect hunt horse in my mind because I’m 100% in control, not relying on the person in front of me to babysit!

 
Instead, I can actually be the babysitter, which I’ve been doing all summer with a friend and her young horse, and today at the foxhunting clinic. Of course it’s fun to be on your own and go as fast or slow as you please, but I remember last year when I was so appreciative of friends who would give me a lead over jumps or help me walk through a stream rather than leap over it.

Lefty on the hilltop

So on Thursday I gave a copy of “Riding to Hounds in America” to a hunting newbie,  and today I babysat two horses and riders who had barely ridden outside an arena. I even struck up a conversation with a complete stranger my age (something that ordinarily terrifies me). As it turned out, she was in a very similar situation to me last year–borrowing horses, a little more than slightly obsessed with the charm of hunting.

My secondhand boots

It’s amazing how much more confident I feel not being the new kid on the block anymore. After borrowing so many different people’s horses last year, the hunt members feel like extended family. And not the stressful kind of family that make you freak out over whether they’ll all behave themselves at your wedding (which, if you’re wondering, they did). More like the kind of family that will wash your horse for you just to be nice, or recognize when you need a little liquid courage. And who won’t judge you for sipping from their flask before noon.

I still can’t really believe I get to do this regularly.

Riding Adventures

A sneak peek of spring

Today was one of those freak pleasant days in the middle of winter that make you remember spring isn’t all that far away, so I seized the chance to ride. The ring was slushy, and I  nearly lost a boot in the mud trying to catch a lesson horse who did NOT want to be caught, but who cares? Beats work any day.

Per my instructor’s hint that a stronger core would lead to easier downward transitions, I’ve been doing some daily ‘homework’ with a crazy gymnastics video I found online (as well as my usual nightly Yogamazing). It’s been kicking my butt! Good thing is it did pay off with the transitions.

Lesson rundown:

  • Warmup: Lots of changes of direction and transitions between walk-trot
  • 5 steps sitting trot, 5 steps rising while adding some 20m circles
  • 20 strides trot to 20 strides canter a few times
  • 5 steps sitting trot, 5 steps rising, 5 steps in two-point while doing serpentines and figure 8s
  • Cooldown: transitions from walk-halt-walk, then long rein walk

Prior to riding with this instructor I didn’t really do exercises like the 5 steps sitting, 5 steps posting, etc. but it REALLY has helped a lot with the downward transitions, which have always been challenging for me when riding sensitive horses. On the Shire I leased briefly, downward transitions were pretty darn easy…not so much with the Thoroughbred, who would run through my hand and plod around on the forehand if I didn’t ask just right. With the TB, I usually just let the reins run through my hand a little bit so he had nothing to lean on, which did stop him, but didn’t really help with the leaning on the forehand.

Now I know how to keep my hands “in a box” in front of the saddle, sit tall, stretch down in the heel, and close my leg (thigh, knee and calf) briefly to get a nice, balanced transition. Before I didn’t get that it was OK to use the whole leg.

We also worked on proper bend, which is another one of those seemingly basic things that has eluded me for years. Amazing how sitting on the OUTSIDE seat bone allows the horse’s INSIDE hind leg to come under. It makes total sense and it works like a charm. My dear instructor earned her lesson fee today.

Once all the Pony Club kids, moms and siblings rolled in after my lesson, I also had to coax a small child down from trying to scale the 8-foot fence into the round pen. He was just about over the edge when I saw him. It’s a miracle these things always seem to sort themselves out just in time with a barn full of horse-crazy kids…never a dull moment.

Riding Adventures

PONY CLUB PONY CLUB

No hunting updates for a while, unfortunately, since I used up all 6 of my caps (though I did go car following). My latest riding adventure actually didn’t involve riding at all–I attended my first Pony Club Quiz (horse knowledge) meeting and potluck dinner.

I’ve been super excited to join Horsemasters, which is Pony Club’s adult education/volunteer recruitment arm, since my instructor told me about it a few months ago. I feel like I say this every couple months on my blog, but I know there are holes in my riding and horse management knowledge. In the past I’ve tried dressage to get at the riding issues, and though I enjoy learning dressage, focusing on it exclusively makes my type-A, overachiever, obsessive head explode with all the ways I’m terrible at it. Hence this year’s approach–going back to basics and getting the riding education I wished I knew about as a kid through Pony Club.

Flickr: Five Furlongs/CC

I brought juice for kids and wine (Mommy’s juice) for parents because I figured that would be a fast way to make friends. Wined and dined for a little bit with the parents, and then I took my place in a circle with the D (lowest level) Pony Clubbers. Yep, criss-cross apple sauce with three kids and an older Pony Clubber about my age to teach us (okay, yes, she was slightly younger than me too, age 20).

At first I felt a little ridiculous. I had brought my wine glass over because I thought there would be other adults but as it turned out, the other Horsemasters adults were not at this particular meeting. I slid my glass over on the side table, and got on with the day’s topics of discussion: tack, turnout and horse sports.

If there is one thing I really enjoyed about school it was being a total teacher’s pet. I was always the first one with my hand up, a regular at professors’ office hours, and the only one who refused to speak English in foreign language classes. (Teacher’s pet, total suck up…you say tomAYto, I say tomAHto). I soon found myself in my element as we went round-robin around the circle, naming obscure bits of tack and aspects of horse and rider turnout. Once we moved on to horse sports (foxhunting in particular) I totally schooled those eight-year-olds.

I mean, I shared my knowledge with the next generation. And I learned some new things from them too–for example, did you know that Pony Club is adding hunter/jumper and Western as disciplines to specialize in? One of the young girls in the circle scoffed at this development, saying that “Reining puts wear and tear on horses’ legs” and that she “hates hunter/jumpers.” The instructor gently set her on a less sassy track but I really had to keep myself from laughing…I agree with you, girl! (Not that all hunter/jumpers are awful, but if I had done Pony Club instead of hunter/jumpers as a kid I would be a way better rider!)

This will be me at a rally one day!
Flickr: Dominion Valley Pony Club/CC

Anyway, I ended up having fun. It felt like being at summer camp. I just have to remind myself–A) I look younger than 24, so I don’t LOOK totally out of place even though I may feel that way, and B) there’s nothing wrong with sitting criss-cross apple sauce with a bunch of elementary and middle school kids, especially if we all end up becoming Prelim-level event riders!

Riding Adventures

I have been hunting, I swear!

So…total fail on blogging after every hunt. I’m going to cut myself a little slack though, because at points this fall I was working two jobs and studying for my Series 7 broker exam…so riding in my free time took precedence over writing in my free time.

Now I have used up all six caps I purchased in addition to five or so free cubbing days, and I am most likely done hunting for the season unless I get special permission to ride as a guest. (A possibility, but not guaranteed.) Last January I would have been absolutely thrilled at the prospect of hunting once, twice, or MAYBE three times in 2014, so I am really pleased with how the year turned out.

I learned many new and important things. For example: safe galloping position, the beginnings of an auto jumping release, and the fact that tying a stock is actually not that difficult. Other, less conventional lessons learned: the necessity of making sure your girth is REALLY tight before moving off, mounting an ADD horse from the ground (learned that one in tandem with the girth thing), and how to WALK through ditches as opposed to leaping through them (OK, I only succeed about 50% of the time on that one).

Proof that foxhunting=sunshine and rainbows

Now that it is cold and I’m focusing more on lessons in the arena, I have also learned that foxhunting is TERRIBLE for your overall riding! I find myself leaning forward and tightening my hips, resulting in lots of unintentionally fast trips around the arena on horses who think I am telling them to run like Smarty Jones. Oh, and did I mention my neuroses about riding unfamiliar horses, my fear of being run away with, or my “first-jump-phobia” which has led to countless refusals, runouts, and bunny jumps? Good thing I am working with a saintly and tough instructor who will help me channel my inner Lillie Keenan.

Opening Hunt: Possibly the worst jumping I have ever seen myself do (Photo: Robert Keller)

In addition to hunting adventures, 2014 was extra special because my fiance caught the riding bug. Over the summer he took weekly lessons and got really good at walking, posting the trot, steering, and even went on a few walking trail rides,  but once he was starting to canter he had a bunch of work things that made it hard to schedule regular lessons. Now I think we are back on track and we just had our first group lesson together. I love seeing how happy he is in his lessons, though it’s slightly infuriating how naturally riding comes to him!  I think part of it, though, is that unlike when I was learning to ride, I now know what kind of instructor to send him to so he will learn correctly the first time around, and not let bad habits become ingrained (like me!).

2015 promises to be another fun year with riding. Since I’ve found it is totally doable to hunt without your own horse, I am saving up to join the hunt as a full member. I’m also planning on joining my local Horsemasters chapter (Pony Club for adults). I never got to do Pony Club as a kid, and as I’ve alluded, there are many strange gaps in my riding education that I would like to fill in. (For example, I have no fear jumping a coop out hunting yet I have only the faintest idea of how to get a horse to come round on the bit.) I have also resolved (officially!) to volunteer more, and I’ve already made concrete plans to do so.

Hooray for another year of riding…may this one bring bigger jumps, longer gallops, and fewer concussions than the last!

Miscellaneous Shenanigans, Riding Adventures

The Bane of Manes

So Opening Hunt is next weekend and I am SOOOO EXCITED!

I have lined up a horse to borrow as well as transportation. I’ve ridden this saintly horse several times before, including a lesson where I learned some ways to improve my galloping position, and how to ask for a flying lead change (something I have always wanted to learn but never really needed to considering I never showed much), so I feel confident about using him. I have my melton, canary vest, stock tie, and magical hairnet, so I feel confident about how I’ll look. I also FINALLY resigned myself to the fact that my favorite watch is gone forever, and got a cheapo replacement so I won’t be late like the last two times I’ve hunted (only one of which I wrote about…oops).

The one thing I am NOT so confident about is braiding manes. I’ve watched a lot of videos so I understand the basic idea, but I’ve never actually done it.

I French braid my own hair nearly every day though, and I’ve got a week to practice…so here’s hoping Seven will look like this:

COTH

And not like that one person who shows up at a schooling show feeling really proud for braiding…until the braid ends up sticking up in all directions, falling out, and frizzing up to such a degree it would have been better not to try in the first place.

The day of Opening also marks my fourth year together with Byron and my last anniversary as an unmarried lady. Byron gave me his blessing to go hunting in the morning before we celebrate (not like he had much choice in the matter). Is it wrong that I’m not sure which I am looking forward to more–exploring local wineries in the afternoon, or outriding and outlasting all of the noobs who retire after an hour? Granted, I’ll be on a horse that could hunt in his sleep…but still!

This week I’m also riding (not hunting) a horse a local instructor wants to get back into work and sell. He’s a much different ride than the guest/husband horses I have been riding lately…he’s a chestnut 8 y/o Warmblood cross who is a very forward show hunter type. He’s only around 15hh but there is so much movement in that ground-covering daisy-cutter trot!

It’s funny, but in the ring when they get quick, I get nervous and tense. Yet out in the hunt field when everyone else is doing it,  it’s exhilarating. So, provided that he doesn’t do anything too naughty, I think this will be good for my confidence.

Riding Adventures

Welcome!

Welcome! I have been blogging for two years now, both for fun and professionally, but as I’ve done more and more blogging for work, I found I did less and less blogging for play.

Hence the new blog. It’s going to be much more narrow in focus than my writings for Horse Nation and even my previous blog, The Collegial Equestrian–strictly hunt reports and other things related to my attempts to foxhunt on an extremely limited budget, and with no horse, truck, or trailer. (Though hopefully, I’ll acquire each of those things one by one!)

The view from Windsor Castle

I’m writing for me, so I can track my progress, remember which fixtures to be afraid of, etc., but I hope you’ll enjoy it too!