The most fun you can have on a horse (besides endurance riding!)

With the competition season ended, what’s a riding addictee to do?! One of my favourite pastimes in the offseason is riding to hounds (also known as “foxhunting”). This sport originated in Great Britain but it takes place all over the world. Traditionally, it was used as a means of pest control but the sport has evolved and now, especially in North America, the emphasis is on the chase, rather than the kill. Also, coyote, rather than fox, is now hunted by some groups who still partake in live hunts.  Some clubs may do drag hunts, where a scent is laid for the hounds to follow.  More information on hunting and its history may be found here: http://www.mfha.com/home.html

I have only ever participated in drag hunts previously, so when I had the opportunity to try out live hunting (for free!), I jumped on it.  Hamilton Hunt Club hosted an invitational hunt as a way to introduce people to the sport and they had a great turnout. The weather for the middle of November couldn’t have been nicer! A few of us were sweating under our hunt coats!  The day started off with a stirrup cup (a traditional drink of port or sherry (or cider if you so wished) and announcements. The field masters were announced and we split into fields and we were on our way.  I normally ride in first field (the field up front with the hounds and usually the fastest), but since I had brought a guest and neither she nor her horse had hunted before, we started off in the slower second field.

Nothing too exciting happened right off the bat and we focussed on getting the horses settled in and accustomed to the hounds popping out of bushes and running amongst the horses. The horses seemed to settle in quite nicely and when we had the opportunity, my guest and I asked our field master if we could move up into first field.  As the hunt progressed, it was really interesting watching the hounds work. It was all fairly quiet until the hounds were cast into the bush and flushed out a coyote. The chase was on!  With the drag hunts, the hounds are pretty much guaranteed to pick up a scent so when they actually were on the trail of something, the adrenaline was running! The hounds chased it for a fair bit but it managed to evade the pack.

After a regrouping, we set out to see if we could find it again. The afternoon was filled with lots of wildlife sightings!  The hounds flushed a lovely large deer out of the bush (and completely ignored it, as they are supposed to do) as well as disturbed a big group of wild turkey (again, ignoring them). Not sure if it was the same coyote from the morning, but the hounds caught the trail of yet another one and we got to go for a fantastic gallop to keep up! Once again, the coyote “outfoxed” the hounds and all was quiet again.

At this point, we were pretty close to being back at the trailers so riders were given the option to retire or to continue on for a bit longer.  Of course, being the long distance rider that I am, I opted to continue on even though my stomach thought that partaking in the hunt breakfast right at that moment would have been a better option.  The last little bit of the hunt wasn’t quite as exciting as the first bit but we rode through some lovely territory with amazing views and went for a great long gallop to finish off the day.

After getting back to the trailers and untacking and taking care of the horses, we went into the arena for the best part of the hunt day: the hunt breakfast!  Lots of delicious food was to be had and riders, road whips, and guests all reminisced about the day’s events. All in all, I really enjoyed my first live hunt and will definitely be back in the spring! Thanks Hamilton Hunt for the amazing day!

All photos courtesy of Andrea McDonald 
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A huntsman and his hounds
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Taking a drink

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And they’re off

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