Riding to Hounds by Rachel Medbery
There is something about foxhunting that has always been a draw for me. In my first job out of college I wrote an article about ‘riding to hounds’ and had it published in the Hampton Classic program and a local horsey magazine. I am not sure where the pull came from but it was most definitely there and was on my ‘bucket list’ of activities. In my 20s I was not riding as often as I had growing up and found that I desperately missed the horses. I was living in Milford, Connecticut, and was often in New York City for work and to meet up with Friends. I was finding it challenging to find a place to ride regularly and get back to the barn on a more regular basis. I would occasionally go riding in Central Park, from the famous Claremont Riding Academy, up on 86th Street and would find any opportunity to ride. Finally, I had just finished graduate school and was working as a Meeting Planner for one of the big four professional services firms, traveling all the time which also gave me a little extra money in my pocket. The fall of 2006 it was time to buy a horse. I was specifically looking for a horse that could take me foxhunting. I knew nothing about the characteristics of a foxhunting horse or how it would all work out but I found a 3 year old PMU mare outside of Boston that seemed like she would be game. I had taken a lesson, a few months back with an instructor that Whipped in with Fairfield County Hounds and was incredibly involved with the Hunt. She and I took a trip to see the horse I was considering and agreed that she would likely be an appropriate type of horse to hunt.
I look back now, 14 years later and realize how much I didn’t know…but isn't’ that always the case with hindsight? Fairfield Count Hounds used to conduct foxhunting Clinics before the start of each season to give guidance to riders that are new to foxhunting and horses that weren’t yet familiar with hounds and moving in a herd of horses. The way of riding when riding to hounds is significantly different to the ring or even trail riding I had done in the past. I had to learn to give up ‘control’ and understand that Hunt horses knew their job and best not to mess with them about it. One of the first things that I learned was to keep my horse up close to the horse in front of them, about a horse length between but not much more than that because if you do the result is wrestling with horse for most of the day. The horses don’t want to be left behind and some are comfortable at a few horse lengths back, most are not and it doesn’t work to force the issue too much, you just make unnecessary problem. The second thing that I am very aware of each hunt is who I am riding near for that day. The energy of the ‘field’ (this is what the group of riders are called) can be very influential on your individual ride and on your horse. If I am on a green horse, I want to pick a seasoned hunt horse with a confident rider to be behind and avoid having a young, bouncy horse behind me. If I am on a more seasoned horse, I put myself in a spot that allows me to be away from more aggressive riders (jostling for the position to be in the front). The protocols for riding to the hounds are outlined to keep horse, hounds and riders safe. Riders with colors are behind the field master, members and their guests stay more to the back of each field. Green horses or horses that kick go in the back of whichever field they are joining. The hunt field can seem disorderly and with careful examination, there is a systematic order to things.
Inside foxhunting there is a fascinating world. Learning about the hounds, the horn, the clothing, and the history can be a (and often is) a lifelong education. If you are interested in learning more there are several good books on the subject. A must read is ‘Riding to Hounds in America’, by William Wadsworth. Rita Mae Brown writes several humorous books that are fun reads. Hope to see you in the hunt field.