Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Of Facebook and Foxes

Gather around and I'll tell you a story... A story of times long past and never-forgotten traditions. And how Facebook brought them together.

The never-forgotten tradition is the sport (art?) of foxhunting. Now those who've been following my blog from it's beginnings might remember my virgin foxhunting adventure (here) when I was down south. And that post has some of the whole history/psychology of the sport so I can skip that this time and just go to the FUN aspect. Later :)

Now if you go back even before the days when foxhuting was in its glory, you eventually hit the days when jousting was *the* sport to win. Until yesterday I didn't know this was still practiced. I'd certainly never met anybody who'd participated. Now I've met three :) One of whom by all accounts is evidently pretty good at it. Gotta admit that's not one I'd ever be even slightly inclined to try -- I see nothing good coming of it!

And then you get the more current times and the whole social networking idea. And the fact that through Facebook I've "refriended" people I haven't seen since highschool, and in pre-internet times would probably never have seen again... One of whom, somewhere along the way, learned to ride :) And invited me to go foxhunting w/ him :) And now you see how the stories connect. And he amazingly found seasoned horses for both myself and a girlfriend of mine to borrow (yeah Sienna's just not doing this!) and away we went...

Now I have to admit I wasn't entirely sure about this. I enjoyed the last time I went, but was sort of iffy about this one. Catch riding a horse I know nothing about, belonging to somebody I've never met, who's a friend of somebody I haven't seen in more than a decade, across territory I don't know. . . AND it was rainy and miserable all week. But J *really* wanted to go (on her "something I've always wanted to do") list and when I got up on Sunday morning it was bright, sunny and just about the perfect temp out. Ok so that made the day seem much better :)

So we find the farm where we're meeting our horses and the woman who brought them for us was super-friendly and welcoming. J's horse was a HUGE chestnut draft named Charlie whose tail was entirely burrs that M was doing everything she could to battle. Charlie was chosen purely for his "safe" quotient. He's the ultimate babysitter -- as long as he can stay w/ one of his girls! Big, quiet, and bombproof. Happy enough to gallop, but not going to be dumb on the way. My horse for the day was Painter, a TB cross (I *think* Holsteiner but don't quote me on that -- sorry T if that's not right!) who I just adored.

Ok everybody on and ready to go. Have to admit I was somewhat amused by the last second filling-of-the-flasks. hahaha and head out to hack over to the starting point. C (hs friend who set everything up) met us half way, which was somewhat of a relief as I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to find somebody I haven't seen in years in the chaos of a hunt getting ready to head out. My plan was to look for the horse who I'd seen pics of (yeah FB!) who looked a little like a giant Zel hahaha but this made life much easier. At the meet pre-ride shots were served and the "welcome" message from the Hamilton side of things (was a joint meet and Hamilton was hosting).

And then the games began :) We figured we'd start in the second flight partially to get to know our horses and partially to see how well J's back would hold up. Now J's horse was being a wonderful couch. Walking along quietly entirely undisturbed by the surrounding chaos. Mine was bouncing. hahaha I have no idea what that gait we were doing was but it was highly athletic and somewhat amusing. Finally the others started to trot so I had hopes she would settle -- and she did, but not to the trot. Instead we had the most gorgeous collected canter I've ever sat on. N I tell you, pirouettes would've been a complete non-issue. Was very tempted to try it *g* hahaha but given how closely packed together everybody was that just wouldn't've been a good idea at all!

Anyways, after the first trot set, my horse was still bouncing (although to give her credit she was willing to stand when everybody stopped -- she just didn't really want to walk...) and J was happily doing well w/ Charlie so voted for joining the first flight. Woohoo. Switching groups we got right away to a reasonable canter -- which was *much* easier to ride than the bouncing walk. Prob the nicest canter I've ridden since Zel actually, so I was quite enjoying that. This group was way more fun to play with. Within a very short time got to go on our first gallop and I'm afraid Painter and I left Charlie and J way behind. hahaha oops :) Was a solid gallop though and she's reasonably quick *g* Not actually as fast as I'd thought she might be given the pent-up adrenaline but still fast enough that it was hard to see through the wind in my eyes *g*

Got the opportunity for a much faster gallop shortly thereafter when somebody's horse had an issue getting through a tight spot, causing a backup... So then each person who got through said spot after had a nice FAST run across a flat field -- and since there was no group, there was no rating against the other horses -- just go as fast as you can till you get to where the others were stopped. That was a riot. Bridge reins and go. Definitely the fastest run of the day, and early enough into the ride that she was still in bouncing mood. Has amazing breaks though -- gallop to halt w/ nothing inbetween. A sit-up-or-else scenario *g*

There were some places with rather iffy footing thanks to all the rain the day before. One rather large sinkhole ate one of the horses... Horse and rider went swimming. Fortunately both were ok -- if a little muddy. All, of course, because the rider was wearing a new hat. We all know the first outting for a new hat will get it dirty, so really this was a given...

As for getting dirty.... One run through the woods we were going possibly a *little* faster than the terrain might've warranted and we whipped around a corner to find a rather large low branch -- the kind that's not going to move out of your way. So I ducked and then turned around to shout a warning to the people behind me, but as I turned back I got beat by the little branch I didn't see cause I was too busy warning the people behind me. Sheesh. Not tragic, but rather ugly looking. Going to either have to actually invest in makeup again (and we're back to the whole highschool thing) or invent some good stories for the clients at the day job. At the barn -- no problem. hahaha but somehow expectations are different in the office and a nice red scratch across your face is not exactly socially acceptable. Sheesh.

Throughout the day we got in a reasonable number of jumps (even got sent ahead of the master @ one point when *his* horse didn't want to jump!), some fast trots/slow canters through very twisty woods, fun fun fun. Somehow, despite my intention to remain @ the back of the pack, I ended up right at the front and stayed there for most of the ride. hahaha poor form perhaps, but all the other people up there were very welcoming :)

Unfortunately J's horse got winded and had a bit of a bloody nose part way through so she and T dropped back and spent the last hour or so walking. She assures me she still had a good time though and Charlie? He couldn't care less -- his main goal was "find food, stay with the girls" and he managed both goals so seemed pretty proud of himself :) Others in the field disappeared at about the same time. I'm not sure where they went, I just know our group shrunk significantly. hahaha And they missed one of the most entertaining runs of the day... There was some really tight brush and then a clearing w/ a slight uphill. This was followed by a reasonable downhill (more than you'd think until you crested the first one) and back up again the other side. So the first few got through the brush no problem and trotted off up and down the hills -- way out of sight of all of us who were on the other side of the brush -- but then somebody got tangled in it (does this sound familiar anybody?) and they got free so that was good, but the rest of us had to get through. Now there are times when you can trust your horse, times when you can't, and times when you have to. This was a case of the latter! I know she's not going to go somewhere she can't fit -- but I also know she's not about to account for the rather upright person on her back. So I gave her her head, ducked down beside her neck as close as I could get to her, closed my eyes (literally -- I'd already been beat up once!) and told her to go. And she did. Got us through there no problem! But unfortunately the woman who was right in front of me had a little more of an issue and ended up on the ground. Now as the other horses by this point were long out of sight, her horse stayed with us. C got off and gave her a leg up and we were good to go. One of the other riders had come back to find out what was going on and now everybody was through the brush. Well clearly -- have to go catch up! Except I don't know if anybody other than the one who came back knew about the hills. hahaha judging from the commentary afterwards I suspect not. As we crested the first one flat out and I saw how steep it was I had one of those crystal clear moments where the voice in my head speaks very calmly but in a tone not to be ignored -- in this case telling me "you'd really better sit up and ride." hahaha it's really easy to end up on autopilot out there but this was not an appropriate time for it *g* Anyways -- that was an awesome run w/ just a *touch* of an adrenaline rush (if for no other reason than "please jump the ditch at the bottom or we're going to die").

Continued in this vein for a while. Was just sooooo much fun. All different types of terrain with times to sit and chat and relax inbetween. Took a few photos -- but I wasn't nearly as good as some who were taking pics while galloping! hahaha my excuse is that my camera doesn't have a wrist strap *g* Which is entirely true, but I suspect it wouldn't've made any difference if it had :) Of course these are the same people who had no problem passing the flask around at a gallop either!

This hunt had a very different feel from the one I did in the States. That one had more jumping (yeah!) but less really serious gallops. And no hills *g*. It was also far more formal. This group was a younger crowd and far more entertaining :)

We got back and jumped a few fences and then I hacked back alone to the farm where I'd started -- somehow lost the like 8 other people who had started there :) But everybody regrouped eventually! I couldn't believe how super-friendly and welcoming everybody was. Absolutely amazing. Had *such* a good time. There was a dinner afterwards which we were invited too but by the time we were done bathing the horses and chilling out with the people who kindly lent us said horses, there just wasn't enough time left (damn responsibilities!) so I just stopped in to say bye and thanks and then we headed home for the day...

And the fox? (who I think was actually a coyote...) he escaped to play another day. Much to my great relief.


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