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The first fun ride of the year

April 10, 2012

On Bank Holiday Friday, I decided to eschew my traditional Easter pastime of stuffing myself stupid with chocolate – and only partly because no-one bought me any Easter eggs this year. Every Good Friday, one of the local hunts organises their annual fun ride, and I decided this was the year to go.

Now, as I don’t live in outer space, I’m well aware of how controversial hunting is. Personally, I have very mixed feelings about it. I’ve been vegetarian for a long time, and like most vegetarians, have found my own limits over the years. (Which are, if you’re interested: no to meat, suet and gelatin; yes to milk, eggs and occasionally rennet.) I also (unlike many meat-eaters of my acquaintance) have no qualms about carrying out ‘mercy killings’ of half-squashed mice and half-run-over rabbits.

As I do live in the countryside, I know how much damage foxes can do, killing chickens, ducks and even baby lambs, often in numbers far beyond what they need for food. And foxes are hard to kill. Traps and poison are both non-species specific, and are extremely unpleasant ways to die. It’s very hard to shoot well enough to kill a fox outright, rather than just wounding it so that it dies slowly. Hunting with hounds does work – but is it justified? I understand the arguments on either side, and my feelings are still mixed.

However, one thing I’m very clear about is that the hunt know how to plan a fun ride! This year’s event was planned to take place in the grounds of a private estate, not normally open to the public. The chance of a 10-mile ride, completely off-road, with purpose-built hunt fences, was too good to be missed, and we set off bright and early in the morning to arrive at the start time.

Hyper but happy!

We were the second group out onto the course, and Blue was instantly over-excited. We haven’t done much fast work so far this year, and finding herself in an open field with lots of other horses was just too much. Ironically, all the work I’ve been putting in over the last six months strengthening her quarters rather blew up in my face, as she set off up the field with an immensely powerful bound that brought tears to my eyes! In no time, we were going so fast that we over-took the stewards, still busy marking the course out. We completed the full 10-mile course in an hour and 15 minutes, and I could barely walk the following day! We didn’t try any of the lovely-looking jumps, but had Blue been in a slightly less hyper mood, there were several obstacles I would have tried.

The verdict? A fantastic ride. The chance to ride over new ground, in a safe environment, was a real change from battling tractors and speeding cars on our normal hacking routes, and Blue certainly appreciated the chance to have a proper pipe-opener. I haven’t been converted into a fully-fledged hunting addict, but I’ll be doing more fun rides, and maybe the odd outing with a drag pack.

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