The open space laid out in front of us looked so inviting, especially after finding out how many natural and timber fences were beckoning us to jump over them. For those riders that had started to have withdrawal symptoms from not jumping any hedges in the past few months were quickly satisfied. It was great to see so many horses and riders, effortlessly glide over the big hedge at Swans Farm. It was a great start to what is going to be an even better season, with plenty more hedges to come. Four Seasons is defiantly one of my favourite meets, there are endless fences of all heights and we gallop past the beautiful lake on the first line, there isn’t another meet so picturesque. We are truly lucky and thankful to all of our land owners.
The First Snow
Only the tough and hardy turned up on Sunday to brave the frosty weather. For me hunting is a cold weather sport. The first half of the season was far too warm. Yesterday was perfect, there was a dusting of snow and it was cold! Even the stirrup cup of port goes down better in the cold and gives us some warmth! I was fully prepared for today with my thermals out but I suffered really bad cold feet – has anybody got any recommendations for cold busting socks?
It was lovely to see Jess bring out Darcy after his break. Darcy looked eager and keen to go but still listening to jockey Jess. Morag did well on Sooty as she trotted around at the back. At the end of each line Tilly had stilettos (her feet filled with chunks of ice!!) which didn't match considering she's a hunter! It was great to have Caroline was back from her amazing safari holiday around Africa which made me very jealous about how close she got to the wild animals. Mike Van Oostrum led the footfollowers to all the key locations to watch the hunt goers.
The hounds where in full cry and eager to begin the days hunting. All the horses began to puff up with excitement and the cold weather seemed to fuel them even more. Barossa is a perfect meet for January’s wetter weather as the ground conditions where good with only a small amount of boggier ground but we still had to dodge the puddles. The field zoomed through woodland,tracks and common ground. We had a couple of long gallops ascending up hill, which was perfect as it took the sting out of the horses. Barossa is a perfect meet for first timers as all jumps are optional.
At the end of the line it's a great feeling when I'm sat on Tilly and I see the breath from her nose. I love it when you can see the steam coming off of all the horses backs, creating a massive cloud of warm steam engulfing all riders. At one point I felt like I was sharing an equestrian steam room!
After four amazing lines it was time to wash down the horses. Luckily for Christmas I got an electric washer so my hands didn’t freeze in a bucket of water! We had another amazing tea with Natalie and my nan making super yummy pork and stuffing rolls. There was also fresh bread, cheese, brownies and other goodies. Tea is one of my favourite times during the social side of hunting as you talk about your day and chat to new faces. I was speaking to a lovely American lady who had a hireling, she persuaded me to go over to Ireland and check out their hunting. It's great to talk to people about hunting as it widens your hunting lore.
Thanks to AVO for arranging the meet. Barry was great opening and closing the main gate, putting the water on ahead of time so we could all have a hot drink upon our return and for waiting in the cold for us to get back safely. Thanks to Jamie for taking the first field, Caroline lead the second field and I understand John Potter even had a select few in his own third field. DigitalPicy never lets us down regardless of the weather. Make sure you order some photos, as we don't often get shots in the snow.
We had one tumbler and she took two falls! All in a good days hunting. Last year I fell off three times in one meet at Barossa!!
Our Boxing Day meet is up there in my top five meets of the season. Horses are getting really fit, the going is usually pretty good and my confidence is at a comfortable level. There is so much excitement following the celebrations of the previous day and social media really is starting to promote our sport, which adds to the excitement. Plus I usually get one or two “hunting” presents that I am bursting to try out.
Sara has great knowledge and it’s really worth contacting her for anything horsey from hunting to showing. Her web site is www.totalimpactequestrian.com, if you don’t see what you are looking for give her a call. She has a Facebook page too.
We arrive about 11.30am, as we pulled in the familiar site of the hounds poking their noses through the grills greeted us on our right. The field had around twenty trailers already parked up. The lorries were filling up the hard standing area too. There were so many cars parked up, footfollowers were emerging and it looked busy with activities. I quickly unloaded the car, said hello to many friends and fellow riders. Before I knew it, I had to get Tilly tacked up. The time always goes so quickly. I stopped at one point, it must have been about midday and the trailers and lorries were streaming down the driveway to enter the field. They just kept coming..
I realised at this point that I needed to get a move on and it was going to be a huge field. Kirstie was walking around with her green bag, collecting field money and I didn’t envy her. So many people to collect from. I saw AVO and Mark had mounted and were making their way to the meeting point. I couldn’t see much more from my trailer as there was a sea of horses and footfollowers. Susie Moorhouse kindly gave me a leg up and I was on. I made my way over to join in. Mulled wine and sausages were being served as a Boxing Day treat to all. Andrew Groom very kindly passed me a Port.
Footfollowers were called, our time was drawing closer. The horn was blown and the hounds set off. We shortly followed. I felt my chest almost puff out. I felt excited, proud to be drag hunting, proud to be riding my beautiful mare, proud that my mare and I were heading off together as team. I felt slightly anxious too, I always do for the first line. But it’s a nice anxious feeling.
We quickly crossed the road and trotted alongside the picturesque Hawley Lake. The first line was all through woodland with the going well and only sticky in a few areas.
We had our first tumbler; a gorgeous looking grey lost their rider and decided to carry on without them. Fortunately, we weren’t too far from the footfollowers first viewing point of us jumping at Hawely Lake. Jamie Wright tried unsuccessfully to catch the grey; this horse was just to fast for him! Then Jamie was face with another grey charging towards him without a rider. It caused much confusion as the foot followers though it was the same loose grey, only it had shrunk!!! This grey belonged to our second tumbler and boy did this horse dump his rider well. Face down in a muddy, wet boggy patch. The poor rider was covered. I’ve never seen a rider so muddy. He did take it very well and was smiling. Thankfully both riders were unhurt and reunited with their horses.
The flash of mobile phones taking selfies were even more popular on this day.
The second line was through woodland with lots of jumps on option. Tilly and I certainly had our jumping bug fix on Boxing Day; I think her new bridal and my hunting whip had something to do with it! Luckily on the second line all riders stayed on their horses with no more tumbles. The second line soon came to an end however; the third line was across fields, which was perfect to let the horse have a good gallop before the end of the day.
One of my favourite parts of the day was when Chris Milton and I jumped the last jump side by side! I think Tilly and Jolly enjoyed it as much as Chris and I!
Thanks to everyone that helped the day happen and to the landowners that gave their permission for us to cross.
With the Berks & Bucks Draghounds, and Kent & Surrey Bloodhounds
After a fast and furious first line the second and third lines were still ahead of us. There where many jumps through the day varying in height, photographers await in position to catch some superb action shots.
After a stressful journey due to traffic delays, my mood was quickly lifted as we turned into the driveway of Moundsmere Manor.
As the day continued we had plenty of hedges varying in height so everyone could give it ago. By now mud was flying, covering small ponies and tiny jockeys, it was the most mud we have had so far this season, which truly christened our jods and tack. It wasn't long before we began to have a few more tumblers; from behind me I heard the dreaded “Loose horse!” As I looked behind I saw a little grey pony shoot past! Thankfully both horse and rider where unharmed and where able to carry on the fun. The tumblers didn't end here as another pony and rider slipped in the mud! You're only a true hunter when you have taken a tumble out and have the guts to carry on.
The first field glided across endless farmland, mud flying in full swing from the hooves ahead. Laura took the second field steadier, but still giving all the jumps ago. We crossed some of the most stunning country as we galloped through grass fields, stubble and along side perfectly cut hedgerows. There is no better feeling than being able to just let “your horse go”. Hounds were just visible in the distance.
Moundsmere has some great hedges and a huge wide hedge in the perfect position for footfollowers to watch. There were a few refusal, one horse ran straight through it but many cleared it. Maria King, Jamie Cheetham and Vicky Thompson to name a few gave our footfollowers what they had been waiting for.
After the day was drawing to an end it was time to head back home after four lines. When the tired horses where washed down from being covered in mud, it was time to fill hungry bellies. With thanks to Clara for making super yummy cakes and Andrew and Fiona for making two delicious homemade hot soups.
I’m sure many of you will agree that the excitement, anticipation and preparation begins days, if not weeks in advanced before the opening meet. For me it’s my decisions on when to clip, fine blades or medium? Timing is crucial. I don’t want clip marks or the ponies looking like a mole! The “bit” question goes through my head all summer, testing and comparing different bits, looking for the most effective brakes! For some of you, I bet you were asking yourself whether to boot or not to boot. Everyone has an opinion – mine is not to. Maria and Slate encountered a boot “issue” on the first line, a quick dismount from Maria and Kate ended up hunting with Slate’s boot attached to her saddle! To hog or plait? If plaiting, do you plait the night before or get up extra early and plait on the day. The need to know the weather, checking the app on my phone all week!
As we pulled into the long sweeping driveway into the estate, the little ponies on my left seem to instantly know that the hunt goers were arriving, they cantered to the fence and ran along side us. Up over the hill and I was overlooking the turf I was about to cover. Mark and the hounds (noses poking through the trailer gaps, I had been reunited with a familiar sight) were at the bottom of the hill. The excitement within began to grow.
I discovered the hounds were looking fine and had been freshly bathed. Time goes so quickly, trailers, lorries and cars started to arrive, the activity around our little “camp” in the field was in full swing. Catching up with fellow friends and lots of laughs and chatting. We quickly tacked up. The moment I put my stock on, I was in “hunt mode”, the season had begun………….
I enjoy hacking up the hill to assemble in front of the Four Seasons Hotel, a former hunting lodge and monastery. Some plod, some trot, some throw in the odd buck or rear, but for many, it’s a fast, alert walk, ears pricked forward, sensing something awaits.
This year the field seemed bigger than normal, maybe the good weather (but it must have been a Huntsman’s nightmare!) or the reputation that drag hunting doesn’t get any better than being with SC & RMAS. I enjoyed seeing little 11hh ponies all the way through to AVO’s 19hh+ hunter Monty, who towers above all of us, with many admiring comments. Turnout was impeccable, and rightly so. Our Chairman Pat Sutton, chatted to riders about their day ahead.
It was at this point I caught sight of Richard leaving on the quad bike. Setting off to lay the trail for which we were about to cover. This sight always fills me with a rush of mixed emotions. Mark blew the horn; the hounds looked as excited as I was. I had missed the sound of the horn being blown. Horses and riders were suddenly aware of what they had come to do, was happening.
Our Huntsman Mark and the hounds left. We waited as uniformed as we could, as by now, the horses were on their toes, until Jamie signalled it was time to proceed. My mouth was dry and I was grinning so wide, I felt conscious of it! A few minutes earlier I was chatting and sipping my chosen tipple for the season, now my legs felt like jelly and I was about to burst.
Jamie led us behind the hotel, the pace quickened quickly to our first gallop across the open field. I was riding along side Jackie, she asked for a lead over the first fence, which to me seemed larger than last year! Through gritted teeth and a little leg, we cleared the jump. The field were following behind me, I could hear the sounds of hooves on the good ground and the rush of snorts around me. I could relax, slightly. I always find the first jump the hardest.
We soon came to one of my favourite vistas. Slightly elevated, looking into the distance, you can see the hounds working and hotel on our right hand side. It’s a very “do-able” down hill gallop, that gently sweeps back up in front of the hotel with a few good sized timber jumps or the opportunity to have an exhilarating flat out blast! I choose a combination of both! Most riders cleared the jumps with ease, but a few made that horrid run out to the left or right!
We had soon all stopped, hip flasks outs, red cheeks and smiles of happiness and relief! The blackberries were so great this season that a popular choice of tipple seems to be homemade blackberry gin or vodka as there was plenty being passed around! Caroline Bullen was still looking elegant and pristine! Time to move on to the second line. Cantering alongside seeded fields, a super ditch to pop over, and a good few rails undercover of the autumn coloured trees. The hedges were soon in full view. The conversation in front and behind of me becomes one of debating whether to jump the hedge or not. Many take flight over the huge “Swans” hedge with ease, jubilant on landing and for those not so keen, they pass through the open gate, just as jubilantly!!! Pippa Booth proved jumping hedges side-saddle is effortless.
Foot followers and riders mingled. We had a chance exchange our thoughts and hounds rested. Two more lines lay ahead, Richard was off into the distance, and we were soon to follow.
Hip flasks were put away. We were off. Grinning faces and some mud was flying. The pace was fast in the first field with plenty of rails to jump and the second field more sedate if you wanted to give your nerves a rest.
The last line has always been my favourite, it’s a great opportunity to challenge yourself over bigger fences as your confidence flourishes per line and your horse is going strong. The famous “bulls field” looms in the distance and we are quickly faced with a challenging fence to enter. Once in, you’re facing the bull and his herd are watching you approach, for the brave it’s a further two challenging fences to jump out, or once you have passed our “host” the gate to the right can be opened. For the second field an easier route is available.
To end this last line, it’s a fast gallop and a chance to reflect how privileged we are to be riding across this country and returning with our mounts safely.
Whilst walking back to where we started our day, a small palomino pony shoots past me, rider grinning and I thought, this obviously shows a good days hunting is not enough for an 11.2hh!!
Hounds were counted and put away. Mounts were washed off; luckily with the dry conditions we were grateful for minimum mud. That’s all to come! The much needed hunt tea had been thoughtfully prepared in our absence and was very much in need. Honey roasted ham, sausage rolls, the most famous and delicious homemade game soup provided by Simon Wilson was again the talk of the tea. Slices of fresh bread waiting to be dunked beckoned and my tummy was soon feeling full. Followed by delicious cakes and lovely puds.
Blogger; Ellie Simpson-Ball
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