I’m not a special snowflake, but I do think I have a slightly unique edge to my experience with the horse world. When I was riding as a kid, I primarily fox hunted before doing any serious showing.
It seems most kids grow up in the show ring on ponies or school masters, but I grew up on hunter paces and eventually fox hunting. When I finally did start showing, there was so much to learn. I didn’t know anything about ring etiquette, but I knew a decent amount about horsemanship.
If you can’t laugh at yourself from time to time, don’t even bother riding.
Hunting made me pretty humble. One day I fell off into a muddy ditch in front of all the staff members. Muddy and damp, I got back on only to have to dismount later to help a junior rider. When I dismounted, my horse got away from me and took off towards the 1st flight of riders. I had to do the walk of shame all the way back to the same staff members who saw me fall in the morning, only to have them hand me back my horse and ask how I managed to fall off twice in one day. Showing is really no different – if you can’t laugh at the strange and silly things that happen, you’ll drive yourself crazy.
The horse first, always.
Our hunts typically lasted around 3 hours. The season was from the first weekend in November to early March, so it was usually quite cold and often rainy in eastern North Carolina. When you headed back to the trailer, you were often dog tired (since it was a two hour drive and horses had to be fed before loading) and uncomfortable. Each hunt had a “breakfast” (more like lunch) that different members provided, and we knew that once we were done a delicious, hot meal awaited us. Still, the most important aspect with being done with the hunt was taking care of your horse. Cooling off, putting on an irish knit, making sure their legs were clean, offering water and giving hay… nobody was “done” until your horse was happily munching hay with even breaths and a proper body temperature. With showing, it doesn’t matter how tired I am or how mad I may be at my horse… his needs come before mine. That’s just how it is.
Tradition is a part of horsemanship.
Fox hunting is deeply rooted in tradition. There are rules about not passing the huntsman or staff member leading your field. Rules about attire. We can ride over here because this farm owner gave us permission, but we have to stay out of that field because they haven’t harvested the crops yet. You know the original velvet Charles Owen helmets with the cute little bow? I wasn’t allowed to wear those, because the tails of the bow were pointing down. In fox hunting, only professional staff members have their bows pointing down on their helmet. Fun euro coats with decorative collars? I hate them for the hunters. In fox hunting, to have a decorative collar you had to earn that by being a member in good standing with the hunt. It was called “earning your colors” and it typically happened after a year or two of actively hunting, following the rules and paying your dues. I know hunter/jumpers may seem arbitrary sometimes, but the tradition is deeply rooted and I think it’s worthy of respect.
Hurry up and wait isn’t just in the show ring.
One big gripe that eventers and dressage people have about hunter/jumper shows is the hurry up and wait… but maybe that’s because of fox hunting? I joke, but there was so much hurry up and wait in my hunt club. Hurry! The fox is on the move! Run run run! Oh wait, we lost the scent/can’t find a scent/have to get a hound off a bear/have to get rid of these deer hunting dogs. Wait wait wait. Yes, there’s a lot of galloping… but there’s also a lot of standing and waiting 🙂
Money talks, but it doesn’t always say something good about you.
Several members of my hunt were extremely wealthy, and several members lived in a trailer and had simple, well trained horses and functional clothes. This is not to say the less wealthy were better – there’s nothing wrong with being rich and spending your money on horses. Just try to make your money say good things about you. If you have the money for a really nice horse, that’s great – but taking a dressage warmblood superstar into the hunt field when it’s not conditioned and turned out with gleaming white polo wraps (which are not gleaming and a safety hazard after 30 minutes hunting) is not necessarily saying good things. Having nice things is better than executing things nicely.
There are on cloud 9 high moments in riding, but don’t get addicted to them.
Few things are as thrilling as galloping in an open field with a group of horses. It’s a high not often repeated, but I think we have similar feelings of invincibility and grandeur with a clean run over a big course of jumps. Still, some hunts are slow without much sense. Those rides, you need to be patient and wait with the hounds… there may be some cantering but no jaw dropping gallop. That’s okay! With showing, sometimes we need to take a schooling round. Sometimes we trot in the lines to get our horse’s rideability better. It can’t be one constant string of high moment to next high moment.
Honestly, I learned too much from fox hunting to sum up in one post. Some of the best experiences of my equestrian life were in those cotton fields of North Carolina. Have any of you ever hunted?