I took Candy to her very first hunt on Saturday and lived to tell the tale! She behaved herself pretty well and only had a couple of spastic moments in the course of a two hour hunt, so I’m pleased.
Harvard Fox Hounds is still cubbing. Our master had back surgery earlier this year and is helping one of the club’s whippers-in learn the ropes of leading the hunt. Opening Hunt has been pushed back to December 9, and cubbing season has been extended in the interim. I knew cubbing would be the perfect opportunity to introduce Candy to the hunt field. It’s lower key, less formal, and is structured to help inexperienced hounds and horses learn the game.
Candy hopped off the trailer bright-eyed and keen and stood quietly while I groomed her, tied a red ribbon around her tail, and tacked her up. She seemed interested what was going on, but didn’t appear overwhelmed or particularly nervous. She marched off briskly when I got on, and we headed over to join up with some of our friends who were milling around and waiting for the hunt to start. Candy gave the hound truck some serious side-eye; the hounds were making some noise, but Candy couldn’t figure out why dog sounds were emanating from a truck!
I opted to ride second field. First field moves at a brisk trot or canter and jumps obstacles they encounter. I never had a doubt about riding Gina in first field, but Candy is so green that I thought second field, which mostly walks and trots and avoids jumps, was a better choice. Second field (at Harvard) is usually smaller than first, which I thought would decrease the chances Candy would kick another horse. There were about fifteen horses in first field and five in second field.
Candy was very eager to be off, but crossing the cold waters of Flint Creek first thing seemed to dampen her spirits a bit. The hounds were off right away across a broad, flat field and second flight did a little cantering to keep up. Candy was very good; her canter is smooth and ground-covering, and she’s pretty polite about staying at a reasonable pace. After that initial burst of speed, there was a lot of standing around waiting for the hounds to pick up the trail again. Candy wasn’t a big fan and fidgeted nervously until we got moving again.
The hunt progressed through some creekside woods, and very quickly headed up a steep incline that’s appropriately named Don’t Stop Trail. Candy tackled the hill gamely. She trotted and cantered up it while I hung on to a chunk of her mane and congratulated myself on remembering her breastplate. The field waited at the top of the hill to see where the hounds would go, and Candy took the opportunity to catch her breath and snatch up a few mouthfuls of grass.
The rest of the hunt was somewhat uneventful. We wound through the woods and eventually headed back down the hill. Candy had one explosive moment toward the end of the ride. As we were cantering in a big open meadow, Candy bent her head and neck to the left while scooting her body to the right. I booted her with my right leg to straighten her out, which she took as a signal to run. She bounded forward at a gallop, blowing past the fieldmaster and most of first field before I managed to get her to stop. I apologized to the field master, but she was more amused than offended.
Overall, Candy was very good. She fearlessly plunged into running water, casually jumped some small logs that had fallen across the trail, only tried to kick one horse who put his nose on her hindquarters, kept to a reasonable pace for most of the ride, and handled the footing and terrain like a pro.
I think I’ll probably take her in first field next time we go, though. She was clearly unhappy being kept to a walk or slow trot, especially when she could see the first field horses cantering ahead of her. She spent a lot of time jigging; it didn’t seem to be a fearful or nervous behavior- more like she was annoyed. There aren’t many jumps that can’t be avoided if necessary, though I hope she’ll be sailing over coops in no time. I’m not as concerned as I was about her kicking since she barely pinned her ears at any other horse unless they were physically touching her (though I’ll continue to put a red ribbon on her).