Ros is a horse and wildlife artist, and also my older sister. She spoke to me recently of her first and only experience of attending The Hunt as a young girl, and I asked her to write the story down. She kindly obliged.
I must have been eight or nine years old when my parents organised for me to go another step on my little horse journey. Up until this point, it had all been very informal and simply involved me connecting with them, loving them and riding our ponies. I had entered a gymkhana too, I think, but nothing serious at all. I’m not entirely sure how it came about, but it was decided amongst us that a Hunt would be the next step. Mum took me along to the ‘Horse Boutique,’ to buy clothes especially for the event. I was fitted with the most lovely tweed jacket, new jodhpurs, brand new riding boots and a riding hat. It was quite a day out. I had been used to wearing a shirt/blouse and jeans! I remember there being gasps about the price of things, and how smart I looked in the get-up. I remember the smell of the shop ~ new leather saddles, riding boots, and brand new clothes.
My pony wasn’t going to be able to attend the Hunt. Did you know that you can rent ponies and horses? We rented a pony for one day’s Hunt, one that was experienced in hunting from a local trekking centre. I had never met this pony before, so… here we are on the day meeting at the ‘Meet’ outside an Old English Pub on the Heritage Trail, a beautiful black and white timber village, for the very first time. He was just right for my height but seemed very revved and overly excited. There were lots of adults about on horseback, dressed formally in Red and Navy Jackets, all sitting very correctly and gathering outside the pub. Many cars drew up, as well as the substantial group of horse riders; the atmosphere was more serious than I had anticipated.
This was the beginning of what turned out to be a very poignant experience for me, one which has stayed vividly in my memory for all this time. I am now in my late fifties. These were different times, of course. Few even questioned this type of country pursuit – it was also legal then. It is actually illegal in the UK now, though you would never think so.
The Hounds were present, the Horses and Riders in plenty, it was Winter and we set off. We walked-on out of the village and then entered the fields. I lost sight of my parents, who were following The Hunt in the car, along with others. My little rented pony was so excited and I found him difficult to ride. He was very strong indeed – he only seemed content in canter or gallop and, in his keenness, he refused to walk or trot. My initial enthusiasm began to wane slightly because of it. Things were much more difficult than I had thought. Then came the gates to negotiate and the hedges, – over which he flew. I had only ever jumped over small barrels with planks in between, never anything like this, so I held on and rode as best as I could. I do remember feeling nervous, not least because I realised at this point, my pony was taking me, and not me taking him. My cousin – a teenager by this time, was on the Hunt too. She called over for me not to get ahead of the Masters of the Hunt, as it was considered to be bad form. I had no idea who was ahead or who was behind. By this time, I was holding on for dear life!
I struggled to bring my reins in, but tried my very best. We rode for miles along ploughed fields, heavy, wet, cold and claggy soils, and jumped the hedges and fences to eventually reach a small country aerodrome. I remember feeling what I now recognise as exhaustion. This was not a fun day! It was a trial. No-one was smiling. No-one looked happy. This was a serious ‘Hunt’. I watched, heard and felt the men as to be formal, dour and authoritative. But I suddenly became aware that the mood and atmosphere had changed again. The speed quickened as all of us began galloping down the runway, chasing a fox just ahead of us. That sudden change in atmosphere was the ‘blood lust’. I looked at the scene ahead, the sight of a beautiful fox running for its life, the horses and hounds now flat out. The atmosphere of this blood lust was sickening.
I have never forgotten it. I didn’t like it. My awareness had come home to me. A light bulb had switched on within me; an epiphany. I realised what we were actually doing. A fox was about to be killed, ripped apart by the hounds.
I truly cannot tell you how, but I must have slowed my pony down as they all continued. My father appeared from nowhere. I could not speak to express my feelings and burst into tears. He quietly took the reins, looked deep into my eyes, with assurances all was fine. He told me we would walk back to the pub along the country lanes, just the two of us and the pony. Dad held my hand as I sobbed with a broken heart, his other hand holding my ‘wild’ pony walking gently beside us until, eventually, we found our way back to the horse trailers and the cars beside the pub. We had left The Hunt and silently walked for miles. I had cried myself out. Dad never questioned me and it was never brought up again. He just assured me all would be well, and I was never asked to go again.