The Vintage Tack Room asked our delightful new customer, Will, to write about his experience taking up both riding and hunting this year (yes, at the same time).
While many of our customers have hunted all their lives - as children, field members, Masters and Hunt Servants - we also meet dozens of newcomers each year who are just as passionate about hounds, hunting, horses and the countryside.
In this first entry Will makes us laugh out loud at his reasons for taking up riding and his first experience attending a Meet on foot.
We hope you enjoy reading as much as we have.
Urban steps into The Field – Step 1 ‘Why?’
They say every journey starts with a bold first step. So does stepping off a cliff so let me be clear in my motivations to start hunting.
Until seven months ago I had zero interest in horses or hunting. So how is it you find me picking through this season's Meet Card trying to glean from the scant location detail which is least likely to end in calamity?
Well 12 years ago I met a girl. She mentioned something about horses but since there wasn’t a horse stood in that particular bar with her (and she was hot) I let it go at that. This was a significant mistake.
Last year we moved, with our two children, into our new family home "somewhere slightly rural would be nice, wouldn’t it, my love?” It never occurred to me I was stepping into a trap. Honestly, there was a whiff of horse muck, a peck on the cheek and that was the last time she listened to a full sentence from me.
Very quickly a motley collection of nags started to appear in what I previously took to be whimsical garden outbuildings but what are now called The Yard.
My time and money were suddenly, and massively, reallocated. My wife now flew out of bed at 0600 (even earlier before November!) and returned exhausted but thrilled. I had never seen her so happy. Perhaps following me around for the previous decade hadn't been that much fun after all. And now I had no part in her fun. Zero. On summer evenings and the weekends I was simply Chief Babysitter.
The worst thing was hearing about a queue of silver-haired horse-riding Lotharios she kept meeting. These men were charming, funny and apparently available mid-week on a moment's notice for hacks, hunting and tack room tours.
The jackals were closing in. The situation was developing fast and I needed to catch up or find myself babysitting every Saturday while some off-season polo patron groomed my wife.
There was nothing else for it. I would have to follow her, on foot, to the hunting field to see what was going on.
At this point it’s important you know I'm a Londoner born and raised. When I think Fox Hunting I think: “Illegal. Red coats. Horses, dogs and fierce women (breeches/whips/boots). Happens in the country. Tally Ho means something unclear but related."
Not a lot to go on.
My first impression at the Meet is that a lot of the chat and joviality is happening five feet above my head. I’m tall but I wasn't getting a lot of traction with my conversation. A bit like wallpaper, I was just ‘background’ to the main event.
Suddenly, there was a toot on a horn, a bit of "would you mind holding this?" (empty glasses, squashed napkin, babies etc) and they all swept off with a cheerful wave. Same net result as before. I was stood on my own; the very picture of a future ex-husband.
My questions remained unanswered.
Where did they go?
What did they do?
Why does it take six hours and require a 600kg horse?
Who was the chap at the front?
How do they velcro those children to completely unsuitable ponies?
I followed on foot for a few weeks and that was a revelation. Between the roads on which I regularly drive I discovered woods, fields and tracks. They had names and function. Before, the countryside seemed broadly an empty space with not a lot going on in it, but steadily I started to notice activity, features and people.
Walking in the woods I could see the hounds working, hear the huntsman's call and I was given a crash course on the pleasures of hunting. The mounted field certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves; trotting here, polite chat there, jumping this and that and all against the background of the horn.
I sat at my desk each Monday morning with my mind wandering back to those autumn woods. What a performance. I wanted to join in. I've never seen anything so acutely British and dangerous performed simultaneously. Why wasn't I told about this sooner? Like, before my twelfth birthday, as all these people clearly had.
Suddenly a thought occurs; "I could just join in. How hard can it be to ride?" I saw one man who looked like he died a few seasons back and he was riding quite happily. From five to 85 they all seemed to manage. I'm a big lad. Surely this can't be so difficult.
In hindsight I may have underestimated the process on which I was embarking.
Next week Will takes to horse-back.