As a failed footballer and former physiotherapist in professional Premiership football I have always had an interest in horses, not from a gambling perspective, I hasten to add, but from an athletic and sports medicine aspect. My football, physiotherapy and business career had taken me away from the equine world for the last 25 years, and it was only with the arrival of my two young daughters, now 6 and 7, that my interest was reignited. They began having lessons in the spring of 2012 and so at the age of 46 I joined them too. Instantly I was hooked. Whilst I had sat on a horse in my teens I would never say that I could ride, and so it was from scratch my riding career began. Never wanting to do things by half it wasn’t long before I had found a horse for myself. Having no ability or experience I made the classic mistake of buying a retrained race horse! He was a very handsome gelding, extremely gentle in the stable and most of all my children loved him! He couldn’t have been more wrong for me however, if I had tried.
To read more, click here to subscribe or if you are already a subscriber, please log in!
My riding instructors were less than impressed with my choice and all told me so. Having made the investment and actually liking the beast I was determined to make a success of the partnership. What did success look like for me? Well I was aiming for show jumping. I had a program of training for horse and rider and all was going to plan, despite the obvious predictable layoff downtime with the horse through injuries, when on Christmas Eve 2012 he produced his party piece which saw me somersaulting through the air and breaking my clavicle and ribs. “Not to worry,” I thought, jockeys are back in no time from this….. Five months later and following surgery to plate and screw my clavicle I was ready to resume my efforts. By this time I had hit upon the idea of hunting. Reading and talking to various people who had hunted all convinced me that the best way to “really learn to ride” and to get a safe and secure seat was to go hunting. Whilst I have no previous experience of field sports, I am very taken with tradition and hugely enjoy outdoor pursuits.
So, determined that I would join the hunting set, I researched where the nearest pack might be and to my pleasant surprise found Easton Harriers not two miles from where I kept my horse. One brave day I marched into the yard, where I think they thought I might be a saboteur casing the joint, and introduced myself to the occupants, Alun Thomas MFH and Jackie his wife. I explained that I had never hunted, not really great at riding but wanted to do everything correctly and not look a fool!
Fortunately for me they took me under their wing, and gradually, over the summer of 2013, introduced me to more and more people from the Harriers whenever my children and I were at the Kennels. We became members of the Supporters Club and got involved in some of the summer activities. In the background I was trying to get myself competent enough as a rider and riding fit for the Autumn hunting program, and so, having never hunted before, I paid my subscription and hoped for the best. I knew my horse had previously hunted, or at least I was told by the previous owner that he had (they also told me he had been completely retrained….yet another lesson on my steep upward learning curve), but having spent much of the summer worrying about how horse and rider would perform out on our first days hunting, I was thrown off again whilst hacking. Now although I had had a number of falls in the summer none of them had hurt. This one did. Fortunately there was nothing broken apart from my resolve not to ride this horse ever again. If I had a gun at that moment he would have had a bullet with his name on it.
So the eagerly awaited start of the Autumn Hunting Season arrived and here I was without a horse! The first early morning meeting came and went with me watching from the car. After speaking with the Joint Master, Lydia Harvey/Freeman she indicated a horse that had been hunting and might be one to look at for myself. Having learnt something from my previous folly I determined that whatever I was next to be lumbered with needed to do what it said on the tin.
Enter Thunder. Thunder has been described by fellow members of the Eastern Harriers as a classic English Hunter and he is wonderful. He is twelve-ish and 16’2 (or 3 – typically in response to my question how old and how big was he came the response how old and how big do you want him to be?)
So I rode him out on a few hacks and my hips have never been externally rotated as far in my life. This is not like riding a thorough bred I instantly realised.
My first early morning arrived and it was on Saturday 14th September 2013 at 0630 on a horrible wet and windy day (which we rarely get in East Anglia!) My horse gave me the confidence and the members were just wonderful, helpful, forgiving and encouraging. I absolutely loved it, which was a good job given I had already paid for the season. I was out for three hours which was by far the longest I had ever been on a horse, and certainly the most canters and gallops in one instalment! Despite the weather I learnt so much and enjoyed myself enormously. We spotted a white Barn Owl and had some thrilling chases behind the hounds.
What did I like about it the most? Well the freedom of the canters/gallops and the thrill of the speed with the group were certainly a big part of the pleasure. Concentrating on staying in the saddle and looking and learning from the other riders certainly made it a mentally tough day as well as a very physical one too. Would I go out again and would it be on Thunder? Well yes of course! I tried Thunder on three more meets, now listening to everyone’s advice on new horses and he was a true gent. We have become an item! I managed to hunt 13 out of the 15 Autumn days and have found it an exhilarating learning curve. I had to ride another horse at one point, due to Thunder being a little under the weather and had my debut fall on the other side of a ditch, but I was unharmed, just embarrassed! I have also had the most amazing chases. The one which stands out in my mind came very early into a hunt when, I had been told by Lydia and Ben that I must ride up front with them and learn for the day. Only minutes from the meet, as we were walking down a country lane, we heard the hounds shouting across a field to our right. However there was a huge ditch (which my memory now has getting bigger by the week) over which Lydia and her trusted mount, Sid, turned and leapt. I still have the image of the pair airborne half way over the ditch and my unprintable thoughts as Ben and one other turned to me and said “let’s go!” Fortunately I didn’t think about it, and turned and kicked Thunder on. He sailed over the biggest ditch in East Anglia and we went on a chase that lasted a good twenty minutes plus, some smaller ditches. The rest of the field had turned away and eventually caught us up about half an hour later. It was one of my proudest moments to date and I cannot believe that here I am, one year into learning to ride enjoying and participating in such a thrilling yet demanding pastime.
So I have been to my first Opening Meet, my first Opening Meet supper, and have our Eastern Harriers Hunt Ball coming up at the end of November to look forwards to. My children are now desperate to go hunting and I have a number of close riding friends who are all trying to pluck up courage to go as well which leads me to a dilemma. I have experienced Saturday morning hunting which seem to have about twice the mounted field as the mid-week ones on a Wednesday. If I encourage more to join the hunt then it’s not going to be quite as cosy is it….!