Our foxhunting blogger Gretchen Pelham, an MFH with the Tennessee Valley Hunt, is back with another humorous tale from their latest outing.
Top photo: Ryan and Smoke clearing a perfectly normal coop on the bank of the Holston River. Photo by Gretchen Pelham, MFH.
The first Saturday in December the Tennessee Valley Hunt was at one of our oldest fixtures, Riverplains just east of Knoxville, TN. The day was promised to be warm and sunny, and true to the forecast it was a glorious day. Scenting was challenged by the warmth, but our Penn-Marydels still found the game for us.
I had missed two weeks of hunting (YIKES!) due to a horrible back. Remember this: When you already have a bad disk, never insult it. And never insult a disk over and over expecting it to blow rainbow kisses towards you. After falling off from a deer hunter playing chicken with my pony and wrestling heavy, wet blankets my disk started spewing obscenities at me. And I back at it. It was not a pretty sight.
So after two weeks I had had enough of the disk’s bad attitude and promptly began ignoring it. It was not the smartest thing I have ever done, but I arrived at Riverplains in my scarlet coat to lead First Flight. It was the first time I had been in the saddle in over two weeks. My disk actually did pretty well; it must have missed hunting as much as I had. And my hunt pony ignored the two times I completely messed up the approach of two coops. He jumped them anyway. Bless him.
I had with me a small field of three die-hard hunters in First Flight. Judith and Julie were old timers on their made hunt horses. However, Ryan is only in his second year hunting. And this is his first season going First Flight. Same for his horse, Smoke.
When Ryan started hunting last season his horse had been ridden outside of an arena all of six times. The first water-filled ditch the gelding saw freaked out his little equine brain. I was leading Hilltoppers that day with Ryan. Now the ditch was only six inches deep and about a foot wide, so this was no grand canyon. But Smoke was not convinced of that fact. I held up the Field to help Ryan get over it. At one point Ryan said that he would just go around, but I wouldn’t let him. It was the beginning of the season, and I knew if he gave up then Smoke would always have an issue with ditches. Not a good trait for a hunt horse in East Tennessee.
One of our members, Dr. Autumn, was on her mare trying to give him a lead. Autumn is one of those young, skinny, tall, highly intelligent, beautiful blond model-types that is everything nature has decided that I will not be. It would be so easy for one to dislike her but you can’t because she is also one of the nicest people you will ever meet.
I’m afraid to admit I was yelling at a grown man I had just met as I was trying to coach him over this ditch. Normal coaching of “Kick! Kick! Look up! Use your seat!” wasn’t having much of an effect. I started to get desperate for him and a little over zealous. I said to him, “Follow Autumn across. Look at that gorgeous blond on that mare! Follow that blond! Be with the blond! Kick on and go with those girls!” After a fashion Smoke gave the tiny ditch an enormous effort only to hit the same creek/ditch ten feet away as it wound its way back across the trail. Then the gelding never even hesitated. After that Smoke was an expert at crossing ditches.
I did apologize to this grown man in case I had embarrassed him. He said I didn’t, but I think he was just being polite.
This season Smoke is jumping everything in front of him, no matter how trappy the jump. But I must admit this last hunt had Ryan and not Smoke WAY out of his comfort zone for a short while.
The hunt had wound around the peninsula of the Holston River. Andy Bozdan, our professional huntsman, was casting the hounds in the covers that separated the cattle fields of the peninsula. The hounds didn’t hit until we were on the other side the country as the river flowed around the bend. They jumped a coyote that took off back the way we had come. The hounds were in full cry inside what we call the Middle Woods. They circled around in there for a bit before coming back to the river where the chase began.
I did not lead the field into the Woods because I was not sure the coyote would not circle back the way he had come. He did just that. We could hear them in the cover, and then they crossed just ahead of us. I lead the field into a hay field with two big, rolling hills. As we waited at the top of the hill, the hounds could be heard in full cry going down the wooded ridge to the river bank somewhere in front of us. I knew there was a trail that led to the river in those woods, but I couldn’t find the opening. So I guessed – wrong.
Once in the woods I could see the trail I wanted but it was on the other side of an old barbed-wire fence. The woods were too thick to bush-wack a new trail through to the river, so we were forced to turn around. Then Julie suggested that we could just jump the wire to get the trail. She was right; it would be faster. But I laughed and continued to back track in the woods.
Julie mentioned the wire again; obviously she was serious. So I told her to pick a spot and put her coat over the wire. Then we’d jump it. The spot she picked was so over-crowed with branches that it had to be taken from a walk. But she dropped her melton on the wire and over we went.
Ryan was last. And he was not happy about this. Wire!?! He kept repeating, “Ladies, I don’t know.’ The three of us females were already across and told him to just go for it. Smoke didn’t even look twice at the coat, and Ryan was across. He gave me a high five upon landing and said only female peer-pressure would have gotten him to willingly cross barbed-wire.
Right then we could hear the hounds turn away from the river towards the road. That made jumping the wire completely pointless. Oh well. We raced back to the road. Then the hounds went quiet, and the hunt was over at that point.
As we hacked back to the trailers, Ryan said out of the blue, “That wire was about 3 feet, wasn’t it? I can’t believe I jumped a 4-foot wire. And from a walk! Wow, Smoke and I jumped a 5-foot wire from a standstill!!”
And that began the official description of Ryan’s Wire. Ryan’s Wire is a 7-foot puissance wall of barbed-wire zinging with high voltage that is to be taken from a standstill, over some flowing lava, with a cliff on the immediate landing side and a charging black bear somewhere in the vicinity.
Judith told Ryan he should start eventing Smoke. Ryan declined and explained, “If I’m going to kill myself I’d rather it be with my flask emptied of alcohol surrounded by my crazy friends.” How could anyone not love hunting?
The actual height of the wire will never be revealed by me. And I can’t be bought for any amount of money. But champagne, chocolate, brownies, rum, sugar cookies, wine, lemon bars or margaritas just might do the trick. On second thought, Ryan better start baking or patronizing the local liquor store real soon.
Gretchen Pelham, MFH
Tennessee Valley Hunt
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