Dear readers. For this installment it is with great pleasure that I hand over the “writing reins” to my husband, and bon vivant, Tom Parker! He’ll tell with fresh eyes about our adventures last weekend…
Tom keeps warm the old fashioned way on the hunter pace.
It’s been some time since I’ve been on the blog. Alex has been doing such a great job of keeping you posted. I’ve been quite content to read her accounts of our wonderful time this past while, and it’s so nice that so many of you have continued to stay on and keep track of our adventures. Alex particularly wanted me to emerge from Lurkland and to recount one such day we’ve had recently…
Ever since I’ve purchased my horse, Beaumont, Alex has been keen to get the four of us (Tom, Beaumont, Alex & Gypsy) out for a day trip. We took our first one of these earlier this summer when we trailered the horses to the Dundas Valley Conservation area. We spent an afternoon hacking the horses through the woods, over rivers and up and down a great many hills. It was my first experience getting Beaumont “off the property”, as it were, and he behaved like a true country gentleman. I myself appreciated the exposure to the process of transporting a horse: getting him on the trailer, making sure he was protected for travel, had plenty of food and water, introducing him to a new, potentially strange environment etc etc. Little did I know that this was simply Alex’s means of introducing ME to the new, pottentially strange environment that is travelling with a horse!
Fast forward to September….We awaken to the alarm clock and it’s still dark out. Up and out of the house so we can drive up to Bayview Farm to meet our truck and trailer helper-outer for the day Mr. Peter Hodge. Peter is there with his trailer (Beaumont will not fit on Alex’s) and truck to take us to the Wellington-Waterloo Hunt Club’s Hunter Pace event which commences at 9am. Now ordinarily I would be sleeping in on a Sunday, but Alex has been telling me for months how fun it will be to take part in this mock fox hunt, which I will now attempt to describe for those of you who don’t know…
A Hunter Pace is essentially a hunt with neither hounds nor fox. Sort of like a treasure hunt, wherein a Hunt Master goes out through the woods and creates a course, acting as if there is a hunt taking place. He (or she) times his (of her) progress through the woods and fields. The people taking place in the mock hunt ideally hope to travel through the course in the exact same time (or as close to the exact same time) as the hunt master. There are also clues scattered throughout the various trails: white signs with hand lettering that say things like “fox goes to ground” or “slow down, deers present” or “hounds lose scent” or many other clues in specific somewhat arcane fox-hunting language. It is up to the riders to interpret these signs and set their pace accordingly.
Now, both of us being new to this, we did not know all of the terminology or idiomatic expressions, as it were. But it was really fun trying to make sense of it all. It was like we were back in France trying figure out directions or in Holland trying to read a menu (of which we were generally pretty successful). We really needed to operate as a team, both with each other and with our horses.
From our arrival at the farm the horses were excited to get going. Alex got us checked in. We were team #9. Soon as we were tacked up we passed through a gate, a man clicked a stopwatch and we were off! Past the hound pen, which smelled just like a hound pen, and Beaumont’s eyes rolled back and his head came up and I thought – oh oh he doesn’t seem to want to move now that he can hear and smell those hounds- and then a small pond with an overturned red canoe and NEITHER Beaumont nor Gypsy would go past it. I wondered what I’d gotten myself into and whether this day would be a grand trial / psychical workout for me. Both horses refused to pass this stupid canoe and hounds were baying from their reeking cages behind us and I was kicking at Beamont’s stubborn belly to go! boy go! and before you know it we were on the “trail” and that is the last bit of doubt I ever had all day!!!
It didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to figure out that this is the sort of horsing around that I could get really used to. Beaumont seems like he was built expressly to crash through the woods. He just loved it, and rarely wanted to slow down. All four of us (horses and riders) were playing a game of chase and having the time of our lives. I got a new appreciation for Beaumont and really felt that he was taking care of me. Sometimes when we dawdle around the farm he can stumble over things, but here at the hunt he was sure-footed and alert. He was paying attention. And I was to him as well. Alex and Gypsy graciously let us lead most of the time, and we made good time through the somewhat complicated serious of instructions and directions through the woods.
The Hunt Club has a beautiful property (much of it provided by very obliging land owners nearby), and we seemed to go across many different types of terrain. We even at one point walked overtop a hill that had recently borne witness to a brush fire. It looked as if some people were partying near an old barn foundation and let their bonfire get out of control. Plenty of scenic vistas, of course, but most of which passed by in a bit of a blur as we rode on the “hunt”. At another clearing there was a truck parked and two folks provided us with “stirrup cups”. This is essentially a glass of port served to you on horseback. As the pic above attests, I also took along something a little stronger…
After a brief chat with our hosts hunt club members (who provided the port) we were on our way as the signs told us that “the hounds’ tails were feathering” and then “were at full cry”. We did our best to approximate the paces required, although I (having little experience jumping fences on Beaumont) opted to go around most of the jumps on the course. All in all we continued on like this for about two hours. I think around 7 or 8 kms. Gypsy and Beaumont were great, great animals. They were really enjoying themselves and working really hard.
Before long, after following the signs as best we could (proud to say Alex and I were a great team at this – we travel well together!) the hounds back at the farm came back within earshot. It was clear that there were a couple of jumps up ahead before the course was over and sure enough, Beaumont and I went over them (much to Alex’s delight). I have been apprehensive with Beaumont in terms of jumps before, but he sure didn’t seem to have any problem with it. I wonder if he wonders why I don’t jump him more often? I, for one, will remedy this.
We emerged onto a gravel road only to meet up with Alex’s mom who was filming us for posterity. Both Connie and John were clearly happy to be out amongst the hunt set for a visit, and obviously proud to see their daughter (and me) having such a fun time. In fact, since we had to leave early with the horses and trailer, Connie stuck around to receive our 7TH PLACE RIBBON for us! Cool, huh? I think there were something like 30 teams, and we came within a minute and a half of the Master’s time through the course.
Alex was beaming at the end of the day. She is so happy to see me riding and sharing her enthusiasm for horses. And I am so happy to see her….well, just to see that she’s been able to return to what it is she loves to do. You’ve all seen her great lust for life, so you know of which I speak. And now it’s fantastic to be able to relay to you the story of a day that hardly seemed like it would ever be possible. It seems like not that long ago when I was up writing to you all at 4:30 in the morning. Too exhausted and worried to sleep. It really is a miracle, and not a day goes by that we don’t thank our lucky stars!!! Thanks again for being part of it all everyone.
I’ll try not to be a stranger, but t’il then…
A la prochaine,