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March 16, 2012

Tally Slo: The Leisure Field Debuts At Ridgecrest Joint Meet

Joy Smith led the Leisure Field aboard Kindred in an annual joint meet of multiple western foxhunts in Ridgecrest, Calif. Photo by Shawn Lloyd.

Great ideas are sometimes borne out of desperation.

In my case, the desperation was to get back on a horse after a lumbar fracture at the beginning of the hunt season. Having already sat out much of the season, I just couldn’t see myself not riding at the annual joint meet in Ridgecrest, Calif. Hounds and members of Red Rock Hounds, Kingsbury Harriers, Santa Ynez Hounds, Grand Canyon Hounds, Paradise Valley Beagles, as well as members of several eastern hunts all come together for three days of hunting, eating, drinking and mingling with great friends and fantastic animals.

Riding was definitely not on my list of “can do” activities but give me a quiet horse and a promise to only walk then no harm can be done, right?

Normally, I ride in the first field and love nothing more than to gallop fast behind the pack so this idea of walking was a tremendous compromise. But at least I'd be on a horse.

The concept of leading a field of others who may not want to run, gallop or navigate steep ravines and rocky mountains started to formulate. In fact, I have three friends who wanted to try hunting but were apprehensive about riding fast and furious. Two of the three had actually joined Red Rock Hounds for the 2011-12 season but hadn’t yet ventured out to the hunt field. The timing was right for the opportunity to introduce them to the excitement of following the hounds.

The Ridgecrest fixtures are ideal to start out in foxhunting. The country has terrific footing, gentle terrain with wide open spaces, and the weather is usually very non-January-like. It couldn’t be better to introduce my friends to the excitement of riding to the hounds. And, maybe some others would want to join us.

Red Rock MFH, Lynn Lloyd, gave me her blessing to add a field for people who wanted to join the hunt but at a slower pace. A much slower pace. In fact, at a leisurely pace.

The inaugural outing of the Leisure Field was at the Robbers Roost fixture in Ridgecrest. To minimize the mayhem surrounding the first day of a large joint meet we waited to mount up until the dual packs of Red Rock and Santa Ynez, along with riders from all the hunts, had ridden off in search of the elusive coyote trail.

Our Leisure Field of about 10 embarked on our journey at a decidedly un-brisk pace. Best described as an ambling walk, we had only gone several yards when we had our first viewing—a very fast jackrabbit!

Tally-Slo!

Because I knew we’d be traveling long distances over unfamiliar hunt country I brought along my GPS BackTrack D-Tour to track our distance, elevation and, most importantly, to find our way back to the fixture. Our sauntering pace gave us opportunity to discuss hunting protocol, etiquette and principals to help our rookie hunt enthusiasts become knowledgeable about their new activity. We had some great conversations, but I did inform everyone that once they graduated to first or second fields their chatting ways would be silenced in respect of the hounds and huntsmen.

Our first check occurred when my field mentioned the need for a break. A quick glance at my GPS declared we had gone about 569 yards—yes, perfect timing for a check. We were met by the “Whoopie Wagon,” piloted by Ron Crossley, completely stocked with water, Power Bars and courage-inducing liquids for flask refills. Ron also provided horse holding and mounting assistance for riders who had a need to take a walk behind a bush.

After re-mounting, we continued our journey to the top of Robbers’ Roost—2.1 miles from the fixture where, of course, we had another check!

Scout Valentine, an apprentice falconer and wildlife expert riding in the Leisure Field, treated the field to an enlightening mini-lecture on the birds and wildlife indigenous to Robbers’ Roost, a nesting ground for birds of prey.

As we descended Robbers' Roost we used our GPS to point us in the right direction for the fixture. Of course, we could see the horse trailers way off in the distance, but it was more fun to use the GPS. Frankly, we didn't need our eyesight or techie tools to find our way back. As soon as we turned towards the fixture our field hunters accelerated from their sluggish, dawdling pace to a brisk march. Where does their inner GPS come from?

The Leisure Field arrived back at the fixture after a two-hour hunt where we viewed four or more jackrabbits, a burrowing owl and numerous birds. We observed several dens, nests and tracks of the wildlife that call Robbers’ Roost home. We even came back with a partial jawbone from a bobcat. While we didn’t view a coyote that day we surely did see plenty of evidence of the clever animals’ existence.

During the three days of the joint meet the Leisure Field gained popularity. Not limited to riders that were new to hunting, we were joined by others that desired a quiet day or had horses being introduced to hunting or were fractious in first or second fields. This enjoyable, non-fearful introduction to foxhunting proved addictive to my three rookie friends. At the close of the meet one of the new-but-not-yet-hunted members had purchased a new horse. The other is contemplating a new mount or some hunt training for her current one, and the non-member is now a member of Red Rock Hounds.

What started out as a lark and in my own self-interest to getting back in the saddle may well have started a new idea for introducing and recruiting new participants to the joys of riding to the hounds. Several members of other hunts mentioned they wanted to take the idea of a Leisure Field to their hunt management to consider the idea.

A Leisure Field, or whatever you chose to label it, is an idea for every hunt in need of new members to consider. We have all been new to foxhunting at some point and could've benefitted from a mentoring program to learn all about our new pursuit. Experienced members may have had a horse that needs a gentle introduction to their job of field hunter or, like myself, have an injury where we’ve been banned from the saddle by our medical providers but in need a “hunting fix.” I truly had a delightful time teaching my rookie field members and encouraging them to join us in following the hounds in the future.

Foxhunting has so many misconceptions. We’re thought of as crazy, running fast, jumping high and traversing through all sorts of treacherous country on a horse that can jump anything. So maybe the “crazy” and “run fast” part is true for some of us. If you want to jump then, yes, your horse would best have that skill. Yet, following the hounds CAN be for the faint of heart! As evidenced by the debut of the Leisure Field, we can engage new membership for a whole faction of horse, nature and hound-loving people by offering an introduction that is not overwhelming (ie, frightening!). The Leisure Field is also a superb way to introduce a green horse to the hounds and the hunt or to re-introduce a seasoned horse that is unfit or returning to work after an injury layup.

It just makes so much sense! Too bad I had to break my back to think of it!

It’ll be several more weeks until I can ride again (yes, Ridgecrest was strictly in violation of doctor’s recommendations), but once I’m back in the saddle for good it’ll be even more weeks until I can move back up to first field. You can be sure during that time I’ll be leading out the Leisure Field every chance I can.

And, even after I'm back up in first field I’ll happily be the Leisure Field Master occasionally to introduce newcomers to the fun world of Red Rock Hounds. Besides, I like those frequent checks with the Whoopie Wagon!

Tally-Slo!

This story was re-published with permission of Joy Smith. It was originally published on her blog. See more photos of the Leisure Field.

 
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