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Jordan Heron - The Vanity Card Series

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Every once in a while, it's nice to be treated really well...

Probably the most politically incorrect hobby I have is riding to hounds. Now that sounds pretty tame, but "riding to hounds" is what we now call fox hunting. Except that we're not actually hunting a fox.

Some groups do hunt. They get their hounds together, mount up, and go in search of foxes to kill. This may have been appropriate in the times and places where foxes were plentiful; vermin that were a continuous threat to local livestock and livelihood. However, in this part of the world, foxes are a rare and beautiful sight. Assuming they're not in your chicken house, killing your livestock. (If that were the main criteria for the hunt, I'd be mounting up to kill the neighbour's dog, who took out 10/11ths of our backyard flock earlier this year. But I digress...)

The group I belong to does what's called a "drag" hunt. That means that someone who knows the terrain well goes out a lays down a scent trail, just before the hunt begins. This has two very significant benefits:
One: We don't depend on finding foxes. We always know there will be a trail to follow. We don't stand around waiting for the dogs to find something, and then be disappointed and have nothing to do if they don't find anything.
Two: We don't have to ride through horrible thick brush and bramble where a real fox would normally go to get away from people and hounds bent on tearing it apart. (And they're called 'hounds', not dogs. The most wonderfully pompous word is 'cur', used for all dogs that are not hounds. But I digress...) The rider laying down the trail can lead us through some wonderful and easily negotiated scenery.

Oh yeah, a third benefit, if you care, is that we don't kill any foxes. Well, certainly not on purpose. (I've never seen our hounds find anything remotely alive...)

So what's the attraction?

Well, if you don't ride horses, the attraction is difficult to explain. The baying of the hounds as they catch the scent. The sound of the horn, and the feel of your mount tensing in anticipation of the run. The thrill of riding your horse at breakneck speeds, over hill and through dale, with a dozen or two like-minded individuals right beside you. It's quite exhilarating. But it you don't ride, or partake of any other high energy sport, I can't really get this point across well.

However, I think everyone can understand the attraction of being treated like you're important. Most of us don't get this enough.

For us normal people (I was going to say poor people, but poor people don't usually have horses in this country), riding to hounds is a lot of work. We don't have stable hands or grooms to do the manual labour for us. So, we get up early in the morning. We clean the horses. We load the horses on trailers and drive them to wherever the hunt is taking place that day. We unload the horses. We clean the horses again. We tack up the horses, saddle and bridle, all while trying to stay relatively clean ourselves. Once the horses are ready, we finish our own grooming. We put on our waiscoats, gloves, ascot ties and jackets, and those cute little black helmets. All of it in a hurry, because we're late, because all of the previous steps took a lot longer than we had planned for. Finally, we get up on the horses.

And then the magic happens...

You sit on your horse and relax. You look about you, and you are surrounded by people like yourself. People who ride, who ride well, and who are proud of that fact. People who are taking part in a grand and ancient tradition, the roots of which stretch back to the middle ages. It's elitism; elitism at it's best. Not because you look down on everyone else (though physically, you do) but because you are part of a small select group of people who do what you do.

And then, as you sit astride your fine mount, someone, some worthy member of the hunt staff, walks up to you with a silver tray, full of small silver glasses, and says "Good morning, Sir. Will it be sherry, brandy, scotch or port?" And, just for a morning, you feel like the Lord of the Manor...

Life can be very, very good.

09 September 2009

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