Countryside, Sherry and a Bit of a Gallop… or…..
A Day Out Hunting with the Rand Hunt Club
Renee Swanepoel N Dip Equine Science, SANEF Level 1 Instructor
I must admit that I am a little bit of an adventure junkie when it comes to riding. Although I try very hard to live up to the refined and controlled Dressage world I drift in, I am not averse to a bit of tomfoolery when it comes to my riding. My horses appreciate this about me, and they know that when it is time to work, we work hard. When it is time to play, we play even harder! I have always thought the Equestrian world was split into two very distinct groups – those who gallop, and those who do not. Being in either group is of course not a sin, and those who do not enjoy seeing the world from the back of a horse travelling at ‘3 tear speed’ are by no means less horsemen or women than those of us who do, but there is something to be said about allowing your horse to go as far as he wishes, as fast as he likes that just makes me gooey all over. In fact, many horses spend their whole lives being told ‘whoa’ and not ever ‘whoohooo’ and that can be sad to me.
The idea of a Hunt has always appealed to me, and one of my previous horses was a champ on the field. He could jump anything you put in front of him and was beautifully disciplined and quite in control at all times. A real pleasure out. When the suggestion of another Hunt was made by my dear friend and fellow hoodlum, Rachael, I had conflicting feelings about taking my inexperienced little stallion out for a day’s hunt, but the excitement soon became too much to bear and I was in! He had not had too much experience jumping and I had no idea how he was going to behave in the middle of a galloping field, but somehow I knew he was going to enjoy it as much as I did. His owner was not too excited about the idea – “you are going to teach that horse to go wild” – but my excitement and anticipation were evident and there was no way I was going to take no for an answer.
The first thing I realised of course was that my horse was not nearly fit enough and also that I had a small problem, being in a notice month at work and having to put in long hours in at the office was going to mean very little preparation. I kept having dreams where my horse dropped down dead in the middle of a gallop, and that made me even more nervous about the whole situation. I went as often as I could, and took him out for long slow canters in the evenings and hoped that was going to be enough.
Finally the day dawned, and the two of us slowly made our way to the Inanda Country Base, where we would meet up with the rest of the hunt. I was quite proud of the fact that I had managed all on my own – not a single set of hands to help me! What a star this little guy is – he loads himself into the trailer, stands patiently and once there, we always tack up in the trailer and when he gets out he is ready for action. Once ready, we met up with the rest of the very large group in front of the stables where the hounds were gathered. A welcoming sherry was greatly appreciated and then the master gathered everyone together to explain the rules, and suddenly, we were off.
|The Stirrup Cup - the Dark Handsome on the Left is Us!|
If you can survive the first leg of the hunt, you will be quite alright for the rest of it. That first leg is taken at a cracking pace and in our case was the longest - or at least it felt like the longest. The hounds are fresh, the horses are excited and the best way to handle this leg is just to hold tight and let them go. The hunt is run in different legs, stopping for a break at the end of each one until the group gathers and the new scent is laid. The dogs also get a break so that they can catch their breath.
I have to be honest and admit that in all my life I have never seen such a big group of well-behaved horses. There was no mad rushing, no mucking about and the horses knew to wait patiently until the horn was blown and the hounds moved off again. The ride was split into groups – those following the hounds and maintaining a cracking pace and those who wanted to go a little bit slower. At every break, you can choose which group you wish to go with, which is a nice way of giving your horse a breather and pacing yourself. Nobody really even noticed that my horse was a stallion, and I found the crowd of riders to be wonderful. Everyone chatted and socialised on the hunt and people were so genuine. It was a great way of getting together with a crowd of people who all loved their horses and were proud to be there and wanted to have a fun day out.
|Diving Into the Dam - Look Out!|
Near the end of the day there is a dam that gets crossed. I was a little nervous about this – firstly since I had no idea how my horse would take to the water, and secondly, with him being so small, the water would be much deeper for us than some of the others. I had just started to relax and enjoy myself, when suddenly, we came around a corner and there it was. No time to stop and look and no time to hesitate. Of course my horse was a trooper and decided the best way to tackle the water was to take a giant leap in! I just held on to my breastplate for dear life as he disappeared under the water and took a giant leap up once his feet hit the floor. It was most exciting and so much fun – even if we did end up a wet, muddy mess!
I kept the jumping to a minimum, as he has no experience in jumping at speed out in the country, however next time we will do a little more since he will be more used to the pace. That is the nice thing about a hunt – you decide how much or how little you do. If you know your horse well and listen to him, he will tell you to slow down or that he is handling the pace.
Coming in to the home stretch was quite a mix of sadness and I must say, relief! Four or five hours of strong riding out was exhausting for both of us – in fact I was so stiff after the hunt, it took about four days before I could walk straight again! Fortunately, he had a visit from the chiropractor a few days after the hunt and checked out 100% so he recovered better than I did! That was a first for me, who has never really been stiff no matter how much riding I do! Once all the horses were untacked and watered, everyone gathered in the clubhouse for a friendly drink and chat before heading home again.
What a super day out and what a smart boy I have – he was well behaved, he didn’t drop dead from the work and all in all we had so much fun I certainly will not hesitate to join the next one. There is something quite archaic about galloping along with the hounds running in front and beside you – it makes you feel like you are in a time long ago when life was very different but the love of horses no less strong.
Here’s to the next time!
Photos courtesy of the Rand Hunt Club website - thank you for a wonderful day out!