Fox hunting is a controversial topic. When I lived in Wales, my family there was the head of the local hunt club and at first I didn’t know what to think. The idea of galloping fields sounded amazing, but I like foxes and didn’t want to hurt one. Well, I quickly figured out that you don’t! Fox hunting is actually illegal in Britain, so instead they do drag hunts in which a scent is laid down and then, tally ho, away we go!
It doesn't matter that you're going to end the ride splattered in mud, you'd better show up for the start clean as a whistle.
Once I understood that no one or thing was going to get hurt I could not have been more excited to get out on the moors! But I soon learned where the hours of prep work for showing in the hunter ring came from - the braids, the jacket, the shined up boots, the whole show hunter shebang can be blamed on traditional fox hunting. It doesn’t matter that you’re going to end the ride splattered in mud, you’d better show up for the start clean as a whistle. I have to say, though, getting dressed to the nines really does add to the spirit of the ride.
I was then given a rundown of the stations within the hunt: the hunt master is the one in the red jacket with the horn; the huntsman is in charge of the hounds – hounds, not dogs (I made that mistake once and believe me, nothing makes you stand out more as an obvious rookie than calling the hounds “dogs”); and the whippers-in help the huntsman with the hounds. Fortunately, my only responsibility was staying on the horse, which is easier said than done when you’re galloping across the countryside in a large group.
You can spend a fair amount of time sitting around and waiting while the hounds (not dogs!) search for the scent.
A little known fact about fox hunting is that it alternates between providing a rush of absolute adrenaline with tedious waiting requiring much patience. All the “gallop and go” can quickly turn into sitting for half an hour while the hounds search for the scent, especially in cases where the fox has “gone to ground,” meaning that the fox (scent) is underground. With all the circling around and backtracking, a hunt really is a full day affair, at the end of which you sometimes discover you really haven’t gone anywhere. But none of this takes away from the fun of being out there.
Fox hunting is the ultimate trail ride – with no trails. I loved every minute of it. And as an added bonus, you can bet that there’s always going to be food and drink at both ends of the hunt. Wine before the hunt and more wine after? Why not!
Photos courtesy of Emily Penn