In Part 7 of his diary Will breaks with the traditional approach to stick between mane and tail and takes his first tumble on the Field. Confidence dented he wonders if it might be wise to leave hunting until next season. What's a chap to do?
Here we find ourselves dear reader. The inevitable. I had been hunting four times and was beginning to think I was rather good at horse-riding. "Jumping field this way!" came the shout and I thought I'd join in. This was a mistake. I should have stayed with the big safe cob, the Huntsman and Hounds while the enthusiastic went and did their bit.
The jumping field, me included, galloped up a sharp hill where there was a sharp turn left over a tiger-trap into a wood.
The gap between me and the chap in front was too close. I don't want to be riding in his pocket, I thought, thinking of all the advice I'd been given about safe distances. I turned my steed away for a broad circle to the right. But my strong and experienced horse decided I was making a tactical error as much to say "this fool doesn't realise the jump is this way. We can make it, Dad!"
He did, in fact, make the jump but I was flung off with a bang on the arse and crack on the head.
I have boxed and played rugby. I know a bell ringer when given one. Foot-followers were instantly around me making sure I didn't leap up too quickly, and our Secretary took the lead.
I managed to get up and back in the saddle but someone noticed I was confused. I thought someone else had fallen and needed assistance. I was sent home promptly and sat in the lorry feeling sorry for myself.
It took a while for a new hard hat to arrive and in the meantime my confidence faded. I started to understand the alarming risks of hunting. And this was still Autumn - only the pre-season. I was told again and again; it will only get faster, it will only get more difficult, the horses will be moving quicker, the jumps more frequent. I was beginning to lose my bottle.
I thought perhaps it was best to step back. Better perhaps to spend this period from Autumn to next August riding more and rejoin the Field the following season.
I shared the theory with one of the Joint Masters but he didn't like that one bit. He argued that I'd already broken the back of the issue (unfortunate phrasing) and that I needed to get into the flow and rebuild my confidence. He was Field Master the following Saturday and I was given the express instruction not leave his side. I did what I was told and rode in his wake for a couple of hours. I took five jumps (more than I'd done in total out hunting until then).
On that day there was one notable experience. We entered a field over a fence with thin, tensioned electric wire (a feat within itself for me) and he said "where's the bloody Whip?". I could see a number of errant Hounds running off towards a no-go boundary which wouldn't do. The Master didn't check whether or not I was ready for bolting across an open field to help stop them so I just had to stick to his side. I have mentioned previously my horse used to whip-in. He knew what was happening and I was just along for the ride. A terrifying 30 seconds indeed. But in this the Master's point was made real; I had already started hunting. I had a horse who knew hunting. I needed to stay the course and give myself a chance to learn.
This outing with a chaperone was not my last. Several people came to me and offered to ride at the back for a day so I could get used to the pace and movement. This is one of the things I was started to realise about hunting and should give comfort to any newcomer; people are happy to help you. They give up their day to make a newcomer feel welcome. They will patiently explain the same thing four times, and graciously empathise with your terror at each alarming new horse-riding experience (explaining, for example, that one's horse is simply having a shake, and not about to throw one to the ground in a killer trample).
Since my fall I'm creeping back up the Field from the back. But actually, I like being at the back. I get to see how the morning progresses. The misbehaving, suspected drunk or injured all get sent to the back. And many of the most experienced thrusters choose to ride there. I get to ride with, and learn from, all of them.