The weekend after I returned from US Dressage Finals, I took Gina to the Harvard Fox Hounds hunter pace. My team was composed of three other hunt members, and we were out to win!
The day couldn’t have been more perfect. It was sunny and cool, so my group estimated that the mystery time would be faster than last year’s time. (I’m glad someone else remembered what last year’s winning time was, as I spent last year clinging to Candy as she cantered sideways through the woods for two and a half hours.) We settled on two hours as our goal time. The hunter pace course is about nine miles long, so we knew we’d have to intersperse periods of walking with trotting and cantering.
We headed east, and picked up a canter once we crossed Flint Creek. This part of the course is a huge, open hay meadow with jumps along the edge of the field. My teammate led the way over the first few jumps, then let Gina and I take over as we headed uphill towards the densely wooded trail that comprises most of the first half of the course. Gina felt fantastic- she was eagerly moving forward and looking for the jumps. We had a couple of funny distances, but nothing we couldn’t sort out. My teammates’ horses seemed just as excited; everyone was jumping well and behaving themselves.
The wooded trails are pretty narrow and twisty, so we kept to a walk through most of that area. We climbed up hills, carefully shimmied down hills, and trotted when the trails were good enough for us to do so. When we reached the halfway point for a mandatory five minute rest we were dead on our planned pace.
As we headed out on the western half of the course, Gina’s energy flagged. I opted to skip all of the jumps on that half of the ride. Gina’s old, not extraordinarily fit right now, and there’s no reason to pick a fight. I know she’ll jump whatever I need her to on the hunt field!
The second half of the hunter pace course is land I’ve hunted over frequently, so I had a good feel for the pace. My team was happy to spend most of this half walking and trotting. We cantered through the finish flags at 2:01:10. Afterwards, I left Gina at the trailer with a full hay net and bucket of water and joined my friends at the potluck lunch. Eventually, the last of the teams on course finished and we eagerly waited to see how we’d placed.
The mystery time was 2:03, so we were close enough for second place! The winning team was just 38 seconds off the pace.
I had such a great time at this year’s competition. It’s such a pleasure to be back on Gina, especially after a year of hunting Candy. Candy might someday be comfortable on the field, but in the meantime, I’ll take all the time on Gina I can get!