Our first fox gave us a nice warm-up across the open lake lands. I tucked in near the joint-master, Richard, who was whipping-in. However our first jump did nothing to settle my nerves. Andrew jumped it following the hounds slightly to the right. Richard followed, but his horse drifted and ended up blasting through the top rail, plucking the wire fence like a guitar string. The twang of the fence and subsequent clambering made Bundy’s ears prick, and before I knew it, he had run down the fence line and opted for the pure wire-topped fence to the right of the hunt jump.
I sat in the back seat, slipped the reins and hoped for the best. Not an ideal start, but this horse knew his job. The hounds struck a second fox, and we kept the steady pace of the day. On this approach, I opted to give Richard a good distance. I picked up a steady trot, kept my right leg on and opened my left rein. Two strides out, Bundy cantered and, though a bit deep to the base, jumped straight and over the rail. Huge sigh of relief and a big pat. I was now looking forward to my third fence. The foxes didn’t cooperate however, and there were no more jumps that day.
The meet was at 10 a.m., and we were back at the trailers by about 1:30. Once my horse was untacked, I made a beeline for the car to check the cell phone. No missed calls. I called Kylie to let her know we were back. I’m sure I sounded a bit peculiar on the phone, breathless and excited and relieved all at the same time; I’d survived the hunt, and my son was OK. I was starting to enjoy my trip.
After a hunt breakfast at the local pub, we headed to Kylie’s to pick up Henry. He was having so much fun that he didn’t even notice we were standing in the living room for a few minutes. We climbed into the car, and Henry and I were asleep in about five minutes.
A Close Call
My mount for the next hunt was Danny, A lanky, gray gelding who was in his mid- to late 20s but didn’t act like it… and jigged like crazy when hacking home. Super. I didn’t really click with him but was happy with his first two jumps—it made up for all his other idiosyncrasies—so I shut off my brain and tried to focus on the hound work. It also helped stop the creeping guilt that showed up at checks about leaving Henry.
Once again we covered miles of open country. As we followed the hounds across a swampy cover, I heard Andrew calling back towards Richard who started yelling too. Over the wind in my ears and the sound of galloping hoof beats, there was a delay in what they were saying. Then Danny stumbled, and I instinctively sat back and took a pull. They were yelling: “Holes!”
Huge, cavernous rabbit warrens and a minefield of them. Danny showed his class, intelligence and experience by pulling himself up and standing like a statue when he stumbled at the first sign of them. Killian, the whipper-in, was going at a flat gallop on a young and inexperienced horse and didn’t fare as well. He sliced through the air like a yard dart and went head first into the holey ground. His horse fell and was just short of somersaulting on top of his rider. I could hear Killian groaning and trying to sit up. His horse took twice as long to right himself as they’d both had the wind clean knocked out of them.
Darren was the first to reach the scene. I got off Danny and grabbed Darren’s horse. The terrier man zoomed over in his truck, and everyone pulled up. Though no doctors were out that day, a football coach (Aussie Rules football) was car following and was used to tending injured players. He got Killian sorted and back to the meet and later off to the hospital. We found out he’d fractured two vertebrae in his back, but they were stable and just needed rest and some good painkillers.
I spent most of the jigging ride home in tears. The thought that I’d been in those same holes but my horse saved me shook me up as the “what if’s” got the better of me. I was more scared now than before I left home. Darren talked me off that ledge, as I was certain I shouldn’t hunt anymore. I decided to put it out of my mind until the following week and, without hesitation, ordered a pint of lager to go with my lunch.
Getting My Groove Back
On Wednesday, we headed off to yet another fixture in the Lake District. Darren assured me that this country was a bit different from the other day but that I needed to trust my instincts and keep my eyes and ears open. I knew I needed to push through this. And I did… until the second fence.
Andrew put me on a lanky bay gelding named Gonzalo who had failed in the polo field. Gonzalo was brilliant across country, sure-footed, light and comfortable. He was polite in the bridle, and I felt comfortable helping to whip-in. I kept my ears open and watched where Andrew went like a hawk. Then we jumped the first fence, and it all went to pieces. The ground was boggy, and Gonzalo lurched into a flat canter and got way too long to the fence. I jumped in the back seat, slipped the reins and thought, “You figure it out then, you moron!” He scrambled over it, stretched out, and we landed in a heap on the other side. I was still in the tack, and Gonzalo was upright, so mission accomplished, but I was mad now.