You need to crack on. We’re in this to win, you know.’ With this uncompromising instruction from Angela, Clover’s keeper, ringing in my ears, I embarked on my first competitive hunter trials for at least 15 years in Saturday’s glorious sunshine. From recent days’ hunting on this much-loved veteran of the local pack, I knew that the bay gelding with the kind, keen eyes needed no encouragement.
But what Clover considers a ‘good hunting pace’, as laid down in the rules, is clearly not commensurate with the organiser’s view of what speed this should be. As the hunting season draws to a close, hunts all over the country are organising similar events while the horses are at the peak of their fitness and riders at the pinnacle of their fearlessness.
To prevent competitors going flat out in a fastest time trial, a ‘bogey time’ is imposed, which is kept secret. The fact that Clover caught up with the horse and rider in front gave me the first inkling that we had probably been over-enthusiastic. But it had been exhilarating, and it was enough to know that, had hounds been running hard, we would have been well up at the front. As for the winning part, we’ll have to refine our tactics.