Since I don’t have any CANTER horses in the barn at the moment I am going to write about some general things that I am learning while foxhunting. I don’t claim to be an expert at anything let alone foxhunting but I have learned so much over the past two years.
I find foxhunting a challenge because you can’t train a horse for it. All my horses trail ride and do group trail rides but it is not the same thing at all. You can’t replicate the experience of foxhunting in my opinion so I am learning to train my horses while in the field and it has already taught me a lot. Due to my inexperience with hunting I ask a lot of questions of the members and they have been very helpful. Cindy Wood, a joint master, is also an event rider and an excellent horseman. She is probably tired of me asking questions of her at this point but always takes the time to answer. I would say 99% of my questions are focused on how to deal with the hotter horses I am riding this season.
I am currently hunting my lovely conn/tb named Talk of the Town aka Junior. Junior’s breeding http://www.allbreedpedigree.com/talk+of+the+town13 One thing that I know about Junior’s family is that they are all a bit on the hot side His sire was owned by the founder of my ponyclub and had competed in advanced driving, prelim eventing and even 100 day endurance riding. His dam was a hot chestnut tb that was quite difficult to ride. I bought Junior for $1k as a 3 yr from someone who was doing a very bad job of breaking him and had labeled him crazy. Let’s just say he is far from crazy but he is the smartest horse that I have ever ridden and quite athletic. One of those horses who feels the need to challenge you but once you develop the partnership he would do anything you asked of him.
Junior has some half brothers that compete in advanced driving. I have gotten to see Thor’s Toy Truck in action the past few years competing at the advanced singles and he is super neat. Looks a lot like my guy maybe a bit smaller. I have read some articles where his owner have talked about how difficult he was to train and how he didn’t mature until the age of 7. I was told that this particular line matures really late and I have found that to be true.
Anyway…Junior was my event horse. If you took ditches out of the equation he was the best damn event horse around. Brave, bold and just easy. He was always a joy to ride in the jumping phases. The dressage was a bit harder because he does have a bit of a shorter stride but if you could get him steady he would score really well. Some pictures of him.
The challenge in dealing with a horse like Junior is figuring out how to keep them busy. His mind tends to work very much like a TB but almost in a more difficult manner because he thinks he is invisible. Let’s just say he must have gotten a good dose of connemara in him to make him think like a pony but ride like a Tb. When I moved the horses home in September of last year he came up slightly lame but overall I wasn’t to worried. It didn’t resolve itself so we took some x-rays and found that he had a palmar radiocarpal fracture on his left knee. There was also a chip behind the fracture. My vet was sure this was the cause of the lameness but when he went to New Bolton for his bone scan and to have the injury further investigated the surgeon was positive that fracture was old. It did light up on the scan but so did the front of the knee. Because that fracture is at the back of the knee surgery was not recommended because it is highly complicated to go through all the ligaments and tendons at the back of the knee. He also thought that we had not even seen all the damage yet that is the result of the bone remodeling. Sure enough the spurs showed up as a result of whatever tramau he did..I am sure it was in the trailer (let’s not even talk about that subject).
So I figured he was done for as a riding horse and his prognosis really wasn’t great. He had 3-4 months of stall rest and then back to light riding. The funny thing is that he has stayed sound through all of it. I am talking not even a lame day. I had competed/ridden him hard on that old fracture he had and he never took an off step. We just kept playing it by ear but he continued to stay sound. I am actually not surprised that he came through all of it sound because he is just that tough. He is built to last and has an incredible work ethic. I truly think he is happiest when having a job.
He got drafted into foxhunting because I had nobody else. Now I didn’t think it was going to be easy because in some ways he is much hotter than most of the tb’s. He can go and go and then go some more and almost never tires. He has an excellent brain and is super brave but also is aggressive in nature and always wants to be in front. Getting left behind is the kiss of death..I swear he thinks he was a racehorse.
First foxhunt- head out with Wicomico and ride in the first flight. My thinking behind that decision was that he is best if I keep him moving. It was a fast hunt with lots of action and the hounds were working well. He was unfazed by the hounds coming around him and the other sights and sounds. The staff coming by him got him a wee bit upset but nothing to drastic. This fixture has quite a few jumps ranging from logs to about 3’3″ coops. I decided to do some of the smaller ones but nothing to big. I quickly abandoned that idea as everyone else was jumping and holding him back to go around a big jump pissed him off and was resulting in me dealing with a horse that felt like he wanted to explode. So we jumped About an hour in he started to melt down. Now this horse is hot but he doesn’t normally buck and he was having a fit. I went to go find second field but they were no where to be found. I rode around looking for them for about 10 min before deciding to follow the noise of the hounds and join first field again. This seemed to be enough to let him cool his jets and he was relaxed by the time we rejoined the first field and he finished out his day. All and all I thought he was very good. A few bucks but nothing really bad.
Second hunt- We are having a joint meet with another small hunt that my friend Alison belongs to. Kurt decides he wants to ride Junior so I take Charlie who has never hunted. Charlie is noise reactive and bucks just to buck. They are not to bad and I don’t mind it. He was about what I expect but lord oh lord Junior was a monster. He got off the trailer ready to go. Kurt had to fling himself in the saddle and standing was not in the cards. He was rearing and spinning before we even started?? No clue really not typical of him. We go second field and it was stop/start and we were in the woods and he was getting more anxious. He was bucking something horrible for no apparent reasont that I could tell. Instead of settling down he got worse..much worse and we headed in. The minute we left the group he was back to his relaxed self again.
Mock hunt- Wicomico was having a mock hunt so Kurt and I headed down to see if we could work out the kinks and get some advice on what to do. We warmed out together just trotting and cantering around the whole farm and once again Junior was fired up. Now it was just us but he was all sort of silly. Bucking, squealing, some hops and mini rears. Not typical behavior at all for him so I was puzzled. We just kept trotting and cantering until he settled. When the mock hunt started he was very well behaved. I made kurt put him right on my horses butt and that worked quite well. The only incidents when horses around him jumped the jumps. He is quite offended by other horses jumping when he can’t and lets out monster bucks.
Hunt three- head to hunt with my friend. The group is small about seven of us only one field. He again got off the trailer in a panic. He was bucking and spinning just standing there. I tried walking and he was really getting worse. Group issues! When I would walk away from the group and I am not talking far away just a few hundred feet he would want to rear and spin back. We would just keep circling and circling very calm and relaxed riding from me. When I would turn to walk back and he would start rushing and getting anxious then I would circle. I just kept working at that the 15 min while we waited to get started. We do a bit of trotting and one canter but it is 3.5 hours of standing and walking because the hounds were in the woods running the waterline and we couldn’t get in. He was quite behaved minus one monster buck coming down a hill which almost unseated me. Whew, the years of riding bad buckers always pays off!
Have the saddle fitter out which was planned and she confirmed the saddle was tight. I knew it was because I had it fitted to Dixie last hunt season and Junior is much wider. She thought it was snug so could be contributing to the bucking so I was hopeful that could be the cause as it was new behavior.
Hunt four- we headed out yesterday for T-day. He just had an overall sense of calm when I got him off the trailer which was a change. I walked and trotted up and down the drive by myself and he was on a loose rein and relaxed. Mmm..liking this. Cindy and I had done a lot of talking and she thought for a horse like him first field was the place to be because he mentally can’t handle not moving and second field just doesn’t move enough for his liking. We started off a bit slow but Cindy does an excellent job of trying to keep us going. We got a few trots and canters which always lets them settle a bit. It was very warm so we thought we might not have a good day. It was just about then that the hounds really hit! Let me just tell you in the moment it is the most beautiful sound you will ever hear. We navigated some very tricky ditches where you basically slide down and go straight up the other side. The first one was tough but the second one was real challenge. It was filled with about 2ft of water so the horse really had to trust you to go down and then back up into what was a batch of vines and tree. I just let him do his job because and he picked his way through. Then we were off and I mean really off. Galloping along almost flat out down the paths and then out on the dirt road. What is really cool is going around the turns and doing your lead changes and just trying to navigate the terrain. I couldn’t have asked for him to be any better. He didn’t buck once during the whole time and he was just much more responsive. Holly, another eventer, let me use her horse as a guide which was very nice. The one thing about Junior is that he comes with a set of sound effects which can drive the most sane horse crazy. People scrabble to get away from me because he sounds like a 1000lbs of fire coming up their butt. We have squealing, racehorse breathing and noises that I can’t even describe coming from him. It makes me giggle but not so funny to others who are dealing with horses that also want to go! He stood very nicely at checks and for the first time I could actually let go and relax without him trying to run over the horse in front of him or do the bronco act.
I am not ruling out that the saddle fitter made a difference but I think just the experience has helped. He is an anxious horse and the first time I think he didn’t know what was going on. The next two hunts he knew exactly what was going on and was way to wired. Yesterday, he seemed to understand but overall just felt like he had taken a deep breathe and relaxed.
Our opening hunt is on Sunday and Kurt is going to try him again and I am riding Charlie. It is going to be a really fun day and I want Kurt to have a good time so if the day starts to go downhill we shall just go in and have a few drinks until the rest of the hunt comes back.
Some things I have learned or heard from others:
-It can take a whole season for a horse to settle in so don’t get discouraged.
-Make sure to have enough bit..trust me on this one!
-try not to take it personally when others give you the look of evil. Hunting green horses is a challenge and it can disturb everyone else around you when your horse misbehaves. I was given the advise to ride up in the 1st field as we are less likely to offend people when our horses are having issues. I have found this to be true.
- make sure your horse is fit as well as yourself. Hunting is physically demanding on your horse. You go 2+ hrs and you really have no idea how hard you will go. You don’t want to be jumping big jumps on a tired horse. Nor do you want to be so out of shape that you are using your horses mouth to hold yourself up.
- practice makes perfect- everyone advises hunting the wednesday hunts as well as the crowd is smaller and going two days a week will really help the horse to figure it out quicker. That is hard for those of us who work but I can see the benefit for sure. Think my boss will understand
- correct fitting tack is important- I am super aware of how my tack fits. A good fitting saddle, girth and bridle ensures the horse will be comfortable. If you are having behavioral issues check your tack.
- know your horse and what works for them. For example, Dixie could hunt anywhere first or second field without a care in the world. Junior has no patience and seems to wind up if he doesn’t get to go a bit and empty the tank. Everyone has told me that some horses just can’t handle themselves whether a horse who mentally can’t handle going fast or one who can’t handle going slow.
This is a long post but I am bored and have nothing better to do right now. One thing that I have realized about myself is that I am not a happy person when I don’t get to ride. This rainy weather is really messing up my riding schedule and I can’t start building my riding ring until it stops raining. Hunting makes everything a happier place for me.