Despite Saturday’s forecasted temperature of 84 degrees, I woke up early and headed out to Flint Creek with Gina in tow. My expectations for the day were pretty low; warm, dry weather doesn’t make for good scenting conditions.
Gina felt super as we hacked out to where the hounds would be cast. She was alert and attentive and didn’t seem inclined to snatch the bit in her teeth and lead the field. She stood quietly while the hounds were cast, and kept to a slow canter as we followed the staff after them.
The hounds didn’t really scent anything all day, so there wasn’t much excitement. There were a couple of stretches of easy cantering, but no real chases or wild gallops. Foxhunters won’t be deterred from a bit of fun, though- a slow hunt means lots of opportunities for larking! Flint Creek Farm is home to many, many cross-country jumps. There are dozens of coops set into fence lines to make following the hounds easy. There are also post-and-rail fences, ditches, logs of all sizes, ramps, and even a respectably-sized trakehner.
The coops are the only jumps that are strictly necessary during the hunt (although they typically have gates or alternative routes around for those riding second field), and they’re some of my favorite obstacles. Good hunt horses are scrappy as hell, and many have that coveted fifth leg. Picture the scene: you’re galloping hell-bent-for-leather down a gravel road in a group of other horses, hot on the heels of the hounds. The hounds follow their quarry into a dense tangle of woods, and you’ve got to make a sharp right to follow them down a narrow trail in the forest. You’ve got about three strides from your turn to get lined up to go over a coop that separates the road from the trail. The coop is about three feet tall and eight feet long, and is bordered by barbed wire fencing, overgrown with vines and branches. The landing and take off of the jump are rocky and uneven, and there’s a low-hanging branch on the other side of the jump. There are at least a dozen horses and riders breathing down your neck. What do you and your horse do? You go over the damn jump, that’s what!
Hunting teaches you and your horse to go. There’s little time to worry about getting the right distance, or worry about the size of the jump, or be concerned with much past staying on and not letting your horse land on the horse in front of you.
Our field master led first field on quite the cross-country schooling, though that’s a bit of a misnomer. There wasn’t any thoughtful analysis of how the jumps would be approached, there was no reschooling of an imperfect fence, and it was understood that all jumps would be attempted. I had a couple of hairy moments when a horse to Gina’s left suddenly decided to run out to the right, nearly swerving into Gina and another when an enormous draft cross a few strides in front of us slowed to a crawl and heaved itself over a post-and-rail, almost causing Gina to slam into its very large rear. (Gina, like the good hunting horse she is, stopped in time, then sprang over the fence without issue.)
Gina was very good all day, though she got quite strong as we went along over more and more jumps. She didn’t seem upset or nervous, just eager to go! She was still bright-eyed and energetic when we turned in, though she was drenched in sweat thanks to the heat. Back at the trailer, I sponged her off and discovered she’d pulled one of her shoes. Gina wasn’t (and isn’t) lame, but she’s on a break until the farrier can get out to put another one on. Back to quarter clips for Queen G!