‘Bloody weather’ is a phrase that has been employed far too many times by hunting folk this winter, and I find myself uttering it once again. I had intended to spend last weekend at the Chid and Lec point-to-point on Saturday, then hunting with them on Monday in their best country, ‘Little Leicestershire’, around Pulborough. But frozen ground forced the officials at Tweseldown to cancel the point-to-point, and then, when I was giving my boots a final polish in preparation for hunting, joint-master Robin Muir called to say that half the land we were hoping to hunt over was under water and, quite understandably, the landowners weren’t too keen on us charging around up to our hocks in mud. There’s nothing one can do in such circumstances but grin and bear it, but it is hard!
It was particularly frustrating this time as my invitation to the Monday meet had come about after a terrific but sadly shortened day with the Chid and Lec a few weeks ago. A dressage clinic had been arranged (post-meet card) at a farm around which we were going to finish the day, and the organisers didn’t want the hunt upsetting the calmness of the dressage horses. The general feeling was that it would do them good to learn to cope with a distraction, but, sadly, ’twas not to be. So Paul Lyon-Maris had invited me to the Monday meet to make up – an extremely kind offer that I accepted with alacrity.
There was tremendous consolation, however, in that the first day may have been short, but it was terrific fun. Although the scent wasn’t holding terribly well, we were in good country and I was mounted on the brilliant Stumpy, who is a pleasure to ride under any circumstances. There were only about 15 in the field, which is always enjoyable as it allows one to see more houndwork, and everyone was on good form. We reached the first draw via three decent tiger traps, over which Stumpy reminded me once again that he could probably jump a house if I put him at it, then paused breathless to line a covert and prevent the hounds running towards the nearby A29.
Naturally, trails had been laid in the opposite direction, but no one has yet managed to explain to foxes and hounds that they are not supposed to connect, so we had to be ready to stop the hounds doing anything they shouldn’t. In the event, we stood there for some minutes until the field master, Paul, remarked on the rather uncanny silence. None of us had heard a thing, not a note from hound or horn, and in some perplexity we decided to make our way through the covert and see what was going on. A quick scramble along the lanes, directed by the footies, and round a field brought us to huntsman Sage and his pack – who had indeed found the trail and managed to escape from the covert in complete silence!
Back together again, we moved on along the river valley, popping a neat hedge on the way that made me long for more. Around Malham Farm, where I had had my first ride on Stumpy back in September, we had great fun skittering around the woods and jumping in and out. At once place, a track led to the edge of the woods, down into a flooded ditch, up, one stride and over a rail, a combination we did several times in both directions. Stumpy thought the idea of going slowly and sensibly and doing the ditch then the rail a very silly one, and did his best to do the whole thing at once, nearly landing on the back of Paul’s lovely five-year-old grey, who showed maturity far beyond her years the whole day. At least I knew Stumpy would never stop!
Shortly afterwards, events built to a thrilling climax when, eschewing the edge of a field for fear of tearing up the sopping ground, Paul led the way along a narrow, winding slippery track through the woods. Going as fast as our horses could stay upright, Paul and I ducked and dived past the trunks until we fetched up before a jolly sizeable log blocking the path with no visible landing area. A split second’s hesitation later and we were both airborne and crashing through the bushes on the other side. Gasping with excitement and laughter we kicked on and emerged with grins as wide as the log was high. All credit for brilliant leadership on Paul’s part – and to the horses for jumping so superbly. The rest of the field did follow – but I believe with a little more consideration than we had shown!
There was plenty more fast work through the woods and round the fields, fortified by former master Mrs Reed’s orange gin – delicious! A grey murk blocked out the rest of the world, but, for us, there was no rest of the world. We finished in flooded fields in the valley, to hack home happily in the knowledge that although it had been short – it had certainly had a red-letter scramble!
Fingers crossed this dreadful weather picks up soon and we finish the season on a high.